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Dossier thématique

Maritime controversies

Regulation and knowledge
Controverses maritimes. Connaissances et régulations
Controversias marítimas. Conocimiento y regulación
Nicolas Benvegnu, Hélène Desfontaines et Sarah Ghaffari
Traduction de Sarah Ghaffari et Rámon Perez-Alonso
Cet article est une traduction de :
Controverses maritimes  [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Controversias marítimas  [es]


Cet article liminaire pose une double interrogation : la première concerne la spécificité de la mer comme objet de recherche et la seconde vise à rendre compte de la portée heuristique de la notion de controverse pour appréhender les enjeux maritimes. À partir de différents travaux sur la mer et ses enjeux, cet article montre comment les premières disputes autour de la mer contribuent à sa qualification en espace politique, objet de convoitise et de régulation nécessitant la production de cadres réglementaires spécifiques. L’article s’arrête ensuite sur les liens entre les savoirs produits sur la mer et ses ressources et l’ordre social en s’intéressant notamment aux formes de production et de légitimation de savoirs, à leur hiérarchisation et à leur traduction en décision politique. Enfin, la présentation des articles du dossier permet de mettre l’accent sur la pluralité des mondes sociaux et des registres de justification mobilisés pour qualifier les enjeux maritimes. Ceci nous conduit, in fine, à mettre en lumière les apports d’une approche par le prisme des controverses pour analyser dans un même ensemble des productions pourtant hétérogènes tant du point de vue des perspectives retenues que des échelles prises en compte.

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1The way in which the planet's natural resources are exploited as well as the climate crisis are now at the heart of a number of political and social challenges. In this context, the sea is the subject of particular concern: as a pool of resources, as an ally in the face of climate change, but also as a fragile space (due to human exploitation) and as a danger (with the risk of certain areas being submerged with rising sea levels).

  • 1 The oldest associations, such as Sea Shepherd (1977) and Surfrider Europe (1990), were joined in th (...)

2This situation generates a strong demand for expertise from political decision-makers for researchers to produce knowledge applicable to the sustainable utilization of resources, the protection of certain areas, or the identification of underwater resources. Over the last two decades, interests have been expressed regarding the links that humans have with their environment and with the sea in particular, as shown by the proliferation of associations for the conservation of the ocean1.

3Based on this observation, this issue proposes to bring together a set of studies that have in common the fact that they mention a disagreement between humans and non-humans within the maritime environment. The first objective is to make better known the research carried out on this subject, including among researchers in the field coming from different disciplines (anthropologists, ethnographers, historians, sociologists, political scientists, jurists, economists, etc.).

4With this in mind, this introduction will focus on restating the question that has inspired our discussions since the Oceanext conference (2019): in what way is the sea a specific space or object and how can it be described? Which in turn begs the question: what could the study of the sea bring to our sociological frameworks of analysis? The article is thus structured in three parts.

5Based on various works on the sea and its issues, this article attempts to show how the first disputes around the sea contributed to its qualification as a political space, an object of greed, and necessitating the establishment of dedicated regulatory and political frameworks. The article then focuses on the links between the knowledge produced on the sea and its resources and the social order by looking in particular at the forms of production and legitimization of knowledge, their hierarchization, and their translation into political decisions. This question is illustrated by the example of the transformation of fisheries science. Finally, the controversy approach allows us to qualify maritime issues within their contexts by taking into account the various social worlds involved and attitudes involved and attitudes acted upon by stakeholders. This is a time of the production of new, still debated, knowledge or of the juxtaposing of existing knowledge, which is ignored until it is brought together in a problematic situation.

A mythical and unknown sea?

  • 2 “Arguably, we know more about the moon and Venus than the deep sea and spend considerably more on s (...)
  • 3 Mainly: Cairn, Scopus and Web of Science.
  • 4 Whether at World Bank or EU level, the principles supported are to ensure, in particular through pl (...)

6At first sight, knowledge of the ocean and marine environments does not seem to be self-evident: the ocean in its entirety and immensity would retain an irreducible element of mystery. Its study, particularly scientific, remains largely beyond the reach of our terrestrial condition, as if it were an object that was completely foreign to us. The actors who frequent it and know it by experience do not cease to maintain such a vision, by often pointing out that the surface of the Moon is better understood than the seafloor. (Rogers et al., 2015)2. It is not uncommon for fishermen to promote this mystique by referring to an apocryphal quotation from Aristotle, according to which “there are three kinds of men: the living, the dead, and those who go to sea.” Such imagery establishes a clear separation between land and sea, and inevitably leads us to the conclusion that our descriptive and analytical methodologies utilized in the study of terrestrial environments no longer apply (Dufour, 1987). Even if ocean exploration is still far from being scientifically exhausted, there is nevertheless a large number of works, including in social sciences, which contribute to its knowledge and to the relationships that human societies have with it. Thus, an exploration of the main scientific databases3 highlights the works dedicated to the exploitation of maritime resources, from the most traditional activities such as fisheries (McEvoy, 1986; Locher, 2020) to the most recent industrial practices, such as marine renewable energies (Wright, 2015) or to mining and drilling industries (Sparenberg, 2019; Hallgren & Hansson, 2021). These studies are contrasted with those focused on ocean protection (Lubchenco & Grorud-Colvert, 2015; Levin et al., 2016). This classic duality between exploitation and protection finds a modern interpretation through the development of promises of a “blue economy”4 (Silver, 2015), to which the journal Marine Policy has just devoted a special issue (Huang & Watanabe, 2022).

7This last perspective suggests that the ocean is the new frontier for economic development of Nations and renews the question of the governance of marine spaces and its resources with regard to the status of the “commons” of the sea (Seto & Campbell, 2019). However, on the one hand, the idea of frontier can be questioned (Hung & Lien, 2022; Lambach, 2021) and, as such, the struggles for expansion and control related to the mapping of land and sea are significant of the interpretations produced by knowledge. Indeed, they implicitly carry specific visions of the world that help to orient the reading and treatment of the situations to which they are applied (Robert, 2008). On the other hand, the human development on marine spaces leads to a multitude of potentially competing uses and issues. The situations where this rivalry is expressed constitute a favorable arena for identifying the knowledge in action within the mechanisms for legitimizing uses and qualifying issues. Indeed, the ocean is at the crossroads of economic, legal, geopolitical, scientific, and environmental issues which are intertwined and can give rise to friction and tension. This observation is hardly original but what is special about the ocean is that it has historically been understood in a global manner and has been the subject of international regulation. Very early in history, the law was employed around the question of freedom of navigation for trade. This made the sea an object of political attention requiring regulation with a discussion of the questions of property and jurisdictions as well as appropriation, exploitation, and protection of marine goods.

8To these questions, have been added more questions relating to the consideration of environmental issues in general and particularly to the sustainable management of resources. On this last aspect, the exploitation of marine resources has been for about fifty years a subject of debate which led to the definition of the concept of “Common Property Resources” (Ross, 1971). Although this concept of “the commons” has been applied to many other objects, most notably to climate, it was indeed first developed for the ocean. Many resource management activities have, in turn, been regulated according to the lessons learned from the theories of the commons. Given the existing knowledge, this has essentially led to state interventions or international organizations designed to find agreements to preserve resources (Locher, 2018). In various fields, research has identified a “tragedy of the commons” (Hardin, 1968), heralding ecological disasters.

9Faced with the limited results obtained by these policies (fish populations have continued to decline, for example), research conducted in anthropology from the 1980s onwards has made it possible to highlight the interpretive nature of institutional approaches to resource management alone (among the most emblematic works, we may cite Berkes, 1985; Acheson, 1988). Such research has allowed a change of perspective by revealing a multitude of practices, local knowledge, and latent conflicts that are essential in the understanding and identification of community-based ecosystem management. In this new light, maritime issues have been the subject of management experiments that are less divisional, more integrated, and that seek to create new settings that promote the linking of scientific knowledge, practical knowledge, and decision-making. (Bremer & Glavovic, 2013; Van der Molen, 2018).

10The ocean is a natural space as well as a political space (Dahou & Mazé, 2021), made up of a multitude of worlds in which a great range of actors evolve. In order to address this diversity, we have chosen to rely on epistemologies that are more “object-oriented” (Latour, 2005) than institution-centered. This means that, on the one hand, they do not immediately separate the social and the natural, the marine and the terrestrial, and on the other hand, they take into account the diversity of actors involved; the latter can intervene on the same issue, sometimes ignoring that they share it. It is therefore a question of entering through the various matters of concern that are the subject of discussion, rather than through the organizations that deal with them. In order to be able to address the different situations considered in this issue, we have chosen to operate through the prism of controversies. This choice has as much to do with on the epistemological just mentioned as with methodological considerations. In this domain, controversies proceed by describing manifest disagreements, which allows us to more easily identify situations in which movements of social reconfiguration are at work. Moreover, their analysis allows not only to follow the actors involved in the analyzed situation, without prejudging their identity, status or interests, but also to consider their trajectory in different arenas, whether they are institutional or not. Such an approach therefore offers a framework appropriate for understanding phenomena relating to the management of the Common Property Resources, which we have seen above abound in connection with reflections on the ocean. Finally, the prism of controversy is particularly well suited to taking into account the knowledge that actors use and sometimes as justification for their actions. Since the end of the 1970s, the social studies of science have made specific use of the term "controversy" to characterize the disagreements and divergences that punctuate the process of knowledge development (Collins, 1985). In this field, the word is so widely used that it has been the subject of routine contributions to the Handbook of Science and Technology Studies (STS) since its second edition (Jasanoff et al., 1995).

11Other studies have shown that this type of dispute can extend beyond the confines of laboratories and involve audiences other than just specialists. In addition to scientific and technical controversies, there have been other situations where the production of knowledge and the definition of the social and political order are jointly discussed (Jasanoff, 2004). This has given rise to several understandings of what is controversy. It can either be considered as public when it is defined in contrast to a scientific controversy, science and society being viewed as separate entities from this perspective (Gingras, 2014), or it can be considered as socio-technical, when the production of knowledge and the definition of the social are considered as intertwined (Callon, 1986).

  • 5 In this regard, see for example the explicit non-specific definition given by Brian Martin: "a scie (...)

12The more the notion of controversy has spread, the less specialized knowledge is referenced. Very often, it is only used in regard to the disagreement that characterizes each case studied. Thus, the term controversy loses its specificity and becomes a synonym for other notions used by social science such as conflict or crisis, or even generic words like dispute, polemic, or debate. It is this kind of non-specific definition that is implicitly or explicitly proposed in recent publications5. The indistinct character of the notion probably explains its circulation and its success, but this is not without its problems. Jérôme Lamy has noted that the inflationary use of the term has led to a devaluation of its definition: “by dint of routinization and euphemization of their limits, their analytical scope now seems somewhat blunted” (Lamy, 2017, p. 130). The call for papers on this issue left it up to the authors to use “controversy” in the way that seemed most appropriate to their case. However, we hope that the articles in this special issue will allow us to test the conditions of use of the term, which would justify using it as a specific sociological concept, without fixing its meaning. The ambition is to continue the work of Cyril Lemieux, who wanted to propose “an analytical definition (...) that is working for the social sciences” (Lemieux, 2007, p. 195).

13The intentions of this dossier are therefore plural. The goal is to offer an overview of the social worlds that can be viewed through and analyzed on the grounds of maritime issues, in order to gain a better understanding of their richness, to attempt to restore their complexity, and to consider their ruptures, but also their continuity with land-based activities and issues. We are as much interested in the way in which “terrestrial” modes of thought and action are extended to the sea, as in the transformations of situations in which maritime entities and activities are linked, mediation by mediation, to what happens on land. In other words, the analysis of the operations by which the sea submerges or irrigates land-based activities is taken into account in the same way as that by which “the land is extended” into the sea (Nadai & Labussière, 2014). Finally, it is the common representations on the specificity and singularity of maritime environments that are questioned through the lens of the works gathered here. Through original contributions from the social sciences, we also seek, through situations of disagreement, to identify and characterize the discourses, practices, devices, procedures, and actors that have contributed or are contributing to producing ways of understanding the sea and its resources. We hypothesize that this is not without consequence on the forms of management and regulation implemented.

Qualifying the maritime macrocosm to make it intelligible

  • 6 Grotius composed De jure praedae (The right to take) between 1604 and 1606, chapter XII Mare Liberu (...)
  • 7 One thinks here of the view of the English jurist John Selden who sought, unsuccessfully, to argue (...)
  • 8 In this case, making the seas a res communis prevented the Portuguese from claiming the return of t (...)
  • 9 At the end of the 15th century, a papal bull divided the New World into two zones in which the Port (...)
  • 10 Fishing interests led to the establishment of so-called territorial waters through the creation of (...)

14The seas have been and still are areas of conflict, including symbolic ones, to establish a conception of the maritime world. Certain representations endure, prevail, and become generalized beyond their initial context thanks to material support that serve as a basis for judgment and action. In this sense, Grotius' establishment of a legal treatise on the Mare liberum6 can be analyzed as an investment in form (Thévenot, 1985) that simultaneously describes several attributes that would qualify the sea. In response to objections from other representations of the ocean7, Grotius formulates a set of properties. The sea is distinct from the land, it refers to freedom rather than property, and is similar to a common good (res communis) rather than a private good. The class of object of which it belongs can be described as a territory without borders. It is an element comparable to air. Finally, there are rules and instructions that provide a framework to regulate all ocean space and its uses such as the “the right of innocent passage” or the “fishing right.” In reference to a specific situation (justifying and legally establishing the Dutch East India Company's right of capture over enemy ships)8, Grotius produced a legal treatise in which he defined his conception of the sea. He then presented it in such a way that it could serve as a template for rationally settling conflicts between states that was sufficiently detached from its initial context to endure beyond its time. At the end of this work by Grotius, the sea is elevated as a common good: no one can appropriate it and no one can give what one does not possess9. The idea that the sea is free and open to all has gradually faded since then. Now perceived as self-evident, this vision has become a collective category of perception and action. Opening up inexhaustible possibilities of exploration and exploitation, it continues to frame what situations, actions, and regulations are discussed in the name of (or against)10. Nevertheless, this conception of the sea, as a conventional nature, remains arguable and leads to new disputes and new compromises that challenge our common understanding of the sea but also the cognitive rules to understand it. Is a common good the good of all or of no one? If land and sea are distinct, how far does the sea go? Can it be the object of specific scientific investigation (Levain & Laval, 2018)?

15The stakes of categorization extend to what and whom the sea harbors. If the sea is free and common, this prohibits any claim of ownership. On the other hand, everyone can enjoy its wealth. This is the case of fish which belong to all and to no one (res nullius). In the absence of a clear boundary establishing an exclusive right of exploitation, fish, like other resources, become the subject of jurisdictional dispute. Everyone feels free to appropriate it. Even today, for the high seas (Ros, 2019), it is still around conflicts of possession and jurisdiction that disputes emerge. These situations require new knowledge to organize the management of this much-discussed Common Property Resources.

From the Mare liberum to the Mare economicum11: appropriating resources and justifying practices

  • 11 We take this expression from Patrice Guillotreau's book (Guillotreau, 2008): “(...) transporting pe (...)

16The appropriation of maritime resources generates many disputes, competing uses, and conflicts of interest which, in order to be settled peacefully, require the production of ad hoc knowledges aimed at framing practices and legitimizing them. In this sense, knowledge participates in the shaping of the social world in the same way as other human activities. The historical restitution of maritime facts allows us to insist on the processual dimension of the production of categories of action. It also allows us to understand the mechanisms and the effects that are still active. The call for proposals for this issue did not generate any proposals from historians. We have therefore employed a selection of existing studies in environmental history to develop our argument in this introductory contribution. The first articulates two histories, that of French fisheries inspection and that of marine resource conservation (Grancher, 2018). The second addresses the effect of knowledge on the management of a commons (Fressoz, 2009, 2015).

  • 12 He explains the damaging effects in his inspection reports, which also show the determining criteri (...)
  • 13 This Ordinance of 31 July 1681 of the Navy relating to the police of ports, coasts and sea shores w (...)

17The first case took place in the 1720s on the Channel coast. The problem is that there is no consensus on the solutions to be adopted to remedy the scarcity of fresh fish. To clarify the situation, the inspector Le Masson du Parc was assigned to the area to learn about the fisheries, to improve their administration, and to report back his findings and recommendations to the authorities. In order to (dis)qualify fishing techniques, he proceeded to compare them with respect to criteria that he considered relevant: quantity and quality of fish caught, and the extent of damage caused to the environment. His conclusions lead him to take a stand against the use of drag nets12. He proposed to amend the fishing regulations, governed by Colbert's Ordinance in 168113, by controlling the technique (by regulating mesh sizes, for example) and strictly protecting areas of spawning and where juveniles are known to congregate as a solution to the problem of recurrent fish shortages. The restriction of this technique is regularly contested and the dispute reactivated according to diverging interests, technical innovations, and political decisions (Grancher, 2015, 2021).

  • 14 We speak of a communalized resource in the sense that the kelp is shared within a community of user (...)

18The second historical maritime case concerns a conflict of appropriation of a communalized resource: kelp14. It contributes to the understanding of the processes of cognitive production articulated to the construction of the social order. On the one hand, kelp is supposed to have a natural and essential function, valued by fishermen: to provide shelter for fish reproduction. On the other hand, this seaweed has another utilities more social: the farmers use them to improve the soil, the soda producers burn them to obtain the alkaline useful for the manufacture of glass and soap. Due to the increasing demand for glass, especially by the king, competition for kelp quickly became more intense. The arbitration of the public authorities was requested so that they would adjudicate on the right of each party on this bitterly coveted resource. In order to avoid any contention to the decision, the government submitted the problem to the Royal Academy of Sciences. The clarification of the request for expertise, through the questions asked, frames what must be analyzed and what can be neglected. The question is translated to bring the kelp into science. The scientists do not have to determine who should appropriate the kelp but must study its role in fish conservation and understand its function in fish reproduction. This demand for expertise also designates the protagonists and granted an exclusive legitimacy to the knowledge produced by these protagonists. However, as Michel Callon reminds us, during a controversy, defining what is problematic and what is not, who has access to the official decision-making process and who is excluded, is the subject of struggles and negotiations (Callon, 1981). Rejecting the legitimacy of local knowledge suspected of serving particular ends, the Administration disavowed the fishermen. It turned to the scientists of the Academy, the only ones able to produce knowledge presented as objective and unbiased. The expertise produced by the naturalists was in favor of pulling up the kelp (rather than cutting it up). This expert opinion, incorporated into the royal declaration of 30 October 1772, served the interests of the glassmakers and allowed the development of this emerging industry (Fressoz 2009, 2015).

  • 15 “At the same time, they were also technical experts who possessed technical knowledge about mining, (...)

19In addition to their evident interest in contemporary environmental issues, these two cases are also a “window of observation on science and its actors” (Gauthier & Gingras, 2015, p. 65). From a sociological point of view, they allow us to understand how, in order to deal with maritime affairs, science could be utilized to refute other types of more experiential and traditional knowledge in the case of local disputes. Not only did it produce new knowledge, but it also gave the illusion of “depoliticizing” the decisions of public authorities. To assert the capacity of the scientific approach to break with public opinion and shared representations in order to reach as objective a truth as possible, is to legitimize a hierarchy between expert knowledge and layman's knowledge to the benefit of the former, presented as more equipped, more neutral, and more favorable to the general interest. Sending the inspector to understand the scarcity of fish provides information on two dimensions that interest us here. Firstly, we see the emergence of a centralized administration dedicated to the rational management of seas and resources. Secondly, the expertise shows the emergence of a legitimate form of knowledge resulting from the accumulation of concrete observations and their shaping to elaborate a knowledge not necessarily based on existing axioms. In the kelp affair, scientists, as Jean-Baptiste Fressoz points out, are summoned as experts mandated by the public authorities, those whom Ursula Klein calls the “Artisanal-scientific experts” (Klein, 2012)15. It is not a question of arbitration but of neutralizing the contestations by basing the decision on an objective opinion, because it is produced by the scientists' experiments, even if “the preliminary discussions leave little doubt as to the aim of the expertise: to refute the allegations of the fishermen and agronomists and to establish the position of the soda industry. Their knowledge of the subject is then null” (Fressoz, 2015, p. 119). It is therefore also the question of the links between science and government that is posed by documenting in particular the interdependence between political power and knowledge.

  • 16 This observation is part of a more general movement that makes scholarly expertise one of the lever (...)

20In both of the above situations, “knowers,” naturalists and official representatives, are mandated to produce knowledge that can inform or reinforce political decisions regarding fisheries’ activities. Science is set up as a “justice of the peace” (Boudia & Jas, 2014). Contributing to the settlement of certain cases, it also drives an increasingly formalized maritime legislation. In other words, the knowledge produced is serving the State with a dual objective: to govern people and to govern common resources16.

21This latter objective is at the very heart of fisheries science, which is essential in the production of knowledge of the ocean and its resources. Many technical innovations have led to the permanent development of the fishing industry, not only by globalizing it but also by increasing its efficiency. However, at the end of the 1970s, as Fabien Locher points out (Locher, 2019), new concerns about the state and future of the oceans appeared, including the issue of overfishing. Contrary to popular belief, the sea is not an inexhaustible food source to exploit. The degradation and scarcity of the biological resource and its environment exacerbate the ongoing territorial, economic, political, and symbolic disputes. The question of their management has imposed itself in spite of the inherent uncertainty of the specificity of these resources which humans do not control neither the geographical distribution, nor the movements, nor the natural development (reproduction). It was during this period and in order to respond to this issue that fisheries science began to produce an expert activity “conceived in the broad sense as the integration of scientific knowledge into a political decision-making process” (Granjou, 2003, p. 175).

Fisheries science, a science for governing the sea

22As the “science of the exploitation of living aquatic resources”, fisheries science studies their “use by man to describe, measure and predict in order to optimize this particular relationship between man and renewable aquatic resources” (Garcia, 1989, p. 712). Linked to the regulation of the exploitation of certain fisheries resources, the science produced is primarily for action and is interested in the dynamics of economically exploited species with the ultimate goal to produce recommendations for rational fisheries management. We find here the characteristics of the regulatory science described by Sheila Jasanoff, notably in the association between the production of knowledge, its integration and dissemination, and in the ability to forecast, embodied notably in the decision and public action (Jasanoff, 1990, p. 70)

  • 17 Moreover, fishing professionals contest the relevance of the opinions issued and contradict the dia (...)
  • 18 This was made possible by the launch in early 1990 by the Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Te (...)
  • 19 For the European Union: “The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, establishe (...)

23The depletion of maritime resources and the collapse of certain species were then interpreted as a failure of regulation, a failure of diagnoses, and as a failure of recommendations to produce regulations capable of ensuring the viability of fisheries resources and fisheries17. The Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 imposed the concept of sustainable development at the same time. It is this context that gives rise to “a debate of an epistemological nature”18 (Catanzano & Rey, 1997, p. 28) in the knowledge and ways to be able to interpret the complexity of aquatic and halieutic environments (Garcia, 1989; Rey, Durand & Laloë, 1995; Chaboud & Cury, 1998). The (re)discovery of the inherent complexity of natural environments and the integration of systems thinking have had at least two consequences. First, it has resulted in a recomposition of fisheries science and its objects. Second, the use of scientific opinion for policy-making has been confirmed as a guiding principle19. The expert capacity of fisheries science has been strengthened.

  • 20 In addition to biology and economics, we can now mention biomathematics, oceanography, ecology, tec (...)

24Other disciplines were added to the science of population dynamics as a support for rational fisheries management20 because “by its multidisciplinary nature, the project of understanding the interactions within fisheries systems implied both a review of the issues and methods and the development of concepts appropriate, exclusively or not exclusively, by one or another of the natural or social sciences.” (Rey et al., 1997, p. 23). Understanding the interactions means studying more than just the harvesting of fish but also of integrating human activity as one of the components of the "fisheries system." The approach is characteristic of an ecosystemic representation of nature which integrates inter-species interactions, food regimes, or even human pressure as elements influencing the dynamics of fish stocks. In other words, scientists are now interested in the effects of multiple and complex interactions on a given species within fisheries (eco)systems (Gascuel et al., 2012). The change in approach and representation is still only partially implemented scientifically and politically, but it is nevertheless reflected in a different way of understanding fisheries research and managing fisheries. Until recently, politicians expected that the recommendations of fisheries scientists would allow for a “balanced” management of the resources and a “stability” of the fisheries’ impacts on these resources (Preservation/exploitation); now, what is expected from them is rather that they operate in a sustainable manner.

  • 21 The environmental turning point of the 2002 CFP reform was the establishment of Regional Advisory C (...)
  • 22 Cf. the inclusion in the knowledge issues of the VALPENA project for the evaluation of fishing prac (...)

25The reform of this multidisciplinary science, and with it that of fisheries management, seems to be ongoing (Gillon et al., 2000; Biais, 2003; Garcia, 2004; Gascuel, 2009; Cury, 2013). The ecological and social stakes involved have favored a reform of the modalities for exchange of knowledge on the situation of the stocks (integration, participation) and of political decisions at the European Union level. The knowledge produced by the fishermen themselves tends to have a more legitimate place in the framework of territorial governance21 (Lelong, 2009). Nevertheless fishing is no longer the only activity whose knowledge contributes to the development of frameworks for understanding and regulating marine activities. This is what underlies marine spatial planning (MSP), which aims to define rules for the management and allocation of marine resources with the goal to both protect the sustainability of biodiversity as well as the sharing of activities and uses of the marine environment. The utilization this government instrument brings together various stakeholders who, in order to assert their own interests, exploit, probably more than ever, cognitive devices22. For fishermen, as for other participants, the legitimization of data production, mapping, or even the quantification of a particular activity appears to be crucial, given the intertwined nature of the issues of knowledge and power in economic relations (Tissière & Trouillet, 2022).

Qualifying and governing uncertainty: the analytical power of controversies

  • 23 The presentation of these 100 countries indicates that they come from maritime basins and represent (...)
  • 24

26In February 2022, the One Ocean Summit brought together a hundred countries in Brest with the aim of “protecting the biodiversity and resources of our oceans.”23 Regretting that “Nearly two-thirds of the ocean is in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) representing 45% of the surface of our planet, cannot currently enjoy marine protected area status” and that “illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing accounts for almost a fifth of global catches”, some forty countries founded the "High Ambition Coalition for a High Seas Treaty", in order to reach an operational and global agreement on the sustainable use of the high seas and the protection of its biodiversity. The reason we have included this declaration24 is that it updates an age-old legal dispute previously considered on how to qualify the sea and on the issues of jurisdiction and appropriation of the relevant resources. On the basis of a free sea, the various regulations have transformed a system where it was possible to fish everywhere except where it was prohibited, into a system where it is prohibited to fish everywhere except where it is authorized (Trouillet, 2006). This has been accompanied by a fragmentation of maritime space (internal waters, territorial waters, Exclusive Economic Zones, coastline, high seas) which has increased the temptation for countries to extend their jurisdiction at sea (Ros, 2019).

27Indeed, as the demand for resources continues to grow while land-based sources decline, expectations of the ocean as a driver of human development increase. As we have seen from historical work, the claim to marine resources and space is not new: what is changing is the intensity, diversity, and competition between competing interests (food, energy, space, materials), what some call "blue acceleration" (Jouffray et al., 2020). These growing expectations of the maritime space as well as their diversity reveal ways of thinking about this space and its uses. They all seek to impose themselves, to express themselves in scientific and media settings or in consultation, regulation, and negotiation policies. Thus, the highlighting of certain controversial situations can contribute to the understanding of these emerging issues and the dynamics of associated knowledge.

28From the local scale to the international stage, from the coast to the open sea, whether one enters from above, with an explicit governance objective, or from below around a socio-technical artifact, there are many scenes that show various forms of confrontation, whether to defend an activity or to legitimize a practice for management ends. The works collected here illustrate the diversity of representations and qualifications of these spaces and their resources. Each paper explores a situation where a maritime space is summoned to report on a problem whose resolution requires the production, promotion or, on the contrary, the invisibilization of knowledge. The plurality of narratives is also an opportunity to show a plurality of ways of knowing.

29The controversy approach allows us to answer some of these questions and to open up others. As a place of multiple conflicts of interest, marine, underwater, and coastal spaces are the subject of works that reflect globalized questions where human and non-human entities, norms and values, representations and uses are intertwined. Reporting on these controversies allows us to identify the whole range of operations by which people designate the object or the problem, compare it with other (re)known devices, qualify the protagonists (competitors, allies, opponents, politicians, scientists, experts), and translate particular interests into claims, rules, economic models, meetings, scientific articles, and statistics.

30Looking at different situations through the prism of controversies whether we are discussing coastal conservation, new governance methods, or the sharing of space between humans and non-humans, means observing the multiple framing operations that are carried out to resolve a problem: value indicators are produced, traditional knowledge is reactivated in a renewed sense, causes are redefined, configurations and boundaries are reclassified and an object finds its place in management policy.

31The work of Nastassia Reyes and Manon Airaud takes us into the arena of international organizations and shows us how an issue rooted in traditional knowledge and fishing practices is becoming part of international governance. Discussions within the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) are gradually reducing the issue of Fish Aggregating Devices or FADs to a question of the number of devices that can coexist simultaneously at sea. To do this is first to limit oneself to countable artificial objects, then to make them an object of regulation in fishing policies and finally to exclude any more general debate on the “social and environmental models that engage our contemporary world.” However, Reyes and Airaud's detailed description of the FAD, and its evolution, shows the different categorizations it can be subjected to. Having observed that many species of pelagic fish gather near objects that float in the ocean, fishermen have long exploited this natural behavior to catch shoal of fish (especially tuna) of great commercial value by making (and then having made) increasingly sophisticated FADs themselves. The device generates debates on what legitimizes its existence or requires its prohibition. Fishermen and shipowners, environmental NGOs, fisheries researchers and representatives of international organizations and governments are attempting, through their reciprocal and temporary alliances, to impose the framework within which this socio-technical object should be interpreted and how the device should be qualified in the chosen “social order” (Boltanski & Thévenot, 1991). Is the appropriate justification framework industrial, commercial, or ecological? The French shipowner and the fisherman may unite to defend the existence of FADs, one to ensure a successful fishery, the other to produce knowledge. The Japanese fishermen's representative can enroll the environmentalist in his banning project because the first sees the FAD as a tool for unfair competition, the other as marine pollution. In fact, the regimes of justification mobilized by various actors leads beyond the framework of the object initially discussed. The FAD thus operates as an object that will make the relevant parties speak and act (Callon, 1991, p. 205). As a medium for negotiation between different perspectives, it acts as a “cognitive” mediator (Trompette & Vinck, 2009). In return, the disputes involved modify the form of the object discussed to make it an acceptable entity (at least provisionally) with regard to the different justifications used. This is how we can understand the addition of beacons that are of interest to fishermen and fisheries researchers, the choice of more easily biodegradable materials, or the recommendations on the mesh size of the nets which reflect the concerns of environmental NGOs or government representatives.

  • 25 This new concept is often described as an outcome of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustaina (...)

32A process of qualification is also at the heart of the surfonomy workshop described by Julien Weisbein. He traces the progressive constitution of economic scientific knowledge and allows us to see concretely a work of translation of the waves in the language of what is otherwise designated as “blue economy”25. In order to maintain their activity, surfers need the waves and, faced with the urbanization of the coastline, they become their spokespersons. It is not the waves as a frictional effect of the wind on the surface of the sea that are staged but the wave as an entity with its own existence. To protect it, they translate its existence into a framework that makes sense to those who threaten it. In order to orientate the decision in favor of the wave, surfers refer to the market world as an interpretational framework and elaborate a modelling tool of its economic value able to make a wave and a development project fit into a common measure. It is thus in particular to interest coastal activity managers that surfers will “convert to economics” and reduce the wave to a set of economic properties. The objective is to show what the disappearance of the wave would cost the community economically to the detriment of any other framing (aesthetic, geophysical, environmental). It is no longer a wave but an aggregate of measurement indicators. The knowledge produced is not intended to explain reality but to characterize a virtual reality in the mode “what if?” Weisbein then shows that while there is consensus on “the fact that monetary measurement is the best way to capture the value of a wave,” there is still uncertainty about what is important to make visible and therefore about the criteria to be taken into account in quantification tools and models (Desrosière, 1993). The development and selection of criteria suitable for qualifying the "right" way to evaluate the value of the wave brings to highlight “calculative space” being rebuilt and thus potential spaces for negotiation. The common criteria selected to describe diverse realities and to make them comparable are performative because they specify the elements that must be taken seriously and, in the background, those that should be hidden in the decision. By quantifying qualities, the tool equips the rationality of the person who has to arbitrate and participates in an economization of judgment (Karpik, 2007; Desrosière, 2008; Cochoy, 2011). Once the method is defined, it is deployed as soon as a wave is threatened by development projects. The indicators are detached from the social realities for which they were developed and are imposed as a tool with standardized effectiveness. Adopting categories that already exist and are shared by the stakeholders, the surfers sought to create a standard for the production of knowledge (the rules for measurement) and to legitimize the results through an academic formalization. Thanks to the description of this surfonomy workshop, Weisbein shows that this work of shaping requires a strong investment of the relevant people concerned in order to legitimize (and stabilized) a method and make it a basis for judgement (Bessy & Chateauraynaud, 1991). He also shows that when used, in another context - a localized development project in Brittany in the 2010s - the tool, far from solving the problem, became a problem itself for its users, because of the result produced: the calculated value of the wave was revealed to be less than the value presented by the development.

33Gaëlle Ronsin and Florian Sanguinet are interested in the emergence of regulatory science. Based on the observation of the collapse of the cod stock in Canadian fishing zones and its management by the Department of Fisheries, the authors report on what this problem materializes as a conflict; what it does to the structuring of a so-called governmental science and finally how it affects the production of knowledge. Initially attributed to scientists' assessment errors and an overestimation of the size of the stocks (Walters & Maguire, 1996), the fishery was the subject of a moratorium which did not produce the expected effects: the stock does not seem to be recovering even though no more cod is being fished. Among various hypotheses, the idea is emerging of a possible responsibility of the seals' diet in the collapse of the stocks. This search for “probable cause” is associated with a dual purpose: to lift the fishing ban and to put an end to public criticism of both the errors in the estimation of cod stocks by fisheries scientists and the Department’s inability to make the relevant decisions. Considering their predatory relationship with cod, the seals of the Bay of St. Lawrence become a central protagonist in the situation. It is the seals that endorse the political interests of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans by assuming their responsibility for the decline in cod stocks. It is also the lack of stabilized knowledge on the causal link between the seals' diet and the disappearance of cod that is the subject of a strategic and deliberate investment by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, not to be lifted and to produce knowledge, but to be maintained as a regime of justification (Chalas et al., 2009). On the other hand, it is either to condemn or exonerate the seals, that some scientists will seek to produce new knowledge. If the seal hunt is a “well-established controversy” (Danto et al., 2020), it is another problem that is posed here, since the seals are no longer examined in isolation, but with respect to its interaction with another being: the cod. The analysis carried out by the two authors allows us to see that negotiations are not permanent, nor do they follow one another in a linear fashion, and that controversies may only emerge at certain moments in the problem’s career. Here, the controversy arises from the pooling of knowledge from disciplinary bodies that were previously separate and mutually ignorant of each other. It results in the creation of a new shared cognitive space (representations, imagination, equation-models, instruments, concepts and knowledge, forms of proof, finality) from which problems can be qualified, interpreted, and solved. Thus, when the seal diet emerges as a problem, each of the disciplines will first address it, in a confined manner, with its own set of instruments, measurements, and values to produce a type of knowledge: cod stock estimation, counting and behavioral study of seals, etc. However, the sum is worth more than the aggregate of its parts and knowledge of cod added to knowledge of seals does not constitute knowledge of seal/cod interaction. The mismatch between the problematic situation and the available tools and knowledge generates a controversy, the issue of which is not to assert one body of knowledge over another, but to produce a new one.

34The work of Pauline Fabre, Pierre-Yves Le Meur, Alexander Mawyer, and Tamatoa Bambridge takes us from the open sea and the waves to a French Polynesian atoll. Based on an ethnographic study of the establishment of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Teahupo'o, a peninsula in Tahiti, the authors contribute to the reflections on the policies for the preservation of marine and lagoon environments in French Polynesia. More specifically, describing a hybridization process between two types of regulation for the governance of the lagoon between an administrative regulation carried by the MPA system and a traditional regulation carried by the rāhui and its prohibitions, the authors bring to light the conflicts that this generates. The protection policy initiated by the French administration, through its Marine Protected Area (MPA) system, is emblematic of what Descola calls naturalist thinking (Descola, 2005), based on the distinction between nature and culture. However, traditional Polynesian culture does not oppose culture to nature but rather postulates a principle of continuity (Rigo, 2004) where gods and humans share a part of the sacred and are genealogically linked to nature. The project of environmental protection is accompanied by an experience of participatory management where the two visions will meet. This leads the authors to focus on a traditional category: the rāhui. They show how a traditional prohibition (concerning all lagoon activities including fishing) that had fallen into disuse, is being requalified in order to be embedded in a contemporary lagoon management device (Artaud, 2014). This process of governance-in-the-making reveals both a partial detachment of old practices from their cultural context and their reconfiguration to become a practice judged legitimate for all participants. Understanding this work of articulation through controversy allows the authors to identify the different actors as well as the arguments each utilizes to qualify and interpret what the rāhui should be and what it can and cannot do. It is with the explicit goal of governing the lagoon to preserve its resources that the hybrid governance described by Fabre, Le Meur, Mawyer, and Bambridge is set up. Here it is another work of association of previous knowledge produced in disjointed universes that will allow the political project to be redefined by the inscription of the rāhui in a legal framework, that of the MPA, in order to bring about the emergence of a new regulation that is adapted to the contemporary context, but which is still conflicting.

  • 26 This form has challenged us but it is clear that, “when studying the intelligence and creativity of (...)
  • 27 In her article, “A look at the animal encounter and methodological avenues", S. Chanvallon asks: “B (...)

35Finally, the special issue ends with a text, with a different status from the previous ones, which takes the form of an essay26. Fabien Clouette's article takes us back to the coastal zone to relate some forms of interaction between marine animals and humans. The coast and the littoral physically personify the meeting point between land and sea and it is in this space that the continuum or separation between the two is defined and argued. Better known than the open sea, coastal areas are subject to strong pressure from human activity (fishing, leisure activities, energy installations) and allow us not only to observe multiple maritime issues and land-use conflicts, but also to question the modes of interaction between nature and society, as is the case with Fabien Clouette's essay. The author focuses on the relationships that humans have with the so-called wild marine animals27 with which they share space. Unexpectedly for most involved, the links described resemble forms of sociability that can be understood as neighborly relations. Gradually, certain solitary animals that willingly come to meet humans (divers, surfers, sea classes, etc.), even though they are supposed to “have nothing to do there,” are identified, share activities, end up being named, and even acquire a certain notoriety. Thus, the text examines all the connections that give consistency to the biographies of You the seal and Zafar the dolphin. Clouette's essay makes it possible to identify anthropocentric discourses, whether they be projections made to explain the behavior of the animals in question (are they driven to meet humans because they are rejected by their community of fellow creatures?) or, more generally, when the animal is thought of as a resource for humans. On the other hand, it keeps his distance from zoocentric approaches such as those that have been developing in recent years within the Animal Studies movement (Michalon, 2017). The text is based on the narrative of the encounter of species and the relationship between humans and non-human animals (Haraway, 2008). When friction can occur between animals and humans, for example when peaceful coexistence is disrupted by an unexpected action (the animal may suddenly develop a behavior that is perceived as aggressive), it is on land and between humans that controversies arise according to Clouette. These relate to the status of animals and/or the qualification of the diplomatic relations we may have with them (Morizot, 2016). Ultimately, they redefine the boundary between animals and humans, which are placed at the heart of the living world. Humans are then only one species among others.

36Based on these questions about the shared use of a natural space between humans and animals, even if they are solitary, Clouette brings to light conflictual interactions between humans concerning the “wild” animal, in line with other studies questioning the nature of human-wildlife conflicts (Draheim et al., 2015; Konrad & Levine, 2021). The manner in which the ways of saying, the ways of doing, the knowledge, the representations are associated with the animal thus jointly qualifies human-non-human configurations (affective, scientific, legal, economic or political interactions) and ways of being in the world and of interacting with its other occupants which are discovered and make it possible to question once again the status of the sea and its occupants in relation to the human identity.

Continuing to explore maritime territories and controversies

37The contributions in this dossier shed light on some of the struggles involved in the production of legitimate and useable knowledge in forms of regulation of the marine space: coastal management, disputes over the use of resources, discussion of boundaries, including ones between human and non-human, or between preservation and use of the marine world. The sea is thus embedded in a complex set of problems, actors, institutions, norms, and values. The articles contribute to clarify justifications that are often implicit in the elaboration of knowledge. Through the studied public arenas, through the established connections, a sea with multiple qualifications is outlined, which far from constituting an unchanging liquid plain is in reality the theater of multiple confrontations for which the notion of controversy is particularly fruitful. Reading the articles reinforces the relevance of the notion of controversy to consider together a collection of cases on maritime issues, based on different perspectives and with attention to different scales. While none of the contributions provides an explicit or specific definition of controversy, we feel that we must now take on such a task, so that the analysis of controversies remains relevant and does not become meaningless. The effort of precision and clarification concerns several complementary projects, with a programmatic goal. We identify at least three:

38The first is probably the most obvious, even if our review of the literature shows that it has sometimes been lost sight of: a controversy is first characterized by the reference to a disagreement that is related to the elaboration of specialized knowledge, whatever the field. Without this element, which seems fundamental to us, the specificity of the notion dissolves and “controversy” can be replaced either by generic terms such as “debate” or “polemic,” without any real problem; or by more precise words such as “conflict”, for example, to describe the nature of the relations between actors.

39The work of Francis Chateauraynaud has already made a significant contribution to the second focus we are considering. Controversy does not designate the whole of a social process marked by dispute about an issue, but corresponds to specific phases in the trajectory of an issue and the definition of a problem that is linked to it (Chateauraynaud, 2017). Controversy can correspond to a specific moment in the ballistics of an issue, one that is characterized by uncertainties related to the production of knowledge (Chateauraynaud, 2011). This apparently restrictive use of the term “controversy” does not limit the scope of the term: on the contrary, it allows us to examine moments of controversy more precisely in the analysis and to take their specificity into account. This makes it possible to better appreciate the fertility of a phase of controversy in the overall trajectory of a case, by highlighting, for example, the interweaving of the production/mobilization of new knowledge and the emergence of new social groups (Barthe, 2010).

40The third focus that can be considered in the light of this issue on “maritime controversies” is certainly the one that requires the greatest effort of conceptualization. The first studies have led to the definition of controversies as moments of explicit disagreement between different positions, defended by actors who identify their divergences. The controversy between Pasteur and Pouchet on spontaneous generation studied by Bruno Latour is from this point of view presented as paradigmatic (Latour, 1989). This is also what Cyril Lemieux's proposal tends towards, as he defines the controversy as “a dispute between two parties [is] staged before an audience, a third party placed in the position of judge” (Lemieux, 2007, p. 195). However, some of the situations examined in the articles lead us to reconsider this approach and to broaden the focus: while maintaining the requirement to identify specialized knowledge and specific moments in the overall trajectory of a problem, we propose to consider as controversies situations in which divergences between actors are potentially implicit, if only because of ignorance of other ways of taking the situation under consideration, other ways of seeing and producing knowledge. In such cases, disagreements only become explicit when knowledge is used in order to clarify a choice or produce a regulation.

This work on maritime controversies was initiated during the second edition of the OCEANEXT conference in the framework of the activities of the research federation “Institut Universitaire Mer Littoral” (IUML|FR CNRS 3473). We would like to thank the Revue d'Anthropologie des Connaissances for allowing us to pursue and intensify our reflection, as well as the reviewers and the editorial board for their support throughout the elaboration of this thematic dossier, particularly Pascale Trompette and Dominique Vinck. Finally, we would like to thank the Department of Social Sciences and Management of IMT Atlantique, the médialab of Sciences Po, the UCO and the CENS-UMR6025-Nantes University for their financial support for the publication in Open Edition and translation. Finally, we would like to thank Mr. Ramón Perez-Alonza for the time he has spent in proofreading and correcting the English version of this text.

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1 The oldest associations, such as Sea Shepherd (1977) and Surfrider Europe (1990), were joined in the early 2000s by numerous associations dedicated to the ocean. These include the best-known associations such as: Tara Ocean 2003 (coral reefs), Bloom 2005 (for a sustainable pact between humans and the sea), Water Family (water conservation) 2008, Expedition 7 Continent 2009 (fight against plastic pollution at sea), Project Rescue Ocean 2015 (for environmental awareness of the seas and oceans)

2 “Arguably, we know more about the moon and Venus than the deep sea and spend considerably more on space exploration than on deep-sea research. It is imperative that we rectify this knowledge (and funding) deficit by moving beyond piecemeal and short-term scientific studies.”

3 Mainly: Cairn, Scopus and Web of Science.

4 Whether at World Bank or EU level, the principles supported are to ensure, in particular through planning, the best possible use of marine spaces in the joint interest of the environment and economic development (Directive 2014/89/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 2014 establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning -

5 In this regard, see for example the explicit non-specific definition given by Brian Martin: "a scientific controversy is a debate, dispute, or disagreement about something to do with science. To count as a controversy, the debate needs to occur over an extended period of time or involve a lot of people. For example, if two scientists argue for a day about which formula to use, no one will pay much attention. However, if two major scientific labs argue for years about which formula to use, it makes sense to call this a controversy' (Martin, 2014, p. 21), or the synonymy with debate established by Cécile Méadel's text: “the same term refers mainly to debates or disputes that involve sciences or techniques, their objects, their measures, their effects (...). The term controversy has become a common analytical tool in the social sciences to designate cases that involve technosciences but that, far from being limited to them, raise questions of all kinds” (Méadel, 2018, p. 247).

6 Grotius composed De jure praedae (The right to take) between 1604 and 1606, chapter XII Mare Liberum is the first to be published in 1609 (cf. Gaurier, 2006)

7 One thinks here of the view of the English jurist John Selden who sought, unsuccessfully, to argue in Mare Clausum that the sea was as susceptible to appropriation by sovereign powers as land space. Selden argued that there was no historical basis for treating the sea differently from land, and that there was nothing inherent in the nature of the sea that prevented states from exercising dominion over parts of it. (Rothwell et al., 2015; Gaurier, 2019).

8 In this case, making the seas a res communis prevented the Portuguese from claiming the return of the spoils and, more broadly, prohibited anyone from claiming dominion (dominium) over maritime spaces. On the other hand, it allowed and legitimized fishing and access for Dutch company ships to coveted passages, including the Straits of Malacca (Gaurier, 2006).

9 At the end of the 15th century, a papal bull divided the New World into two zones in which the Portuguese and Spanish would each have a monopoly on discovery, navigation and trade.

10 Fishing interests led to the establishment of so-called territorial waters through the creation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the early 1980s and with them, exclusive national rights to coastal fishing (12,000-mile band measured from the coast). Only the high seas remain free, and this freedom is hotly debated.

11 We take this expression from Patrice Guillotreau's book (Guillotreau, 2008): “(...) transporting people and goods, providing energy from the waves, the tide and the wind, offering proteins to each link in the trophic chain, materials for construction. With such generosity, it constitutes an ally that is both inescapable and fragile for man, driven by his interests and needs, justifying the compound locution of Mare economicum” (p. 15).

12 He explains the damaging effects in his inspection reports, which also show the determining criteria: the nets are questionable because they are non-selective, they catch fish that are too small for the size of the mesh and tear up the grass beds that support the fish.

13 This Ordinance of 31 July 1681 of the Navy relating to the police of ports, coasts and sea shores was inspired by the model of the “Eaux et Forêts” Ordinance enacted by Colbert in 1669 to regulate the exploitation of forests. All the previous special regulations of the kingdom relating to the question are gathered here.

14 We speak of a communalized resource in the sense that the kelp is shared within a community of users. This resource is managed by the coastal community thanks to the rules of collective action by which the actors organize themselves. This resource is threatened with overexploitation by the arrival of a new user.

15 “At the same time, they were also technical experts who possessed technical knowledge about mining, military engineering, civil architecture, forestry, gardening and agriculture, dyeing and calico-printing, the manufacture of glass and porcelain and so on. Living in both an academic and an industrial world, and further participating in the world of state bureaucracy, they personally spurred the circulation of knowledge and objects between these worlds.” (Klein, 2012, p. 303)

16 This observation is part of a more general movement that makes scholarly expertise one of the levers of the process of rationalization of the state observed in Europe during the XVIIe and XVIIIe centuries (Pillon & Vatin, 2007). Power was henceforth based on “proven knowledge” and drew “its legitimacy from economic prosperity.” (Delmas, 2011, p. 19).

17 Moreover, fishing professionals contest the relevance of the opinions issued and contradict the diagnoses, leading to disputes over the legitimacy of knowledge (Deldrève, 2010; Lazuech, 2014).

18 This was made possible by the launch in early 1990 by the Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique Outre-Mer (ORSTOM, now IRD) of the Incentive Action “Dynamics and Uses of Renewable Resources”.

19 For the European Union: “The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, established by Commission Decision 2005/629/EC may be consulted on matters relating to the conservation and management of the living resources of the sea in order to secure the necessary input from highly qualified scientists, in particular in the biological, economic, environmental, social and technical disciplines”. Commission Decision 2005/629/EC of 26 August 2005 (OJ L.225, 31.08.2005) art. 48.

20 In addition to biology and economics, we can now mention biomathematics, oceanography, ecology, technical engineering, and computer science.

21 The environmental turning point of the 2002 CFP reform was the establishment of Regional Advisory Councils (RACs), “a new form of stakeholder participation in the Common Fisheries Policy”: Preamble (1) of the Council Decision of 19 July 2004 establishing Regional Advisory Councils under the Common Fisheries Policy (2004/585/EC).

22 Cf. the inclusion in the knowledge issues of the VALPENA project for the evaluation of fishing practices with regard to new activities: “The spatialization of fishing activities has become a key knowledge issue in the context of increasing sharing of maritime space (marine renewable energies, extraction of aggregates, underwater cables, marine protected areas, etc.).”

23 The presentation of these 100 countries indicates that they come from maritime basins and represent more than half of the world's exclusive economic zones: territorial and economic control seem to be the most prevalent here.


25 This new concept is often described as an outcome of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). Among other things, it aims to price nature and ecosystem services provided to the economy, and to ensure that these prices are integrated into investment decisions and market transactions. At the heart of the problem is the promise that nature can be saved by making the economies that depend on it more profitable. (See UNEP, (2012) The Green Economy in a Blue World).

26 This form has challenged us but it is clear that, “when studying the intelligence and creativity of animals, it is surely necessary that we as scientists are creative with our methods” (Bates & Byrne, 2007) (quoted by Chanvallon, 2016). A whole section of the social sciences is now questioning how to account for human/animal agency without anthropomorphism. At the heart of these concerns is the desire to treat humans and animals symmetrically and to invent methodologies capable of qualifying these human-animal interactions.

27 In her article, “A look at the animal encounter and methodological avenues", S. Chanvallon asks: “But what is a wild animal? Is it an animal that has never been in contact with the human species? How then can we qualify these solitary dolphins that come to share time with humans?” (Chanvallon, 2016). Here, we will consider the animal as wild because not constrained by human will.

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Nicolas Benvegnu, Hélène Desfontaines et Sarah Ghaffari, « Maritime controversies »Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances [En ligne], 16-2 | 2022, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2022, consulté le 21 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Nicolas Benvegnu

Research fellow and lecturer in sociology at Sciences Po médialab. His research addresses the sociology of Science and the sociology of Public Problems. His most recent work analyses the transformations of research activities to take into account sustainability goals (Sustainability Science). Between 2012 and 2020, he ran the FORCCAST Program (

Address: Sciences Po médialab, 27, rue Saint Guillaume - FR-75337 Paris Cedex 07 (France).
Email: nicolas.benvegnu[at] 

Hélène Desfontaines

Associate Professor in Sociology at UCO (Angers) and researcher at CENS (UMR 6025, CNRS-Université de Nantes). Her current research concerns small-scale sea-fishermen profession. It concerns professional dynamics, especially working and learning process.

Address: UCO, 4 Place André Leroy, FR-49008 Angers (France)
Email: helene.desfontaines[at]

Sarah Ghaffari

Associate professor in sociology at IMT Atlantique, Sarah Ghaffari is researcher at CENS (UMR CNRS 6025). Currently, her research focuses on the dynamics of technological markets and organizations in a context of environmental and energy transitions.

Address: IMT-Atlantique - département Sciences Sociales et de Gestion, La Chantrerie 4 rue Alfred Kastler CS20722, FR-44307 Nantes cedex 3 (France).
Email: Sarah.Ghaffari[at]

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