Subversive Submersives

The Unseen Urbanisation of the Southern Ocean


  • Charity Edwards Monash University



The enormity of the ocean presents as an unusual physical obstacle that complicates claims for spaces being urbanised well beyond the traditional container of the city, such as the focus of this discussion: the Southern Ocean. Though commonly perceived as a pristine wilderness at the end of the earth, the ocean surrounding Antarctica has been imbricated in planetary-scale processes of urbanisation since the late eighteenth century, so the absence of this oceanic volume from twenty-first-century urban debates is troubling. Representations of the Antarctic as remote and disconnected from cities do nothing to contribute to a critical discussion of its ocean volume, technological histories or ongoing colonial settler imaginaries. Instead, attention might turn to codifying what the ocean increasingly contains by way of urban processes and, ultimately, what might be offered by confirming extended forms of urbanisation operating on and, importantly, through the earth. In this article I re-present the Southern Ocean via comparative cartographies and critical image-making to cross-examine what its occlusion signifies for the planetary reach of urbanisation. For underneath the machinery of extraction and exploitation lie significant questions regarding representations of the urban as they manifest outside conventions that overstate ‘the city’ as central to urbanisation.

Author Biography

Charity Edwards, Monash University

Charity Edwards is a lecturer in Architecture and Urban Planning & Design at Monash University (Melbourne), where she oversees the Bachelor of Architecture design studios alongside urban history and theory units at undergraduate and masters level. She is a registered architect, having practiced for twenty years across Australia, and continues to collaborate with artists, scientists, and communities to create built spaces, objects and landscapes. Her more recent research highlights the impacts of urbanisation in remote and offworld environments by investigating how such processes extend into the ocean and outer space through increasingly autonomous technologies. Her work has been published in Dialogues in Human Geography, Society + Space Magazine, and Future West (Australian Urbanism). She is a co-founder and member of The Afterlives of Cities research collective, which brings together expertise in architecture, digital fabrication, astrophysics, and speculative fiction to recover futures in space.


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