An Ocean of Value. How the Demands of the Union are Imprinted on the European Sea

Academic Paper, 2019

13 Pages, Grade: 1



1. Growing into the Blue

2. Approaching the Sea - Setting Sail

3. Conceptualizing the Sea

4. Value out of the Blue
4.1. Plenty more fish in the sea
4.2. Imprinting Europe on the Sea

5. Forging a New Ocean

6. Bibliography


Documents have the power to modify and transform the real world. This essay utilizes a material-semiotic approach in order to explore a communique from the European Commission on the Blue Growth initiative, that proposes new ways for policy maker to expand economic prosperity in the European ocean. The document demonstrates how the demands of the European Union are imprinted on the sea, making the ocean part of the ‘blue’ economy, the labor market, and the politics of a European identity. Through this process a whole ecosystem is made subject to an economic and political institution.

1. Growing into the Blue

The ocean has fascinated humans since the first people set sail into the endless blue. Yet, the oceans are more than just fascinating. The world’s oceans are a delicate, unbelievable complex ecosystem that is central to what makes our blue planet so unique in the universe. The sea keeps Earth in balance, sustains an abundance of incredible adapted organisms and produces the oxygen that sustains life as we know it. Famously we know less about this world, that is so rich in biological and inorganic resources, than about space. It is only natural that the growth imperative of the modern world drives us to also incorporate this domain into our sphere of influence.

In Europe, decades of progress have recently, met difficulties of separatist movements, financial crisis and pressure from emerging global powers. To counteract these challenges the European Union initiated the Horizon 2020 funding program to support and foster research, innovation and delivering economic growth faster (European Commission, 2016). It only stands to reason that the ocean is part of this push to new frontiers of progress and development. Blue Growth is Europe’s long term strategy to secure and expand the millions of jobs and value produced by the ‘blue economy’ (European Commission, 2012)

The way Europe envisions, enacts and negotiates its relation to the sea is tremendously interesting due to its scale, importance to the economy as well as the European identity and the impact the ocean has on life not just in Europe but all around the world. This essay sets out on a journey, not on the sea itself, but through the ins and outs of a document that reflects Europe’s strategy towards the ocean. As Asdal (2015b) notes “Paperwork does not simply describe an external reality ‘out there’: Documents also take part in working upon, modifying, and transforming that reality”. Documents are part of what actively makes and shapes the world around us. This journey dives into the Blue Growth communique from the European Commission to explore how Europe interacts with the ocean.

Science and Technology studies have a unique perspective that allows us to unpack this relation of the EU as a social institution and its technological offshoots with its ‘natural’ blue surroundings. Our travels through Blue Growth try to get to the bottom of how the demands of the European Union are imprinted on the sea. To demonstrate how this process is initiated in the Blue Growth document, we first visit a view methodological and conceptual tools that will provide the necessary equipment to explore the modification work that may transform our ocean in radical ways. Subsequently a concrete look at what propositions are made in Blue Growth will help us to answer the question a the heart of this expedition.

2. Approaching the Sea - Setting Sail

Every journey needs a purpose, a goal, a final destination. This voyage set its sights on the answer to a specific question: How are the demands of the European Union imprinted on the sea in the Blue Growth document? The EU has many aims, intentions, and purposes but our travels through the innovation document will focus on three interconnected issues:

Frist of all, Europe has a vested interest to expand the gross value added of the Union. Economic growth is the driving force of modern society. While the EU is definitely is also a political union, the economic aspect of the EU was at the center of attention since it was brought into being after the cold war (, 2016). Closely connected to this, is the notion of a European labor force. Jobs are a essential for the economy but also a political tool to assure legitimacy and support of the people who live in the union. If Europe can increase the number of marine and maritime labor opportunities through their Blue Growth initiative not only the economic power of the region will increase but also the worth of the EU itself will become more apparent to its citizens. This dynamic directly connects to the final demand we will explore during this journey: the stabilization and expansion of authority. As the EU faces pushback from its member states it has to reassert its legitimacy by being a driver of prosperity and innovation. Supporting technologies that utilize potential of the ocean might strengthen the commitment of states receiving support through the Blue Growth and Horizon 2020 framework.

Yet, our journey is not one of political science. Our voyage seeks to expand this horizon and tries to uncover how documents, specifically the Blue Growth communique, not only address the European Union, but also imprint the demands of the EU on the ocean itself. To do that we have to look at Blue Growth not as something in the way of finding the ‘real’ truth but rather as part of reality itself. Similar to the licensing system discussed in the expert report of Asdals (2015b) What is the issue? The transformative capacity of documents, Blue Growth can be seen as a way to establish new targets for invention and intervention in the European ocean. Documents have the power to make nature objects visible and therefore governable. When the EU opens up new frontiers, tightens or opens regulation and regulates licenses for fishing or mining, the existence and wording of in these documents help us to understand how nature is administrated and commodified by European institutions. If we want to understand Europe and its sea, it is vital to appreciate how documents manifest a specific vision of Europe and change nature by expressing them. Both the written letters and the change that is put into motion in the real world have to be considered. Put simply: “Words and materialities, the material and the semiotic, must be handled together” (Asdal, 2015b, p. 2). Blue Growth is a perfect example for a document that addresses both nature and ‘the social’ in the form of the EU. It has the power to shape ‘natural’ objects through the recommendations and accounts put forth in the innovation document . With that in mind we have come to the shore, almost ready to embark on or voyage. Only a few tools need to be put in place in order to set sail.

3. Conceptualizing the Sea

The previous chapter claimed that every voyage needs a purpose. However, as the Buddha tells us, what is most often even more important is the journey itself. Four our expedition through the Blue Growth to be successful, we need a map and a compass that can guide our enquiry. This chapter will outline the basic conceptual framework with which we will navigate through the nitty gritty details of the report. First, we need to situate ourselves in the theoretical landscape and open the map of material-semiotics. Subsequently, the conceptual compass of co-modification will guide our travels.

Blue Growth labels itself a communique from the European Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Is the text a mere informational object that informs parts of the European political machinery about facts, findings and ramifications of the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries work? If the turn to social constructivism has taught us anything, things are not always as simple as they appear on the first glance. Economic sociology makes a convincing argument that value is socially constructed. Aspers and Beckert (2011) show that value is something that does not only exist hiding in the universe around us, waiting to be discovered. Rather value is something that emerges out of a social fabric in which it is negotiated. Cases like life insurance or whale watching might make this apparent as they “seem detached from the materiality of the commodity” (p. 30). If the value is attached to the aesthetic or moral qualities, “the social basis of their valuation is already part of the definition of the object studied” (p. 30). Similarly, Blue Growth could be conceptualized as a social and political construct that puts value on certain things over others. While the notion of valuation rather that static value is intriguing, science studies have shown us that it might be even more interesting to include the materiality of the world instead of only relying on the ‘semiotic’ social analysis of an issue (Callon, 2000; Latour, 1987). However, to do this we need a conceptual tool that can address both worlds.

Asdal (2015a) shows in her analysis of the cod fish, that innovation documents can be approached as a setting for valuation practices. Combining the realm of the social and the realm of materialities, she argues that these documents co-modify the materiality of the codfish itself through the process of valuation. The case study shows how biotechnology is literally capitalize life, through which live has become a productive force of the market. The materiality of the biology is made part of the economy itself. The modification of both markets and entities, emerges from the innovation documents, concerned with the creation of cod farms, in three different forms: timing, market research, and the transformation of farmed cod to fresh cod. Blue Growth is not focused on a singular entity, however it has a characteristic that can let this journey be inspired by Asdals (2015a) work. The document does not focus on a specific type of biological life like the codfish, but it puts forward innovations that have the potential to modify an entire ecosystem. The bioeconomy expresses itself not in the form of the codfish but rather in the form of the ocean that is subjugated by the demands of the European Union. In order to better understand how the communique form the Commission of Maritime Affairs might commodify a ecosystem, the next chapter will finally push off shore and move into how innovation documents shape specific elements of Europe as a market as well as Europe as a sea.

4. Value out of the Blue

4.1. Plenty more fish in the sea

Our sights are set on the Blue Growth document. Equipped with our conceptional map and compass the journey will lead us through Europe’s relation with its ocean. The first characteristic to notice on our travels through the Blue Growth communique is its design. The choice of color mirrors what the title suggests. The future for European growth is to be found in the blue. Two distinct elements were chosen to govern the first impression that is imprinted on every person holding the report in its hand.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Blue Growth Cover Page (European Commission, 2012)

The enormous picture of a port, in what might be one of the mediteranian countries immeadiately draws the focus of any observer. The picture is almost perfectly divided into three sections. The middle immediately takes a hold of our attention. Enormous passanger boats and ferries are ankered in the port. Inbetween one can spot trucks indicating that the port is busy shipping products in and out of the city or country. This connects to the second feature, which is the industrial side of the port. Loading cranes and piles of shipping containers indicating international trade thriving. The port then opens up into the sea, embedding the picture in the overall blue theme of the coverpage. Lastly, the lower part of the picture shows houses. Definitely not focus of the image, they display the people that live near the economic driving force of maritime trade. The image is a affirmation of the report: Europe is a strong maritime economy with tourism and trade being important sources of income. However, growth is the imparative of the market. A thriving port is not enough! The port has to expand, ship more people or goods and generate more value. The picture however does not only show the port but also an open sea that extends to the edge of the image. Europe still have plenty of valuable sea to expand into in order to grow the economy. Above this picture the logo of the European Comission overshadows the scenery. Penetrating into the image itself from above, it adds a certain power aspect to the Blue Growth report by invoking the institutional behemoth of the European Union. Similar to the codfish being stamped by the Norge – Seafood from Norway label (Asdal, 2015a), the picture is imprinted with a particular value: The economy that is visualized in the image below is subordinate to the structure, organization and policy of governance – not through national legislation but through european policy. This underlines the point that the picture is to be seen as a european port, devoid of national charachteristics.

The portrail of power and growth of the european sea depicted in the image is only emphasized by the text that is written beneth. Here, the attention of the observer is directed by a not so sutle hirachy. Similar to the picture, the title is split into three parts. First, the object of interest - the blue - sits in bold letters at the center of the paper, immeadiately taking hold of the focus of the reader. Underneath ‘Growth’ is displayed slightly to the right, not in bold letters but still dominating the depiction. The third layer slightly to the left, in italics and significantly smaller presents the subheading Opportunities for marine and maritime sustainable growth. The titel already sends a powerfull message. This report will adress one thing - the ocean - in a specific way: focused on expanding the economy. Less important is that the document is about opportunity, maritime and marine domains and lastly that the growth is also sustainable. The heading of the communique sets a very parculiar tone that hits every reader as soon as they hold the report in their hand. At the end of the page, overshadowed by the power radiating from the image and text, sits the reference to the origin of the Blue Growth report, the bureau of Maritime Affairs.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


An Ocean of Value. How the Demands of the Union are Imprinted on the European Sea
University of Vienna
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
Value, Europe, European Union, Ocean, Fishing
Quote paper
M.A. Stefan Raß (Author), 2019, An Ocean of Value. How the Demands of the Union are Imprinted on the European Sea, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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