Maritime Studies

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 295–304 | Cite as

The transformation of the oceans and the future of marine social science

  • Peter ArboEmail author
  • Maaike Knol
  • Sebastian Linke
  • Kevin St. Martin
Original Paper


The oceans have become a juncture of great visions of blue growth as well as strong environmental concern. This paper discusses the essential role of the social sciences as the oceans increasingly emerge as a contested social arena. The marine social sciences have generated a vast knowledge about the development of fisheries and the implications of fisheries policies on coastal communities. We review this heritage and show that it makes the marine social sciences well qualified to address contemporary challenges raised by the increasing ambitions of exploiting and conserving the world’s oceans. However, with the current transformation of the oceans as sites of comprehensive industrialization, captured in the concept of blue growth, we argue that marine social scientists need to rethink their research objectives. This requires a reflection on the lessons learned from decades of engagement with fisheries and fisheries policy to understand and intervene in processes and practices of modernization, science-based management, and privatization of resources. We suggest how the marine social sciences can provide new knowledge and actively engage in current developments by studying emergent processes in the marine environment, and the institutions, practices, and discourses that shape them. The social sciences have a responsibility to contribute to growth and conservation issues, and are in the capacity to do so, through formulating governance alternatives, anticipating future trends, imagining desirable futures, and facilitating socially just processes and outcomes.



This paper emanated from a three-day workshop of the MARA research group (marine resource management and development) at the Norwegian College of Fishery Science (University of Tromsø—The Arctic University of Norway), October 2017. We thank the participants for inspiring contributions and acknowledge the constructive comments of two anonymous reviewers, which helped sharpen the focus of this paper. We appreciate the research group’s financial contribution to the writing process.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Arbo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Maaike Knol
    • 1
  • Sebastian Linke
    • 2
  • Kevin St. Martin
    • 3
  1. 1.Norwegian College of Fishery ScienceUniversity of Tromsø - The Arctic University of NorwayTromsøNorway
  2. 2.School of Global StudiesUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden
  3. 3.Department of GeographyRutgers University, The State University of New JerseyNew BrunswickUSA

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