Seawater is “a biologically active electrolyte filled with grit”

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


(Talk at workshop, Solid Fluids. New Approaches to Materials and Meanings, Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen, funded by AHRC).

The Pentland Firth, between the north Scottish mainland and the islands of Orkney, has been known to be treacherous since before writing. Oral stories from the Norse world warn of the Swelkie, a white maelstrom bubbling up from an enchanted quernstone that forever turns beneath the waves, grinding out salt. But this high energy sea and its enchantment is being cleared, being made empty, being made solid and cut into watery coins to be traded in the Blue Economy. The Crown Estate, de facto owner of the seabed, has been selling leases to areas of the Pentland Firth for commercial wave and tide energy. The sea, once a commons, is being bagged and tagged, open water is being solidified into bounded property on dry white paper. The solid value is derived from hydrodynamic models that assume the sea is fluid. But the sea is not water, at least, not just. As those who work in wave and tide energy in Orkney have taught me, the sea “is a biologically active electrolyte filled with grit”. Seawater is not inert, not easy to bind into value. It’s filled with salt, fish, grit, mammals, marine plastics… and who knows else. And we don’t know. The practical maritime maps of the area say: unsurveyed. It might as well be inscribed with: here be dragons. The sea, this sea, is dragons and quernstones, wave and tide energy machines, histories and futures, and this sea is neither solid to be cut, nor fluid to be modelled. It is something else, something that resists.
Period28 Aug 2018
Held atUniversity of Aberdeen, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational