The Instrumented Ocean

This ethnographic project collected interviews and observations inside the groundbreaking US Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). The work is contextualized via archival and historiographic resources from oceanographic institutions, professional societies and historians of ocean science. The research fundamentally addresses the concomitant relationship between innovation (e.g. imagining, planning, constructing, operating) and degeneration (e.g. down-scaling, breakdown, failure, repair). In doing so it argues: (1) Technological solutionism is a widespread ideology that inflects oceanography and can be seen in the turn towards big data. (2) The dominance of technoutopian or technosolutionist imaginaries and narratives drive the character of the infrastructure and can obscure critical, less shiny realities of ongoing maintenance and repair. (3) Funding bodies and program managers alike place emphasis on technological sustainability while sidelining issues of labor and human sustainability (overworking, turnover, harassment and grievance, career-building) that can undercut even the best laid infrastructure plans. (4) In these more tender moments of breakdown, hard lessons emerge that often reveal what technology alone cannot fix: problems of labor, inequality, marginality and violence. (5) By making visible narratives of care (for each other and for the environment) in understanding the OOI, I highlight critical power dynamics of building transformative infrastructure, including the gendered and marginalized labor in service of an infrastructure’s development and futurism that does not get credited as time-on-task (e.g. mentorship and informal support networks, appealing to and amending grievance reporting, fallout from sexual violence, and accommodating peripheral stakeholders and agents like park services, fisheries, indigenous communities, industry manufacturers, etc.). The focus on care
emerged from observing participants and is informed by feminist scholars such as bell hooks. This work argues that we must examine care in order to expand our understanding of the human and nonhuman actors that create knowledge about the ocean and, in turn, about the world.