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Counting Fishes: Genealogies of Numero-Politics on the Malabar Coast


· Götz Hoeppe University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada)


07/27 | 11:40-12:00 UTC+2/CEST


This paper considers efforts and practices through which governable objects in the fishery have been defined, measured and debated in south India. Assessments of fisheries resources commonly revolve around issues of quantification. Yet numbers and the measurements that produce them are inevitably embedded in “disciplined fields, systems of registration and surveillance, technological checks and verifications, and fragile networks of trust” – elements of what sociologists Aryn Martin and Michael Lynch (2009) have termed numero-politics. By focusing on fisheries research conducted at the West Hill Fisheries Research Station of the Madras Fisheries Department (now Kozhikodu, Kerala) in the 1920s – 1940s, I probe into the difficulties and the means of defining and quantifying resources of the Indian oil sardine (Sardinella longiceps) in a late-colonial setting. This work resulted in the first regulation of marine fisheries in south Asia. Drawing on ethnography, published records and archival research, I illustrate the challenges of producing a scientific alternative to fishers’ local understandings and take this case as a starting point to reflect on later practices and politics of quantifying fish resources on the Malabar coast.