The Customer is Always Right? Flags of Convenience and the Assembling of Maritime Affairs

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The concept of ‘flag of convenience’ is ubiquitous in literature on maritime governance. First popularised by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), it has served as a touchstone concept in maritime policy discourse, and as a metaphor for the interaction between state and corporate actors in both maritime affairs and the globalised economy more broadly. This article argues, however, that the conceptions of public and private as ontologically separate that underpin existing literature on maritime governance have obscured notable shifts in the practices of flags of convenience in recent decades. More specifically (and drawing on assemblage theory), it argues that while flags of convenience have been framed exclusively as entities that allow shipping interests to escape regulatory control, certain open registers have been re-constituted as hubs of knowledge and materiality that ease and accelerate commercial circulation in a variety of ways. The article concludes by drawing attention to the volatility of the politics and practices of flag statehood at large; additionally, it highlights the insights that can be yielded for International Relations by the examination of maritime governance using novel theoretical tools.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Relations
Early online date20 Nov 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Nov 2023

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