Smart oceans governance: Reconfiguring capitalist, colonial, and environmental relations

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How does the digitisation of the ocean reconfigure capitalist, colonial, and environmental relations? What analytic tools allow us to trace their intersecting dynamics? These are the central questions that we take up through an examination of smart oceans governance along the west coast of Canada, where the state is developing new institutional partnerships to manage the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure across unceded Indigenous lands and waters. In this context, laden with environmental risks and resurgent anti-colonial politics, state actors are implicating smart oceans governance in efforts to harmonise capitalist growth with sustainability mandates and the ‘recognition’ of Indigenous self-determination. Our analysis draws on environmental state theory, critical indigenous studies, and human geographies of the ocean, to analyse interviews, Access to Information requests, scientific studies, and policy reports. Our findings suggest that smart oceans governance poses novel risks to Indigenous peoples and their distinctive ‘seascape epistemologies’. At the same time, we observe in this medium new limits to the state's ability to consolidate settler colonial authority and extend possessive colonial entitlements to Indigenous lands and waters. First Nations are also engaging with smart oceans governance in ways that assert ‘Indigenous data sovereignty’, help chart their own political and territorial ambitions, and carve out meaningful spaces of Indigenous marine stewardship.

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Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

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capitalism, colonial relation, environmental governance, smart ocean, state