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Deepwater Feeds: Mediation and Extraction at the Seafloor


Dark, deep, and sparsely explored, the watery world of the seafloor is a point of convergence for ideas about technological, scientific, economic, and political frontiers. Progressive attempts to mediate this space by industry surveyors and oceanographers have resulted in enormous advances in autonomous technology, as well as sophisticated sensing, sampling, and echosounding technology. My dissertation, Deepwater Feeds: Mediation and Extraction at the Seafloor, explores the history and culture of these media technologies and the manner in which they are entangled with economic and political imperatives to extract hydrocarbons, mineral deposits, cultural artifacts, and other resources. Across my chapters, I develop a theory of extractive mediation, tracing its manifestations across various industries. I critique extractive mediation through the examination of feeds—a metaphor that I use to conceptualize shared pathways of nourishment, information, and meaning in multispecies terms. Each chapter focuses on a different “feed,” including narrative feeds, media feeds, and resource feeds. Methodologically, I blend analysis archival oceanographic texts with media ethnography, site visits, and discourse analysis to describe the competing epistemologies and regimes of value around the seabed.

This dissertation builds on an existing body of work in critical media studies, environmental studies, and the blue humanities to think about how environmental imaginaries are constituted by processes of mediation. From nautical documentaries, to ship logbooks, to museum displays, media have always played a central role in constituting an imaginary of the deep sea for a terrestrial species. I go a step further, however, to include media beyond the popular. In particular, few ocean scholars have analyzed the influence of extractive industries in charting the course for human relation to the deep sea across both scientific and lay realms. Understanding the pervasiveness of extractive ideologies within mediation requires a cross-disciplinary perspective. Drawing from oceanography, international law, nautical archaeology, and ocean engineering, I engage with the ocean bottom as a socio-technological space. My materials were diverse, and yet there were unexpected convergences in rhetoric. My project identifies and critiques the technological fetishes of precision, transparency, coverage, and resilience that pervade industrial mediations of the seafloor, and instead argues for a multispecies perspective as a way of making the impacts of extractive mediation tangible.

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