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Seeing Like the Sea: The Politics of Solidarity and Pleasure Aboard the Ships to Gaza

  • 207 Knox Hall 606 West 122nd Street New York, NY, 10027 United States (map)


Nikolas Kosmatopoulos is Assistant Professor of Politics and Anthropology and core faculty at the Graduate Program of Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. Before joining AUB, he taught at Freie Universität Berlin, Columbia University, Sciences Po, Universität Zürich, Panteion University in Athens, and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. In 2014-15 he was Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology in the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. His research has been published in Peacebuilding, Social Anthropology / Anthropologie Sociale, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Public Culture, Third World Quarterly, Social Analysis, and Anthropology Today, among others.  

The talk will begin medias maris – in the middle of the sea. Throughout the talk this becomes a privileged vantage point from which we can re-think politics and/as/of pleasure. As an embedded anthropologist aboard the Ships to Gaza, I explore the middle of the sea not merely as a random stigma on the nautical map, but rather a blank spot in our conventional mental maps for navigating a common planet. 

The maritime turn in the International Solidarity with Palestine Movement offers new analytical frames to think about engaging the sea as actor in its own right. Beneath the Ships, I argue, the actor-sea articulated an anarchist Mediterraneanism, i.e. a radical political vision of the region in terms of inclusion and solidarity, based on a unified and unifying fact of sharing the same shores, irrespective of the borders and claims of the state. Second, it invited a politics of pleasure and proximity, an understanding of politics as a collective activity fundamentally grounded in the enactment of proximity in terms of affective ties, downscaled political imaginaries and in the enhancement of pleasure in the face of acute danger.