‘The collapse of centre and periphery’: an urbanising Southern Ocean amongst a de-urbanising world

Ms Charity Edwards1,2

1Monash University, Melbourne, Australia,

2University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia


Contemporary understandings of the Southern Ocean are eclipsed by ‘wilderness’ aspirations, diminishing our capacity to recognise human-driven processes in, and increasing urbanisation of, the Antarctic. This, despite a long history of resource extraction, industrial networks, and embedded infrastructure across the region; and growing exploitation and exploration interests in the Southern Ocean itself. The world’s most vulnerable (and yet powerful) ocean reveals an extension of urban processes beyond the container of ‘the city’ and the transformation of vast landscapes. However, just as urban processes extend beyond the bounds of ‘the city’, so too does the ocean exceed the littoral edge – with serious consequences for urban viability along ravaged coastlines. While much research considers sea level rise impacts upon cities, it also relegates the ocean to the periphery of such discussions. Cities are ‘secured’ by ‘off-shoring’ ecological disruption to the beyond, all while ‘de-urbanising’ occurs alongside the masking of an urban Southern Ocean. In this paper, I examine the ongoing urbanisation of the ocean and its unexpected inverse: the ocean’s de-urbanisation of cities. ‘The collapse of centre and periphery’ is a rehearsed argument in urban discourse, but the urbanising Southern Ocean makes apparent relationships constituted at a worryingly planetary scale.


Charity Edwards (M.Arch, M.Env) is a lecturer and urban researcher in the Department of Architecture at MADA (Monash Art, Design, and Architecture), and a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s School of Design.

Her research explores destructive, uneven, and more-than-human impacts of urbanisation and climate change at the scale of the planet; and she foregrounds the long-disregarded space of the ocean in these processes in particular.

Charity is currently investigating the increasing urbanisation of the Southern Ocean; asking how and why this so often conflicts with the popular understanding of Antarctica as “like being on another planet”.



The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

IAG Website

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