Research Products

Project Fact Sheet (pdf)

  • The fact sheet briefly lays out our project, its goals, and describes regional ocean planning in the US.

Journal Publications

For pdfs, please email Luke.

  • Boucquey, N, K St. Martin, L Fairbanks, LM Campbell, and S Wise. 2019. Ocean Data Portals: Performing a New Infrastructure for Oceans Governance. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. DOI: 10.1177/0263775818822829. (Click here for access) — Click for abstract
    We are currently in what might be termed a “third phase” of ocean enclosures around the world. This phase has involved an unprecedented intensity of map-making that supports an emerging regime of ocean governance where resources are geocoded, multiple and disparate marine uses are weighed against each other, spatial tradeoffs are made, and exclusive rights to spaces and resources are established. The discourse and practice of marine spatial planning inform the contours of this emerging regime. This paper examines the infrastructure of marine spatial planning via two ocean data portals recently created to support marine spatial planning on the East Coast of the United States. Applying theories of ontological politics, critical cartography, and a critical conceptualization of “care,” we examine portal performances in order to link their organization and imaging practices with the ideological and ontological work these infrastructures do, particularly in relation to environmental and human community actors. We further examine how ocean ontologies may be made durable through portal use and repetition, but also how such performances can “slip,” thereby creating openings for enacting marine spatial planning differently. Our analysis reveals how portal infrastructures assemble, edit, and visualize data, and how it matters to the success of particular performances of marine spatial planning.
  • Fairbanks, L, LM Campbell, N Boucquey, and K St. Martin. 2018. Assembling Enclosure: Reading Marine Spatial Planning for Alternatives. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 108 (1): 144-161. (Click here for full access) — Click for abstract
    Research on enclosure has often examined the phenomenon as a process and outcome of state, neoliberal, and hybrid territorial practices with detrimental impacts for those affected. However, the proliferation of increasingly complex environmental governance regimes and new enclosures, such as those now seen in the oceans, challenge these readings. Using the case of U.S. marine spatial planning (MSP), this paper re-examines enclosure through the lens of assemblage. A comprehensive new approach to oceans governance based on spatial data and collaborative decisionmaking, MSP appears to follow past governance programs toward a broad-scale rationalization and enclosure of U.S. waters. But this appearance may only be superficial. As an assemblage, U.S. MSP—and its shifting actors, associations, and practices—holds the potential to both close and open the seas for oceans communities, environments, and other actors. Planning actors use three practices to stabilize U.S. MSP for governance and enclosure: narrativising MSP, creating a geospatial framework to underlie planning, and engaging stakeholders. These practices, however, simultaneously provide opportunities for communities and environments to intervene in U.S. MSP toward alternative outcomes. Rather than a closed seas, U.S. MSP presents opportunities for enclosure to happen differently or not at all, producing alternative outcomes for coastal and oceans communities, environments, and governance.
  • Boucquey, N, L Fairbanks, K St. Martin, LM Campbell, and BJ McCay. 2016. The Ontological Politics of Marine Spatial Planning: Assembling the Ocean and Shaping the Capacities of ‘Community’ and ‘Environment’. Geoforum 75: 1-11. — Click for abstract
    Governance projects to measure and organize socio-natural spaces have often resulted in the marginalization of human communities (e.g., national parks) or in the destruction of environmental resources (e.g., mining). In the United States, new marine spatial planning (MSP) policies seek to categorize and represent ocean spaces and activities in an effort to provide a solution to long-standing controversies stemming from individual sector-based management (e.g., fisheries, energy, transportation, marine mammal conservation). In this paper we examine how the ontological politics of MSP are being shaped through the narratives and practices of emerging MSP projects. We employ the ideas of ontological politics and assemblage to explore how communities and environments are being constituted through their association with MSP and its key conceptual framework (ecosystem-based management) and operational tools (geospatial databases). We trace how the ontological formations of MSP—people, places, technologies, and organisms—are being actively assembled in concurrent processes of stabilization and disruption through narratives and processes of inscription that create new political-spatial imaginaries and relationships. We show that while some emerging MSP ontologies restrict the capacities of ‘environment’ and ‘community’—for instance in the language of ‘salvation’ and in the organization of certain geospatial databases—other practices offer space to expand the capacities of community and environmental actors (for example in participatory mapping projects and in the aspirations of many practitioners themselves).
  • Fairbanks, L. 2016. Moving mussels offshore? Perceptions of offshore aquaculture policy and expansion in New England. Ocean and Coastal Management 130: 1-12. — Click for abstract
    Efforts to expand marine aquaculture into offshore environments have increased in the United States, however many questions remain about whether offshore aquaculture is a feasible and appropriate activity. This paper explores these questions by investigating stakeholder perceptions of offshore mussel aquaculture in New England, USA. These views provide insight into the important challenges and opportunities facing expansion, and elucidate whether and how industry may develop and be incorporated into ocean planning and management. Results shows that regulatory and financial conditions are considered the primary challenges facing offshore expansion, whereas technical, environmental, and market conditions were generally deemed favorable or manageable. There is greater uncertainty about social and political conditions. While moving mussel aquaculture offshore lessens the conflicts associated with inshore activity, it also moves industry into new spaces with unfamiliar users. There are tensions inherent in addressing these challenges. Whereas broad regulatory change will encourage offshore development, targeted government involvement may be more productive in the near term. Similarly, while large seafood companies may appear viable candidates for offshore development, they are also limited by regulatory, social, and political resistance. Overall, an increased emphasis on government interventions at the local and regional scale are desirable for proponents of offshore expansion. The paper discusses the management implications of these findings, and suggests that a shift in focus toward targeted and non-regulatory government interventions; local, regional, and informal planning discussions; and community-based and cooperative mussel aquaculture initiatives may hold promise for responsible development in New England offshore waters and elsewhere

Conference Papers, Presentations, and Participation

  • Conference Panel: “Critical Approaches to Ocean Planning.” 2018 Annual Meeting of the AAG, New Orleans —Click for panel description
    Ocean planning is growing in scope and influence globally, moving beyond local coastal management or pockets of marine protected areas, to include ambitious efforts to develop spatial plans covering wide swaths of national and territorial seas. At the beginning of this movement, most research focused on identifying best practices for ocean planning (e.g. stakeholder participation, “fair” distribution, considering future uses). More recently, a growing number of scholars are examining planning efforts critically, asking questions such as: How are environments and communities imagined and produced via the mapping and management practices of ocean planning? How are state and private entities wielding power over spaces and bodies through these practices? In what ways do the material realities of oceans and non-human actors affect management discourses and practices? What fundamental shifts in the theory and practice of oceans governance do they signify and promote? This panel aims to explore and expand the conversations surrounding ocean planning with other scholars working across disciplinary and theoretical contexts. Our purpose is to engage with new questions and innovative research methods to advance the discussion and critical research on material, technological, and epistemological engagements with ocean planning.
  • Conference Panel: “Performing Community and Environment in Marine Spatial Planning: Exploring the U.S. Approach.” 2017 MARE Conference, Centre for Maritime Research, Amsterdam, NL — Click for panel description
    This panel presents the work of a multiyear study (2012-2017) on the development, implications, and human dimensions of marine spatial planning (MSP) in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. Driven by federal policy, partnerships of state, federal, scientific, and other actors have recently completed ocean plans and ocean data portals for both regions. This involved extensive stakeholder engagement, geographic data synthesis and use, and government and public coordination for U.S. oceans governance and decision-making. The process has raised many questions about oceans governance and its relationships with human communities, oceans spaces, and marine environments in the U.S. The project and the papers presented in this panel critically examine these issues and are united by two overarching research questions: (1) How are communities and environmental actors constituted by MSP practices? (2) What are the roles of community and environmental actors in the constitution of MSP itself? Informed by ideas and theory drawn from geography, political ecology, anthropology, and studies of environmental governance, the project explores several aspects of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic U.S. MSP programs, ranging from how communities are enrolled and engaged in the planning process, to how new (and existing) geographic data projects, products, and portals influence and inform planning and human-oceans relationships more broadly.The panel is designed to generate discussion about critical analyses of MSP and marine governance, the possibilities and pitfalls MSP might offer, and MSP as a process of science, policy, and social engagement. The panel is organized as follows: (1) An introduction of the Community and Environment in MSP project; (2) A series of three brief (15 min) paper presentations on different facets of the project; and (3) A concluding discussion (30 min).
  • “Metrological Struggles: How an Algorithm Constitutes Community in Marine Spatial Planning.” 2017 MARE Conference, Amsterdam, NL (K St. Martin presenting author) — Click for abstract
    Marine Spatial Planning is emerging as a process which coordinates a wide range of marine interests, quells conflicts and controversies, and fixes marine space and use rights. The techniques by which MSP will achieve its goals include the development of geo-coded data, modeling approaches decision making, as well as the coordination of planning bodies, state and federal agencies, and local stakeholders. The political struggles which animate MSP and determine its trajectory are not, however, limited to those sites where representatives or appointees make decisions. We focus on an algorithmwhich produces a metric of fishing communities and their territories. The “communities at sea” algorithm is associated with an increasing number of MSP projects where it informs, for example, impact analyses of wind energy development. We trace how this algorithm performs an ontological politics where “community” is recognized and its capacities enhanced. We suggest that it might also provide a space where community knowledge, community-based resource management, and community economies can be actualized. Intervening in MSP to produce more just outcomes for communities will require being attentive to not only sites of traditional politics but also those sites where the ontological struggles manifest in algorithms, data, and modeling unfold.
  • “Beyond the Map: The Process of Marine Spatial Planning and the Work it Does.” 2017 MARE Conference, Amsterdam, NL (S Wise presenting author) — Click for abstract
    This paper looks at the social and policy work performed by the marine spatial planning process. Marine (or maritime) spatial planning continues to develop as a dominant management framework for marine resources and uses internationally. The stated purposes of MSP are many: to allocate space, time and resources, to balance competing human activities and values, and to quell controversy in the case of conflicts. However, the work done is beyond that of delineating borders for energy capture and labeling shipping lanes. Marine spatial planning is a social process that performs work, such as: creating linkages among people, agencies, and data points; simplifying and solidifying concepts; and defining meaning and value. As a process—of engagement, representation, and evaluation—it is hoped that MSP will reduce strife among competing actors and address rights of access for stakeholders and communities who rely on the sea for marine space and resources. The MSP process, as a form of ocean governance, also serves as a salve of sorts, to sooth, to assuage fears, and provide a platform for richer debate and negotiation. Through a specific set of practices—those of collecting, identifying, aggregating, and formatting data—certain ideas are made “real” by becoming meaningful and enduring. Based on ethnographic research on two MSP regional bodies in the U.S., this paper examines the performative character of MSP processes by focusing on the conceptualization of community as it emerges, begins to take shape, and evolves through the regional planning practice.
  • “The depths of visibility? Choices, constraints, and consequences in the performance of ocean data portals.” 2017 MARE Conference, Amsterdam, NL (N Boucquey presenting author) — Click for abstract
    This paper explores two ocean data portals recently created to support MSP in the United States, and the role of these portals in shaping ideas about what is or is not possible in particular ocean spaces. We examine how the data portals are constructed in order to link their organization and imaging practices with the ideological and ontological work these images do. We analyze the portals as important mediators between scientists, governing bodies, and the public. In doing so, we employ the critical cartography and ontological politics literatures to consider: (1) how the portals draw together disparate sources of social, political, and ecological data, and with what effects they display these data; (2) the social and technical struggles that underlie the portals’ visual outputs; and (3) the ways portal products are beginning to affect ongoing ocean governance efforts. Our analysis highlights that, contrary to what a casual visit to an ocean data portal website might suggest, the portal maps are products of active and ongoing negotiations by portal practitioners and interest groups. We examine how particular human communities and environments are made more or less visible in these portal products and ask how such (in)visibilities persist.
  • “Challenging Stakeholders and Constituting Community within the Emerging World of Marine Spatial Planning.” 2017 American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting, Boston, MA (K St. Martin presenting author) — Click for abstract
    Marine Spatial Planning reformats human communities who depend upon the marine environment as one of many stakeholders. Indeed, as MSP is institutionalized, stakeholders, rather than communities, are a standard concern. Yet, community emphasizes shared processes and practices in places rather than the singular and discrete interests across space we associate with “stakeholder” (e.g. energy development, shipping, commercial fishing, etc.); it directs our attention to the effects and benefits of mutual dependencies rather than presuming only competing and mutually exclusive uses; and it pushes us to locate the limits of community across difference (human and ecological) rather than defining them beforehand. We are interested in the progressive potentials that might emerge when engaging communities vis-à-vis their shared well-being and dependence upon each other.We focus on the implementation of MSP in the U.S., we examine the fate of “community” as MSP becomes institutionalized. We are particularly attentive to the ontological foundations upon which MSP is being built, to the world required for MSP to succeed: one of fixed spaces, discrete and competing interests, and participation confined to specific (post-political) moments. Within this emerging world we locate where and to what degree we can document a concern for community. We do not focus on particular places and their continued existence, but on the presence and effectivity of community processes such as mutual dependencies, shared well-being, and innovation potentials. We trace where these characteristics of community are performed, who is included in community, and how a community presence works to create community potentials.
  • Panel Discussion: “A Research Agenda for a ‘Radical’ Marine Spatial Planning.” 2016 AAG Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (K St. Martin panelist)
  • “Opening rather than (en)closing ocean space: Reading marine spatial planning for difference.” 2016 AAG Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (L Fairbanks presenting author) — Click for abstract
    In this paper we interrogate and rethink enclosure through a case study of marine spatial planning (MSP) in the United States. Often conceptualized as a totalizing and marginalizing process of state and neoliberal territorialization, enclosure is typically viewed as inevitably closing off spaces, opportunities, and possibilities for those affected by it. We ask whether there are ways to approach enclosure differently, particularly in the oceans: Is enclosure inevitably (and singularly) a process of closing, or are there alternatives to be had? Can oceans enclosures, such as MSP, offer opportunities or openings for different processes and outcomes? To do this, we first build on enclosure research, particularly those traditions in political economy and political ecology, to explore how sea spaces (and oceans actors) may be subjected to enclosure. Second, we use the concept of assemblage to work toward a new ‘weak’ geographic theorization of enclosure. This theorization builds on existing enclosure work, while also reinterpreting the process as an emergent and dynamic one that may—perhaps paradoxically—offer alternatives to marginalization and subjugation. Lastly, and throughout, we draw on our ongoing work on US MSP to illustrate these ideas and help rethink what enclosure is and how it is occurring. We find that MSP, rather than functioning as a state project to rationally delineate and enclose ocean spaces, has the capacity to emerge differently in practice. Fluid spaces and previously “unseen” actors and environments are assembling oceans enclosure in unexpected ways—suggesting alternatives to an entirely closed seas.
  • “Performing Particular Seaspaces: How are regional ocean data portals imagining ocean spaces?” 2016 AAG Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (N Boucquey presenting author) — Click for abstract
    The term ‘imaging’ connotes techniques for creating visual representations while ‘imagining’ refers to the development of ideas or mental conceptions of something. Together, these terms help to probe how the geographic databases and mapping technologies employed by regional ocean data portals imbue ocean spaces with meaning. This paper explores what types of cultural and political work data portals in the US Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are doing with their data collection and presentation choices. Employing Latour’s notion of ‘centers of calculation,’ along with critical cartography literature, the paper examines how data portals draw together disparate sources of social, political, and ecological data, and how they display these data to particular effect. Drawing on interviews with data portal practitioners, regional ocean planning documents and review of the portals themselves, the paper also asks how the portals align (or not) with ocean governance goals, and what types of imagined sea-spaces they create. Further, it considers the effects of the portals as ‘active’ (continually changing and manipulable) versus static maps and databases. The paper finds that through their imaging practices, the portals make certain types of activities (e.g., caring about whales, selecting wind energy sites) and governance mechanisms (e.g., spatial planning) ‘more possible’ (easier to imagine) than others. In this way, the portals perform particular kinds of sea-spaces. Finally, the paper also raises questions about the ongoing roles for such portals, and how they might be employed in ways that improve their diversity and build on their interactive components.
  • “Spatial Imaginaries and ‘Calculative Infrastructures’: How are the tools of marine spatial planning influencing governance practices?” 2015 AAG Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL (N Boucquey presenting author) — Click for abstract
    Governance projects to measure and organize socio-natural spaces have often resulted in the marginalization of human communities (e.g., national parks) or in the destruction of environmental resources (e.g., mining). In the United States, new marine spatial planning (MSP) policies seek to categorize and represent ocean space to support governing human-ocean interactions. This trend creates possibilities—for new ways of depicting and engaging with ecological and human communities—as well as potential pitfalls, in the means and consequences of doing so. Will MSP amount to an ‘ocean grab’ by the most well represented actors, or could it serve as a model for a more democratic, deliberate method of governing socio-natural space? While not claiming to fully answer this question, we examine MSP practitioners’ spatial imaginaries and the data collection programs that support them for evidence of developments in both of these directions. We employ the idea of ‘assemblage’ to explore how communities and environments are being constituted through their association with MSP and its key conceptual framework (ecosystem-based management) and operational tools (geospatial databases). We trace how human and environmental actors are being assembled through narratives and processes of inscription that create new political-spatial imaginaries and material realities. We show that while some emerging MSP practices, narratives, and relations diminish progressive potential—for instance in the language of ‘stakeholders’ and in the organization of some geospatial databases—other practices offer novel or expanded possibilities (for example in participatory mapping projects and in the aspirations of many practitioners themselves).
  • “Technifying and authorizing knowledge: Geographic information in US marine spatial planning (MSP) processes.” 2014 AAG Annual Meeting, Tampa, FL (L Fairbanks presenting author) — Click for abstract
    Marine spatial planning (MSP) is a process that seeks to balance the many and often competing interests in the oceans, and is now emerging in the United States as the preferred overarching ‘solution’ to oceans management. The federal vision for MSP calls for regional and federal GIS databases, tools, and portals to provide a platform for participatory decision-making. This paper draws on assemblage theory and political ecology to critically examine the role of geotechnologies in these processes. To do this, we use document review and interviews with 42 MSP practitioners including those directly responsible for producing relevant GIS data and tools. We find that GIS data portals play a prominent role in classifying and representing physical, biological, and human use information for MSP, often reproducing contested ocean space itself in new and more ‘rational’ ways. Further, GIS practices are the primary means of authorizing MSP knowledge—fluid and often difficult to see oceans actors and environments are rendered legible through the technical processes of GIS, providing ‘fixed’ data to guide planning. Yet despite its prominent role, portal use thus far has largely revolved around inputting data versus employing it within participatory MSP processes. Further, practitioners are challenged by diverse stakeholder expectations and differing data sources and quality. GIS data, tools, and practitioners all play critical roles in reproducing the MSP assemblage, and data practices may risk privileging some oceans actors and environments while marginalizing others in planning processes.
  • “Forging New Alliances? Governance practices in emerging marine spatial planning networks.” 2014 AAG Annual Meeting, Tampa, FL (N Boucquey presenting author) — Click for abstract
    Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is an emerging process that seeks to address current and unprecedented concern with the status and governance of the marine commons. In this paper, we draw on the concept of assemblage to investigate this unsettled process, and more specifically to explore how new national ocean policies are being translated into governance practices in three regions along the East Coast of the US. We ask: How are practitioners forging alliances with each other, and how are they depicting relationships between people and ocean resources? How does the language employed in policy documents and open or close political possibilities for ocean users? At what scales are governance activities occurring? To explore these questions, we analyze key MSP documents and interviews with 42 MSP practitioners (state, federal, regional, and NGO employees). We find that shifting alignments between different scales of governing bodies and individual practitioners have opened new lines of communication that could support goals for more holistic oceans governance. However, centers of power are uneven and uncertain, and there is no clear strategy for how to incorporate ‘difficult’ elements of the marine environment into MSP. Meanwhile, vague definitions of what it means to be a stakeholder limit alignments with human communities, and groups who fail to be enrolled (or to enroll themselves) risk being silent components in MSP assemblages.

Invited Talks

  • “Global Ambitions: Enhancing Local Capacities and Harnessing the Power of Marine Spatial Planning.” 2017 Seminar on “Fish and Fisheries in Marine Spatial Planning,” Nantes, FR (K St. Martin presenting author)
  • “Fixing the Oceans? Assembling Marine Spatial Planning and Aquaculture in the US.” 2014. Invited talk given Colby College (ME) and Savannah State University (GA) (L Fairbanks presenting author) — Click for abstract
    With new stakeholders, technologies, and concerns over conservation and use, US oceans management is evolving. The National Ocean Policy aims to improve management through comprehensive marine spatial planning (MSP) that is participatory, ecosystem-based, and supported by a new geospatial framework for decision-making. Embedded within this context, concerns over weak domestic seafood production have prompted efforts to expand marine aquaculture in the US, presenting both a new use offshore and new questions about the role of seafood productionin oceans governance. This talk explores these two processes as they try to settle conflicts and fix some of our oceans problems. It explores who and what are involved in MSP and aquaculture, examining how politics, participation, and science are combining to remake how we manage and allocate our oceans, presenting unforeseen challenges and opportunities for management and thestakeholders, spaces, and resources involved.

Other Outputs

Research products and materials have been integrated into classroom lectures, coursework, and invited talks at other institutions.