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Scientific imaginaries and science diplomacy: The case of ocean exploitation

Scientific imaginaries and science diplomacy: The case of ocean exploitation Open Access
Sam Robinson
September 2020
Special issue Global Perspectives on Science Diplomacy, edited by Matthew Adamson and Roberto Lalli
Centaurus

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ABSTRACT
As technologies of ocean exploitation emerged during the late 1960s, science policy and diplomacy were formed in response to anticipated capabilities that did not match the realities of extracting deep‐sea minerals and of resource exploitation in the deep ocean at the time. Promoters of ocean exploitation in the late 1960s envisaged wonders such as rare mineral extraction and the stationing of divers in underwater habitats from which they would operate seabed machinery not connected to the turbulent surface waters. Their promises coincided with others’ fears that nuclear weaponry would be placed on the seabed. Those who lacked the technological capability to extract minerals from the seabed also had concerns that other nations would exploit their resources. Scientific imaginaries caused uncertainty in the international community—especially in the “Global South.” The UN called the “Law of the Sea” conferences to mediate emerging geopolitical tensions caused by these imaginaries of exploitation of ocean resources. These conferences became a site where lawmakers projected futures rather than merely responding to past or present dilemmas. Diplomats’ negotiations, with their basis in anticipation of the future uses of science and technology, reveal the role of scientific imaginaries within complex negotiations. Here, we see the impact of the distinction (or blurring) of the real and the imagined on the balance of relations between Global North and South increasing global imbalances of resources and power. This article’s analysis of such scientific diplomacy provides a valuable example of the power of scientific imaginaries to have a global impact.


Robinson, S. Scientific imaginaries and science diplomacy: The case of ocean exploitation. Centaurus. 2020; 1– 21. https://doi.org/10.1111/1600-0498.12342