The Ship

‘The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilisations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage replaces adventure, and the police the pirates…..’

So ends Foucault’s talk on heterotopias. For Foucault the ship ‘is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is self-enclosed and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea’. From the sixteenth century it has been ‘not only the greatest instrument of economic development but also the greatest reservoir of imagination’.

Essay: The ship: navigating the myths, metaphors and realities of Foucault’s heterotopia par excellence. In this essay, I explore the wide and diverse metaphors of seafaring; the relationship between ships and other heterotopias; and the multiple shifts and transformations of the ship, both mythical and real pdf

The Manunggul Burial Jar (890-710 B.C.) excavated from a cave in the Philippines


Port de Bordeaux, Manet (1871)


Model ship in children’s playground, Nice (2017)


a) For a comprehensive history of ships and seafaring:

Anderson, A. Barrett, J. H. and Boyle, K. V. (2010) The Global Origins and Development of Seafaring, Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. AVAILABLE PDF

b) Using heterotopia as a tool of analysis:

Casarino, C. (2002) Modernity at Sea: Melville, Marx, Conrad in Crisis, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

c) A couple of articles that focus on the ship as heterotopia:

Rankin, J.  and Collins, F. (2017) ‘Enclosing difference and disruption: assemblage, heterotopia and the cruise ship, Social and Cultural Geography 18 (2) 224-244

Grant-Smith, D. and Mayes, R. (2017) ‘Freedom, part-time pirates, and poo police: Regulating the heterotopic space of the recreational boat’ Environment and Planning A 49 (6) 1379-1395.

revised Nov 2018

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