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Blue Humanities Seminar

19 January 2021

Garjan Sterk, coordinator of Radboud Gender and Diversity Studies at Radboud University, introduced this special edition of the GDS Seminar Series that was organized in cooperation with the Race-Religious Constellation Project (RCC) and the Radboud University Network on Migrant Inclusion (RUNOMI). The seminar was held online and more than 30 people participated.

Dr Justine M. Bakker, postdoctoral researcher in Critical Philosophy of Race at Radboud University, started out the seminar by giving a short introduction of the Blue Humanities – a newly developed research field that was coined by Steve Mentz in the late 2000s. Within Blue Humanities, one is encouraged to expand the focus beyond the land and take the ocean as starting point of (critical) thought. Instead of seeing the ocean as vast, empty and perhaps useless, it is profoundly alive, challenging concepts and perspectives of how we look at the world, questioning the accustomed terra-centrism in humanities and beyond.

In response to this introduction, the Radboud-based geographer and RUNOMI-member Dr Joris Schapendonk, shared his thoughts on what Blue Humanities could mean for migration studies and geography. Although Blue Humanities is not widely known in geography and since migration studies seem to be imprisoned in binaries, Blue Humanities could be though-provoking for these disciplines. However, ‘water’ has been inherent to migration studies ever since, not only in terms of language (think of terms like flows, stream and liquid danger), but also in terms of the mere existence of the ocean, since it is very often a barrier between African and European places. “What happens at sea is to question on the land”, Dr Schapendonk concludes, drawing on the Forensic Oceanography project that links solidarity work with academic work, questioning the institutional violence at sea and the societal ignorance at land.

Given Dr Bakker’s expertise on Black Studies, she then took a critical account towards Blue Humanities by asking the crucial question of how does Blue Humanities look like in Black? Inspired by the scholarly article "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book" written by Hortense J. Spillers (1987, https://doi.org/10.2307/464747), Dr Bakker states that the oceanic theory machine is overlooking the destructive history and present of the ocean. In fact, by using the term ‘turn’ – in other words the turn away from terra-centrism – a new interest is suggested, though many people might not have to turn to the sea, since they are already there. A ‘turn’ and the rising of Blue Humanities then ignores how significant the ocean is – and its Black history.

The presentation was then followed by a lively discussion between participants and presenters.

Short Bios
Dr Justine Bakker is affiliated with the Race-Religion Constellation Project at Radboud University. Straddling religious studies and black studies, she studies the intersections of race and religion. She’s published extensively on the ways race has shaped (the study of) esoteric phenomena. Currently, she’s working on her first monograph, Demonic Oceans: Parareligious Stories in the African Diaspora. Based on her PhD dissertation (Rice University, May 2020), this book studies African diasporic literature, poetry and visual art about the ocean to reconsider the categories of and relationship between “religion” and “human.”

Dr Joris Schapendonk is Assistant Professor at the Geography, Planning and Environment department of Radboud University and an active member of Nijmegen Centre for Border Research (NCBR). His research concentrates on the im/mobility trajectories of African migrants towards, and within, Europe and the ways these trajectories are shaped by mobility regimes and migration industries. With this work, he seeks to contribute to the reflexive turn in migration studies. He has published in, among others, Annals of the Association of American Geographers (2014), Population, Space and Place (2015), Social Inclusion (2020) Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2018 & 2020) and Geoforum (2018) His latest book Finding Ways in Eurospace (2020) is published by Berghahn Books.