Felix Mallin: The Political Geography of Sea-level Rise in Kiribati
My doctoral thesis advances a critique of the political economy of climate change in the geographical context of the Pacific Islands region. Informed by multi-sited, qualitative research undertaken in Kiribati and Fiji during 2016, it subjects the nexus of environmental politics, institution-building and finance-led resolve mechanisms that has emerged in the wake of anticipated rising sea-levels to rigorous scrutiny. In doing so, my research uncovers the ways in which these developments are intrinsically linked to the emergence of new forms of ocean-space enclosure and resource extractivism – especially through ocean conservation and future deep-sea mining projects. In ideological, political and financial terms, these processes are buttressed by a plethora of regional and cross-regional economic visions and projects operating at different geographical scales. By both global and regional standards, one of the most important initiatives that is currently underway in this regard, is the ‘Blue Economy’ or ‘New Ocean Economy’. This novel economic paradigm hails the reorganization of, and centralisation of control over, the production of value generated by ocean-space related industries, as well as the integration of hitherto underdeveloped coastal and oceanic regions into the global capitalist economy. A range of multilateral governance and finance institutions has positioned themselves at the fore of the resulting initiatives. For its proponents, the new model signals a revolution in marine-based economies that will bring about a win-win-win situations, in which the wants and needs of coastal communities can be reconciled with cosmopolitan concerns for ‘ocean health’ and profit generation all at once. Critical inspection, however, shows that the grounded outcome of these initiatives is the incremental commodification, parcelling and privatisation of ocean space, and hence rather the exacerbation of inter and intra-regional developments. Identifying prospects for the organization of a coherent political counterforce to these tendencies therefore crucially hinges on grasping the contradictions internalized by the evolving dialectic.
Felix Mallin is a joint-PhD student in the Departments of Geography at King’s College London and the National University of Singapore. He is currently completing his dissertation research on the political geography of sea-level rise in the central Pacific, having conducted field work in Kiribati and Fiji. His wider research interests include the critique of political economy and theories of uneven geographical development. He holds an MA in Geopolitics from King’s College London and a BSc in Geography from Bonn University. Prior to his doctoral studies, he worked as a political advisor for the Republic of Vanuatu at the UN in New York, and as a visiting researcher for the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Brussels.