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Sea Change

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The paper makes both descriptive and ironic use of its title phrase. It argues that there has been a sea change in the legal imaginary of the ocean; yet no sea change in the type of interests that both the old law and the new privileged. The new law of the sea echoes the old in continuing to group some uses of the (common areas of the) sea, including fishing, under label of ‘freedom’. This freedom has a different meaning, it is not the natural and prior freedom that informed the Grotian imaginary, but a delimited legal institution, in which rights to access and use the sea are specifically and unevenly distributed. It emerged via moments of contestation over the ordering of the ocean in mid- and late-twentieth century, and by the retrenchment of more radical proposals for ordering the sea and redistributing its benefits. The paper further suggests that recognising this is important in view of a third sense in which we might understand ‘sea change’ – the ongoing overheating, acidification, pollution and biodiversity extinctions that threaten the ocean today.

This talk is part of the Cambridge IR and History Seminar Series series.

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