Critical Globality: The Corporeal Life of Commerce at Sea
This talk locates the Arab world’s economy in a global network of capital accumulation and seeks in the macropolitical sweep of history the human-sized, the everyday, the embodied experience, and the affective lives of the people who make such commerce possible. The everyday life of seafarers steaming across Arab seas and serving Arab ports today is shaped not only by their daily interactions with one another and with their officers (who are often of other nationalities), but also by the corporeal transformations they experience in their sensory relationship with the sea and the stars, the weather, and the technology around them.
The body of the seafarer is the fulcrum upon which global and workplace asymmetries of power, long traditions and conventions of seafaring, and gendered and racialised subjectivities all conjoin in complex and unexpected ways. Drawing on ethnography aboard containerships steaming Arab seas, the archives of various missions to seafarers serving Arabian Peninsula ports, local and global union cases on their behalf, and other literary and archival documents in Arabic and English, I will consider the quotidian life of labour, tedium, longing, and camaraderie aboard ships today.
I will speak not only of wages stolen and hunger ships managed by rapacious and unregulated shipping companies or the affective power of loneliness and loss at sea, but also the ephemeral moments of joy and solidarity forged aboard ships, and of the pleasures of arrival at ports. In focusing on the corporeal life of commerce at sea, I pay heed to exhortations of feminists and scholars of racial capitalism to centre the lives of those forgotten or dismissed at the conjuncture of capital accumulation and raced and gendered hierarchies.