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The sea and International Relations is a path-breaking collection which opens up the conversation about the sea in International Relations (IR), and probes the value of analysing the sea in IR terms. While the world’s oceans cover more than 70 percent of its surface, the sea has largely vanished as an object of enquiry in IR, being treated either as a corollary of land or as time. Yet, the sea is the quintessential international space, and its importance to global politics has become all the more obvious in recent years. Drawing on interdisciplinary insights from IR, historical sociology, blue humanities and critical ocean studies, The sea and International Relations breaks with this trend of oceanic amnesia, and kickstarts a theoretical, conceptual and empirical discussion about the sea and IR, offering novel takes on the spatiality of world politics by highlighting theoretical puzzles, analysing broad historical perspectives and addressing contemporary challenges. In bringing the sea back into IR, The sea and International Relations reconceptualises the canvas of IR to include the oceans not only as travel time, but as a social, political, economic and military space which affects the workings of world politics. As such, The sea and International Relations is as ambitious as it is timely. Together, the contributions to the volume emphasise the pressing need to think of the world with the sea rather than ignoring it in order to address not only the ecological fate of the globe, but changing forms of international order.
For an academic discipline dealing with the global, it is peculiar that International Relations (IR) has limited its gaze to a little less than 30 percent of the globe – the landed part. With sea-level rise, depletion of fish stocks, plastic pollution and piracy making the news repeatedly and constantly, it is obvious that the sea matters in international relations. It should also matter to the discipline studying these relations. In related disciplines, burgeoning literatures have recast the importance of the sea for understanding both the past and the present. Time has come for IR to catch up. This would benefit the discipline, but it would also make contributions to a better understanding of the sea. With its diverse approaches to conflict, cooperation and political co-existence, IR has obvious insights to bring to the study of the sea. In this chapter we discuss how and why IR has engaged (or not) with the sea, we explore what other disciplines can offer IR and we suggest some possibilities for fruitful engagement. We first explore why the sea has been missing from IR and the challenges facing us when trying to theorise the sea. Then we engage with the developing literature in other disciplines from the last two decades, illustrating why an IR-take makes sense, and where there is room to expand on the existing IR literature. The third section puts the focus on politics, circulation and control, before the last section lays out how the different chapters of the book engage with these overarching topics.
Understanding how the sea has been constructed and ordered throughout the centuries requires us not only to evoke and critique changing notions of space and time but demands a broader and deeper dive into underlying conceptions of order, such as race and gender. The aim of this chapter is to explore if and how conceptions of gender and race have operated – and still operate – to normalise the relationship of domination of ‘the white man’ over the sea.
Challenging the traditional Western/Anglo-American representations of the sea as wild, unruly and seductive; qualities diametrically opposed to the orderliness and structure of idealised masculinity, and in need of subjugation to a male order, as well as the vast, dark mysterious and endless space surrounding known (European) lands, is important, as the gendering and racialisation of the sea has led to forgetting and normalisation. This is forgetting of the many different ways in which gender and race have been intertwined with ocean life, and normalisation of an idealised Westernised and masculine approach to the sea.
Our exploration comes in three parts. In the first part, we briefly discuss the traditional, masculinised and Eurocentric view of the ocean as expressed in Western discourse over the last centuries. We then discuss the literature locating women and race and deconstructing hegemonic white masculinity in and around the oceans, as it has developed over the last four decades. Finally, we suggest avenues of research for International Relations, building on and pursuing further the insights from neighbouring disciplines.
When the European polities started looking overseas in earnest in the late fifteenth century, the Iberian powers were able to secure papal sanction for a global duopoly. The Treaty of Tordesillas gave Spain and Portugal exclusive rights to half of the world each. A century later, both the duopoly and the religious order of Europe had been upended. A key practice in this upending was that of privateering. Privateering played a crucial part both in the survival of Protestantism in Europe and in the spread of the European-dominated state system, accounting for how polities beyond the Iberian ones went overseas and how they came to settle around the world.
Understanding privateering opens up the door to making sense of the challenge posed by the sea to different European polities, how they managed to overcome the obstacles posed by the sea, and how the sea became a political fibre, structuring the reach of their political authority. By challenging traditional dichotomies of public and private, sea and land, state and empire, trade and war, engaging with privateering is a clear-cut example of a rethinking of international relations with the sea.
We approach the topic in four steps. Starting with a brief overview of what privateering consisted of and how it was practised and regulated, we then discuss the continental context of confessional divides and how they impacted the policies of Protestant states. The main part of the chapter is concerned with the three cases of protestant privateering: Huguenot, English and Dutch.