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Keywords:

  • affluence;
  • extra-territoriality;
  • mobility;
  • secession;
  • social elites

Abstract:  A quarter century of financial deregulation, robber-baron corporatism and growing income polarisation has enabled the spatial partitioning of urban space into new and complex arrangements of micro-neighbourhood governance and privatism. These archipelagos of fortress homes and neighbourhoods increasingly lie outside the spaces of conventional state and city government. Yet while residential spaces of urban affluence have been unable to fully remove contact with the social diversity of the public realm, nomadic forms of super-affluence, flowing around a global–national urban system, have generated a form of networked extra-territoriality—a social space decoupled from the perceived risks and general dowdiness of the social world beneath it. This paper examines this space via the curious case of The World, a large residential cruise ship which, as its name suggests, roams the oceans and ports of the globe. Our title is taken from the name given to Japanese paintings of the new affluence and fantasy of life lived by the affluent and artists in late nineteenth century Japanese cities (O Ukiyo E, or pictures of the floating world). We suggest that The World forms a similarly disconnected realm, not only literally afloat, also detached from the reality of a world that has been strategically left behind.