Wet ontologies: reforming (and rethinking) surface, depths, volumes

As soon as we start talking about ‘volume’ I’m sent straight back to my school days mathematics – please bear with me… So thinking of volume as the space taken up by something, which as soon as it becomes a liquid, e.g. water, the sea, is then not constrained in its dimensions. Volume in its abstraction, is a relationship between surface area and depth. Which is why volume is therefore such a useful concept to bring to conceptions of geographic space; it encompasses both surface and vertical depth without privileging one over the other.

Thinking volume through the ocean allows the relationship between horizontal surface (area) and vertical depth to come into fluid play, they are inversely dependent the one on the other. When the surface area of a volume of water diminishes to the size of a pinprick, it make well reach the ocean floor in its vertical dimension, but mathematically however its volume remains constant.  More likely given the fleeting mobilities/ temporalities of water,  its volumetric form is far from being a rigid cuboid and is beyond describing in terms of dimensions… without resort to the complexities of mathematical fluid dynamics which are far beyond my reach. Wet ontologies take us beyond any privileging of surface or depth.

The oceans I am guessing retain a relatively constant quantity of water in terms of overall volume, but the relationship between surface and depth shifts with every tide, from one side of the Earth to the other. Which is what I find so amazing – I can sit on the rocks near Lands End, watching the to-ing and fro-ing of the waves, the rise and fall of the tide, see children play in the shallows and realise how connected I am by water to the lives of people in other places – this summer for instance aware that children in Gaza could not play in the shallows along their coast – we are in many ways more connected from there to here by a shared sea facing culture, the shifting volumes and material intensities of the ocean, than disconnected by any global politics. A slightly reassuring thought in a world of seemingly ever increasing disconnections, entrenchments and exclusions.

Wet ontologies‘ – with thanks to Phil Steinberg & Kimberley Peters

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