MARE Conference People & the Sea XII
From26/06/2023 9:00h
To30/06/2023 18:00h

Blue Fear – navigating ecological, social and existential anxieties during the Anthropocene

June 26-30, 2023
University of Amsterdam and Online

To navigate the multiple sessions throughout the conference, visit the Meetinghand conference platform!

Oceans have always imbued seafarers with fear: fear of storms, pirates and shipwreck, and fear of the creatures that live beneath the surface. This conference suggests that such anxieties are currently broadening and intensifying. Not only are people afraid of occasional tsunamis and hurricanes that take lives and ravage coastal habitats. We are also afraid of what we have ourselves unleashed: the realities of sea level rise, climate change, pollution, overfishing and biodiversity loss. Scientists are working overtime to fine-tune the understanding of causes and effects and to provide possible solutions. International policy fora – such as those involved in the current Ocean Decade – are prodding policymakers and politicians to initiate meaningful mitigatory and adaptive action.

But Blue Fear is not only about abstract planetary boundaries and realities of the Anthropocene. It is affecting the lives of coastal and island habitants all over the world, the people whose livelihoods and identities are intertwined with the coast and the sea for centuries. And it is not only nature that is causing them worry. The human face of the coast is changing rapidly. New industries are materializing and claiming space: tourism, aquaculture, ocean energy, marine biotechnology, and mineral exploration, amongst others. New ‘belt and road’ initiatives are gaining shape and maritime boundaries are being disputed. Governments all over the world are re-zoning the coast and creating protected areas, all of which impose new limitations on human activity. Security concerns are resulting in the militarization of coastal regions with new and old forms of strife. All these demands for the use of coastal/marine space and resources are creating conflict and posing challenges.

Blue Fear impacts how society views, studies, discusses, and governs the ocean. Blue Fear can be the stuff of nightmares and callous manipulation. It triggers collective trauma, flight, and acts of resistance too. It reshapes religious beliefs and rituals. Fear, and related topics of grief and helplessness, shape what we see as possible actions and avenues of inquiry, and what is perceived as feasible. But Blue Fear does not only pose challenges, it also opens opportunities for invention and transformation: new patterns of livelihood, new technologies, new forms of collaboration, new legal arrangements. New hopes and motivation to engage, connect, and mobilize. It also leads to novel academic quests for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary knowledge, and new impetus for marine social science.

This conference takes Blue Fear as its starting point and invites us to look it in the face. It explores current opportunities and threats in the era of climate and anthropogenic change. How does Blue Fear manifest itself? Who does it belong to and what does it trigger? Where does it take us? Blue Fear challenges us to ask ourselves what social scientists can contribute to understanding and dealing with Blue Fear, and to investigate the realm of ‘people and the sea’ from new angles. Fear need not be paralyzing nor a handicap. After all, fear provides an incentive to act and join hands.

The conference theme “Blue Fear” is divided into seven streams as described below. It is, however, also open to those with other thematic interests relating to people and the sea.