BISA Historical Sociology Working Group Workshop
Birkbeck College, University of London
16 September 2013

This workshop explores the ways in which capitalism as a world-economy, as a mode of production and as a historical period has shaped and been shaped by the world’s oceans and inner seas. Considering that over 90% of the world’s trade in volume is carried by ship, maritime transport constitutes a core feature of contemporary capitalism. However, the centrality of seaborne trade to the world economy is not new; nor have sea-lanes merely acted as conduits for global commerce. Rather, over the past five centuries, the earth’s oceans have acquired distinctive socio-cultural, geopolitical and environmental value, in large measure as a result of capitalist development.

At the same time, despite covering over 70% of the earth’s surface, the world’s oceans have played a secondary role in the study of international relations. The territorial bias of our discipline has, with notable exceptions such as Phil Steinberg’s book on The Social Construction of the Ocean, relegated the sea to a derivative domain of international politics. We invite papers that address the multiple interactions between international relations, capitalism and the sea.

Relevant themes include, but are not limited to:

  • The sea in international theory from Mahanian geopolitics to Schmitt’s Land and Sea;
  • Oceans and inner seas as world regions;
  • Maritime trade and the development of capitalism;
  • The political economy of the sea from fisheries to oil;
  • The historical sociology of piracy and privateering;
  • The social relations of ships and shipping;
  • Naval warfare and maritime security;
  • Internationalism and the sea;
  • International law and the sea;
  • Environmental history and historical sociology;
  • Oceans and climate change;
  • The political geography of islands, gulfs, straits and inter-oceanic canals.

Those interested in presenting papers at the workshop should send abstracts to Alex Colas ( and George Lawson ( by 1st May 2013. Those interested in attending the workshop should let Alex Colas and George Lawson know as soon as possible. Thanks to a grant from BISA, attendance will be free and catering costs will be covered, along with travel expenses for presenters and research students.