Universiteit Leiden

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Anthropology at Sea: Displacement as Ethnographic Praxis

  • Jatin Dua
Monday 13 May 2024
CADS Research Seminars
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

Shipping plays a crucial role in global circulation and geopolitical imaginaries of mobility. Approximately 90% of the world’s imports and exports travel by sea on some 93,000 merchant vessels, operated by 1.25 million seafarers, carrying almost six billion tons of cargo. Based on fieldwork conducted along these routes of maritime commerce, specifically focusing on ports and shipping lanes in the Bab-el-Mandeb, a narrow strait that separates Africa from Asia and connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, this talk explores the possibilities of an anthropology of and from the ocean. Specifically, I argue for taking apart two of the guiding metaphors for ethnography—fieldwork and immersion— in order to explore the distinction of land and sea that undergirds them. While the field in fieldwork has been heavily theorized, immersion often appears as a metaphor to signal anthropological legitimacy. But for those who are at sea, immersion is not just metaphor but materiality. For objects to be immersed at sea, requires an understanding of displacement and buoyancy. Beyond dislocation, displacement produces the buoyancy essential to navigation. Thinking through this principle allows for an ethnographic practice attuned not only to the frictions of contemporary life, but the ways displacement moves forward, in unequal and haphazard ways, but forward, nonetheless.

Jatin Dua

Jatin Dua is a socio-cultural anthropologist specialising in maritime piracy in the Indian Ocean and governance, law and economics along the East African coast. His book, Captured at Sea: Piracy and Protection in the Indian Ocean" (University of California Press, 2019), explores the complexities of maritime piracy and its impact on legitimate trade along the East African coast. His research sheds light on the intricate dynamics of global mobility and explores how different actors, from pirates to naval vessels, shape and regulate order within the economies of piracy and counter-piracy.

Currently, Jatin's research projects continue to explore maritime worlds, focusing on their intersections with law, sovereignty, economy and sociality. "Navigating the Bab-el-Mandeb examines the material aspects of navigation and governance through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, while Africa at Sea: Captivity and Care in the Global Shipping Economy' uncovers the relationship between African mobility and global shipping. Through these projects, he explores issues of blackness and racial capitalism by tracing the itineraries of African seafarers aboard cargo ships. Jatin conducts his research in various port cities around the world, including Antwerp, Rotterdam, Djibouti, Bosasso and Dubai, as well as on board container ships that traverse these shipping routes.

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