Shipping plays a crucial role in global circulation and geopolitical imaginaries of mobility. Approximately 90% of the world’s imports and exports travel by sea on some 93,000 merchant vessels, operated by 1.25 million seafarers, carrying almost six billion tons of cargo. This global circulation, however, is dependent on navigating a variety of chokepoints—narrow straits, ports, and other geographic locales that ‘choke’ the seemingly frictionless flow of global shipping. Focusing on ports and shipping lanes in the Bab-el-Mandeb, a narrow strait that separates Africa from Asia and connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, this talk explores the generative power of chokepoints. Beyond the problem of lag, I argue for understanding chokepoint politics—a mode of politics and place-making built on channeling circulation.
Jatin Dua is an associate professor of Anthropology and Director of the Interdepartmental Program in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan. His research explores maritime mobility, and its perils and possibilities, in the Indian Ocean, focusing on processes and projects of governance, law, and economy. His book, Captured at Sea: Piracy and Protection in the Indian Ocean, (University of California Press, 2019) and winner of the 2020 Elliot P. Skinner Book Award, is a multi-sited ethnographic and archival engagement with Somali piracy and contestations over legitimate and illegitimate commerce in the Western Indian Ocean. Dua has published several articles on maritime anthropology, captivity, political economy, and sovereignty. His current research projects continue this emphasis on maritime worlds and their entanglements with law, sovereignty, economy, and sociality through two main projects on chokepoints and port making in the Indian Ocean and a research project on the lives of seafarers from the Global South.