Capitalism and the Sea

Capitalism and the Sea:The Maritime Factor in the Making of the Modern World

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What keeps capitalism afloat

Winner of the IPEG 2022 Book Prize

The global ocean has through the centuries served as a trade route, strategic space, fish bank and supply chain for the modern capitalist economy. While sea beds are drilled for their fossil fuels and minerals, and coastlines developed for real estate and leisure, the oceans continue to absorb the toxic discharges of our carbon civilization - warming, expanding, and acidifying the blue water part of the planet in ways that will bring unpredictable but irreversible consequences for the rest of the biosphere.

In this bold and radical new book, Campling and Colás analyse these and other sea-related phenomena through a historical and geographical lens. In successive chapters dealing with the political economy, ecology and geopolitics of the sea, the authors argue that the earth's geographical separation into land and sea has significant consequences for capitalist development. The distinctive features of this mode of production continuously seek to transcend the land-sea binary in an incessant quest for profit, engendering new alignments of sovereignty, exploitation and appropriation in the capture and coding of maritime spaces and resources.

Reviews

  • Here at last is a sophisticated and theoretically informed book about the maritime origins and development of capitalism. After this mighty blow against the bias of terracentrism, the history of the modern world will never look quite the same.

    Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History
  • This ground-breaking, immensely rich and densely argued book shows how criss-crossing sealanes have connected ports and cities, and brought together different modes of production and social classes. Over the centuries, the sea has circulated values, human subjects, and shifting modes of exploitation; in doing this, global capitalism has established new chains of activities and evolving patterns of extraction, exploitation, circulation and distribution of (surplus) value. This mighty work of scholarship traces these human endeavours; in doing this, it has opened fresh avenues of research.

    Alfredo Saad-Filho, King’s College London
  • I can think of no other book that has dealt with the pivotal role of the sea in the evolution of capitalism as well as the wider canvas of capitalism's interaction with the sea with as much innovation and more comprehensively than this fascinating and lucidly written work by Campling and Colás. This is also a profoundly timely intervention, given the horrifying ways in which global warming, the scourge of plastic waste , and capital's ever faster depletion of marine life have degraded the oceans irreversibly.

    Jairus Banaji, author, Theory as History; and A Brief History of Commercial Capitalism