Date of Degree

9-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Earth & Environmental Sciences

Advisor

Cindi Katz

Committee Members

Deborah Cowen

Donald Mitchell

Subject Categories

Human Geography | Political Economy

Keywords

ship recycling, fixed capital and devaluation, environmental regulations, maritime economy, uneven development, South Asia

Abstract

Shipbreaking is a dismantling process with a primary objective of extracting large amounts of steel from ocean-going vessels, oil tankers, bulk cargo carriers, and container ships. As mobile forms of fixed capital, these devalued vessels have experienced a gradual or sudden loss of value. The removal of devalued ships from the world fleet, through an increasingly sophisticated global demolition market and expanding domestic shipbreaking markets, have played a critical role in helping the global shipping sector solve its crises of overproduction since the mid 1970s. Since the early 1990s Bangladesh has become one of the most important domestic shipbreaking markets.

The scrap steel extracted from the shipbreaking process is transformed into billets and rebars; these finished and semi-finished construction materials are embedded into the built environment and create a material foundation for economic development. The laborers central to this circulation and market are known as shipbreakers and hold some of the most dangerous jobs in the world. They are exposed to slow and spectacular forms of violence during a labor-intensive dismantling process that has claimed 181 lives between 2005 and 2017. It is the daily lives of shipbreakers and the arrival and disappearance of the scrap ships, that makes apparent continued circulations of global capital through all its forms—fixed, fictitious, and money forms—and the human and environmental stakes of these circulations.

“Market Making: Crises and the Global Production of Shipbreaking in Chittagong, Bangladesh” examines how the contemporary shipbreaking market was produced, why it is in Chittagong, for whom does it benefit, and what crises it endures and produces there? Using a multi-sited ethnographic approach that drew on semi-structured interviews, participant observation, archival research, and visual ethnography, the dissertation interrogates political and economic moments of conjuncture that offer insight into how Chittagong became a viable and productive location for the large-scale dismantling of ocean-going vessels. In order to locate shipbreaking in this way, my research focused on an analysis of: the historical-geographic conditions of the industry in Chittagong; the financialization of the shipping sector since the 1960s and the implications of capital circulation on overproduction; the actors, devices, and spaces that reveal the workings of the global demolition market; and the material effects of a new set of interrelated international environmental and labor regulations and the affect they are having for uneven development. In general, this research revealed how the shipping sector and shipbreaking market function in global capital’s ability to reproduce itself and, at times of economic crisis, how the sector solves barriers to accumulation through new and deepening forms of exploitation: people breaking up ships on beaches.

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