The Geographies of Policy: Assembling National Marine Aquaculture Policy in the United States

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Fairbanks, Luke W.

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In the United States, marine aquaculture is increasingly viewed as way to offset stagnating wild fisheries production, help faltering coastal community economies, and address a growing national seafood trade deficit. The national government has outwardly supported the development of the sector through policies, plans, and other statements. However, many social and environmental questions surround prospective expansion, and actual policy development and implementation has been slow. This dissertation builds on recent work in human geography and policy studies to explore US national marine aquaculture policy processes, conceptualizing policy as a dynamic assemblage of actors, spaces, practices, and relations. It contributes to our understanding of oceans geography and policy processes by addressing three questions: (1) How do actors interact within the assemblage negotiate, construct, and develop national policies? (2) What practices are actors employing to shape aquaculture policymaking, and what views underlie them? (3) What are the practical, and often local, implications of these processes, and how do actors interact with and within policy development (or not)?

These questions are approached empirically by tracing the US national marine aquaculture policy assemblage across time, space, and scale. The dissertation draws on research conducted within and outside the US government, focusing on the internal practices of the state and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as a case of local and regional policy implementation and development in New England. It also focuses on offshore aquaculture policy, as well as marine aquaculture more generally. The dissertation uses discourse analysis, ethnography, and other approaches to conduct a geographic policy analysis that explores the processes and relationships producing national marine aquaculture policy in the United States.

Overall, this research shows that broad or monolithic conceptualization of the state, its motivations, its practices, and their implications are oversimplified. The federal government features a diversity of actors, discourses, and ideas about marine aquaculture and its policy development, which manifest in different paths to reform and conflicting efforts within the state itself. Further, national policy processes are not contained within the national government, but are co-produced by mobile and dynamic actors and policies across contexts. Actors deploy particular discourses about marine aquaculture’s risks and opportunities, government agencies and offices claim and reclaim authority over the sector, bureaucrats engage in diverse everyday policy practices and interactions, and policy ideas and policies themselves change as they are translated and deployed in new spaces and by different actors. Together, these processes suggest that rather than expecting a totalizing form of marine aquaculture development in the United State, it is important to consider the ruptures and opportunities within the assemblage that might allow for alternative forms of policy, coordination, and implementation at all scales.





Fairbanks, Luke W. (2015). The Geographies of Policy: Assembling National Marine Aquaculture Policy in the United States. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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