Cultural studies

Gender and Cultural Studies – Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Doing cultural studies in rough seas: the COVID-19 Ocean Multiple
Professor Elspeth Probyn

This presentation aims to demonstrate what a cultural studies analysis of the ocean manifestation of COVID-19 might look like. While the ocean has seemingly remained on the periphery during the ongoing pandemic, the marine environment has nonetheless been profoundly affected as a more than human space of connection. As we know, it was at a seafood market (The Huanan Seafood Market) that the first signs of the virus are said to have appeared – an event that propelled the circulation of disgust and racism that was to follow. I take three sites: Botany Bay, Sydney; the Ruby Princess cruise ship; and the effect of COVID-19 on fish supply chains and on the lives and livelihoods of fishers, particularly in the Global South. The “conjuncture, the moment we live in, albeit differently, is profoundly affected, and many wonder if life as we know it, including global commerce and daily consumption, will ever be the same.” I draw on John Clarke’s argument that “tracing the different dynamics and forces that combine to constitute conjuncture is a considerable challenge”, and Meaghan Morris’ call for site-specific thinking in cultural studies . I argue that now is the time to dig messy in the swamp of the pandemic if we are to find thin threads of hope for our more than human world and our discipline.

Elspeth Probyn FAHA, FASSA is Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies, which she helped establish at the University of Sydney. She has published several groundbreaking monographs, including sex yourself (Routledge, 1993), External effects (Routledge, 1996), Carnal Appetites (Routledge, 2000), Blush: Faces of Shame (Minnesota, 2006) and Eating the Ocean (Duke, 2016). Her current research focuses on fishing as extraction, fish markets as gendered workspaces, and anthropocentric ocean shifts. She is co-editor of a new collection, Sustaining Seas: Oceanic Space and the Politics of Care (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).