Oceans as empty spaces? Redrafting our knowledge by dropping the colonial lens
This myth of the empty sea is largely the product of European imperialisms and their map-making traditions in which the sea becomes blank space across which power can be projected. Just like more familiar myths of empty land, uninhabited and ready for the taking.
Like imperial myths of the empty land, this view of the sea conceals the traces of imperialism and its aftermaths. You don’t see the “graves” of thousands of drowned slaves marked in the Atlantic. Undersea cables and oil rigs do not appear, nor do islands of plastic particles. You also don’t see any trace of the more than one million shipwrecks that litter the ocean floor.
A new project at the University of the Witwatersrand – Oceanic Humanities for the Global South – has taken on the task of unpacking the myth of emptiness.