Consensus for Whom?

Gaming the Market for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna through the Empire of Bureaucracy

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology
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  • 1 Pratt Institute jtelesca@pratt.edu
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This article takes an inside look at ocean governance and asks what is so good about consensus as the dominant mode of decision making in international law. As an accredited observer of the treaty body known as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), I draw upon three years of ethnographic research to document how global elites in closed-door meetings decided the fate of the planet's most valuable fish – bluefin tuna – now depleted. I probe the diplomatic vernacular of a 'game' to unpack how bureaucratic work got done, most poignantly among rich and rogue delegations. At stake was not only money in glamour fish but also status. Implicated, too, is the 'empire of bureaucracy', or the power of a supranational regulatory regime to fix, manage and reproduce inequalities, even if unknowingly, for the postcolonial organization of world affairs.

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