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Oceans of Conflict: Pathways to an Ocean Sustainability PACT

Planning Practice & Research 



Festering ocean conflict thwarts efforts to realize the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. This paper explores transformations of ocean conflict into situated sustainability pathways that privilege human needs, justice and equity. We first outline the promise and limits of prevailing ocean/coastal governance practices, with a focus on marine spatial planning (MSP), which by framing conflict in shallow terms as use incompatibility, supports resolution strategies that privilege neoliberal technocratic-managerial and post-political models of consensual negotiation, thereby obscuring the structural inequalities, maldistributions and misrecognitions that drive deep-seated conflicts. Next, the distinctive features of the marine realm and ocean conflict are explained. Third, we outline the root causes, drivers and scale of conflict, with reference to history, climate, culture, governance, institutions and prevailing international socio-political conditions. Fourth, we reflect on the nature of conflict, exploring implications for shallow and deeper approaches of handling conflicts. Fifth, we highlight the implications of knowledge co-production for understanding and transforming conflict in pursuit of justice. Then, in response to the orthodoxies of MSP and prevailing conflict resolution strategies, we elaborate an alternative approach – Pragmatic Agonistic co-produced Conflict Transformation (PACT) for sustainability – sketching out key elements of a praxis that seeks to transform destructive interaction patterns of conflict into co-produced, constructive, scalable and ‘institutionalizable’ yet contestable and provisional sustainability knowledge-action.

Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • What are the causes, drivers and scale of Ocean Conflict?
  • What are the limits and promises of Maritime Spatial Planning?
  • What is the Pragmatic Agonistic co-produced Conflict Transformation (PACT) approach?

Implementation Context:

Ocean health is in peril due to anthropogenic pressures and climate change threats. It is also marked by long-standing conflicts between maritime activities

Aspects / Objectives:

This study aims at exploring transformations of ocean conflict into situated sustainability pathways that privilege human needs, justice and equity.


The authors are implementing the Pragmatic Agonistic co-produced Conflict Transformation (PACT) for ocean sustainability frame, based on a review of diverse but interconnected domains of scholarship, including marine governance with a focus on MSP, conflict studies, agonistics, critical pragmatism and phronesis, critical institutionalism, and transdisciplinary knowledge co-production.

Main Outputs / Results:

This paper provides a framework for understanding and transforming conflict, which can assist policymakers and practitioners in harnessing conflict and leveraging plural sustainability frames, knowledges, values and visions toward the co-production of transformative and ‘institutionalizable’ ocean knowledge-action.

Responsible Entity:

School of Natural Sciences, Technology and Environmental Studies, Södertörn University, Huddinge, Sweden

Costs / Funding Source:

This work was supported by the Svenska Forskningsrådet Formas [2019-02368]; Östersjöstiftelsen [46/18].

Contact person:

Ralph Tafon: (iconralph[dot]tafon[at]sh[dot]se)