Anna-Katharina Hornidge, Stefan Partelow & Kerstin Knopf

On ‘Epistemic (In-)equalities’ and the Marine Sciences 

The past years have witnessed an immense increase in policy-level interest in the ocean as climate regulator, biodiversity hub and resource provider. The United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda, and especially Goal 14 ‘Life below Water’ celebrated at the UN Ocean Conference in New York in 2017 just act as one example amongst many underlining this discovery of the ocean by policy-makers and civil society groups. Facilitated by this invigorated public interest in the ocean, the marine sciences, as sector infrastructurally equipped and mandated for mapping and analysing the ocean, for knowing its ecosystems and resources, thus increasingly find themselves in the role of knowledge brokers and translators between the ocean, as last (epistemic or resource) frontier, and society. At the same time little scholarly work exists on the unique characteristics, internal logics, negotiation dynamics, and peculiarities of marine and coastal resource related scientific knowledge systems. If, in Francis Bacon’s words knowledge indeed is power, being a knowledge holder comes with substantial responsibilities regarding access and benefit sharing.

This paper reflects on the role of marine sciences in ‘knowing the ocean’ by exploring the defining logics of differentiation within and between marine and coastal knowledge systems. It draws on two sets of empirical data: (a) qualitative ethnographic field research on the social organisation of international and interdisciplinary research teams on a German research vessel before the coasts of Mauretania and Senegal, as well as (b) a social network analysis of authorship collaborations in 753 peer-reviewed publications in the field of tropical marine sciences. Based on the dialogical analysis of these, and further inspired by conceptual discussions on epistemic justice/epistemic oppression, the authors propose the concept of ‘epistemic (in-)equalities’ in order to shed light on the logics of sorting (and hierarchising) different stocks of knowledge and modi of knowledge production and sharing, as well as their effects on publicly making sense of the ocean.