University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cabinet of Natural History > Seeing like the sea: the pearl fishery of Ceylon as a maritime assemblage, 1799–1925

Seeing like the sea: the pearl fishery of Ceylon as a maritime assemblage, 1799–1925

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This paper argues that the pearl fishery of colonial Ceylon, which has featured in key economic and state-centric analyses of imperialism in South Asia, may also be read as a multi-species assemblage where the non-human – sharks, molluscs and bluebottle flies, for instance – have new causal and agential power to shape emergent capitalist forms. Importantly, however, this consideration of the non-human above and below the waves of the sea also compels the parsing apart of the ‘human’, revealing a system of multiple, overlapping regimes of labour. Thus, contrary to the model of Raubwirtschaft [plunder economy], which homogenises and flattens both the natural world and those who inhabit it, the fishery represents a tiered and variegated system where overseers, divers, and indentured workers interacted with and produced the ocean and its maritime occupants in independent but intersecting ways.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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