How we Started: From Roundtable Workshop to Research Blog

by Cormac Walsh, Frieda Gesing, Rapti Siriwardane

On January 23rd 2017 an interdisciplinary roundtable workshop took place at Hamburg University to explore questions of epistemology relating to the coast and marine. The concept of epistemology in its original philosophical sense refers to theory of knowledge. The term coastal and marine epistemologies has slightly broader connotations, signifying a plurality of alternative ways of knowing and conceptualizing the coast and marine , both within and beyond the academy (cf. Miller et al. 2008,  Siriwardane-de Zoysa & Hornidge 2016).

The workshop brought together twenty human geographers, social and cultural anthropologists, historians and sociologists from universities and research institutes in northern Germany (Bremen, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Kiel) and a guest researcher from Dublin for the purpose of initiating a cross-thematic dialogue focused on issues of meaning and sense-making, being and dwelling in the context of the coast and marine. The roundtable workshop provided a first meeting point for humanities and social sciences scholars (in Germany) engaged in coastal and marine research. The workshop included a mix of roundtable plenary discussion and focused group work sessions.

As organisers we identified three thematic fields in advance for the purpose of structuring the discussion: ‘naturecultures’, ‘place/space’ and ‘local / global knowledges’. They were adapted as heuristic lenses and intended very much as provisional and subject to change. Each of the three thematic fields were identified as associated with specific disciplinary traditions or schools of thought and particular practical or policy implications. As perhaps befitting a workshop of this format  and purpose, more questions were raised than answers provided. Key questions included the following:

  • What is particular about a “marine” perspective? Does the marine require different methodological and theoretical approaches than the terrestrial?
  • Does the nature of the marine, as a mobile, fluid, dynamic space in some way shape its epistemologies?
  • Are there terrestrial cognitive limitations to our understanding of the marine?
  • How to open up discussions of different epistemologies within a policy environment. How can we engage policy-makers with this subject?
  • Should broader questions of particular coastal and marine epistemologies – and their salience – be made politically, socio-economically and ethically relevant, and if so in what ways?
  • Are there practical limitations to the incorporation of local situated narratives within management processes? How can these be addressed?

The roundtable workshop provided a strong basis for future engagement, exchange and coordination, concerning the development and profiling of humanities and social science coastal and marine scholarship in the north German context. This research blog seeks to bring forward the discussions initiated at the workshop within an online digital context, creating and opening a space for interaction and collaboration on marine and coastal cultures within northern Germany and beyond. The report* of the workshop is available here.

*The version of the Workshop Report upload here does not include a list of participants. This is available by request from the organizers (above).