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Community and Environment in Marine Spatial Planning
We apply theories of environmental governance, assemblage, and geo-epistemology to critically reflect on ocean planning in federal waters of the USA. US ocean planning was initiated in July 2010 when President Obama issued Executive Order 13547; this set in motion what was then called coastal and marine spatial planning, but without a congressional legislative mandate or budgetary appropriation. There are many reasons we might expect ocean planning to be centered in the US federal government, but ocean planning is transpiring in a neoliberal era in which there is little enthusiasm for “big government” and its projects. Thus, the project has been one of governance, with federal and state agencies participating along with non-government actors. What does a public planning process of this scope and geographic extent look like as a project of environmental governance? We focus on governance actors and the scale at which they operate, as well as the data infrastructure to support ocean planning, to analyze how US ocean planning is both illustrative of and contributes to our understanding of contemporary environmental governance. We have argued elsewhere that ocean planning in the USA has the potential to deliver outcomes alternative to marginalization of communities and enclosure of environments for capital accumulation, but this potential is fragile. In an era of unstable government when executive orders can be issued and revoked at the whim of the White House, questions about who/how ocean planning is carried in real space/time become even more important.
Marine spatial planning (MSP) seeks to integrate traditionally disconnected oceans activities, management arrangements, and practices through a rational and comprehensive governance system. Th is article explores the emerging critical literature on MSP, focusing on key elements of MSP engaged by scholars: (1) planning discourse and narrative; (2) ocean economies and equity; (3) online ocean data and new digital ontologies; and (4) new and broad networks of ocean actors. Th e implications of these elements are then illustrated through a discussion of MSP in the United States. Critical scholars are beginning to go beyond applied or operational critiques of MSP projects to engage the underlying assumptions, practices, and relationships involved in planning. Interrogating MSP with interdisciplinary ideas drawn from critical social science disciplines, such as emerging applications of relational theory at sea, can provide insights into how MSP and other megaprojects both close and open new opportunities for social and environmental well-being.
We are currently in what might be termed a ‘third phase’ of oceans enclosures around the world, which 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 (MSP) informs the contours of this emerging regime. This paper examines the infrastructure of MSP via two ocean data portals recently created to support MSP 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 MSP differently. Our analysis reveals how portal infrastructures assemble, edit, and visualize data, and how it matters to the success of particular performances of MSP. Keywords: Ontological politics, critical cartography, matters of care, marine spatial planning, performance, oceans
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. The proliferation of increasingly complex environmental governance regimes and new enclosures, such as those now seen in the oceans, challenge these readings, however. Using the case of U.S. marine spatial planning (MSP), this article reexamines enclosure through the lens of assemblage. A comprehensive new approach to oceans governance based on spatial data and collaborative decision making, MSP appears to follow past governance programs toward a broad-scale rationalization and enclosure of U.S. waters. Yet this appearance might 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: narrativizing 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.
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).