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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Philip Steinberg

Steinberg, P. & Peters, K. Wet Ontologies, Fluid Spaces: Giving Depth to Volume through Oceanic Thinking. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 2015;33:247-264.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

This paper expands on recent attempts to destabilise the static, bordered, and linear framings that typify human geographical studies of place, territory, and time. In a world conceptualised as open, immanent, and ever-becoming, scholars have turned away from notions of fixity towards fluidity and flow, and, in so doing, have developed networked, ‘flat’ ontologies. Recent attempts have gone further, challenging the horizontalism inherent in such approaches by opening up a vertical world of volume. In this paper we contend that such approaches are still somewhat lacking. The vertical element of volume is all too often abstract and dematerialised; the emphasis on materiality that is typically used to rectify this excess of abstraction tends to reproduce a sense of matter as fixed and grounded; and the temporality that is employed to reintroduce ‘motion’ to matter has the unintended effect of signalling a periodised sense of time that minimises the chaotic underpinnings and experiences of place. We argue that the ocean is an ideal spatial foundation for addressing these challenges since it is indisputably voluminous, stubbornly material, and unmistakably undergoing continual reformation, and that a ‘wet ontology’ can reinvigorate, redirect, and reshape debates that are all too often restricted by terrestrial limits.