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«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»

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Howard Newby (1977, 1978, 1987) considered how changes in agriculture and the countryside in the twentieth century derived not from the apparent external imposition of impersonal forces, but from changes in social relationships within the countryside itself. Fredrick Barth and Antony Cohen developed the view that social organization is shaped by boundaries and relations across boundaries, and that culture and communities exist less as concrete entities and more as relative ideas and processes (cf. Cohen 1990).

Many anthropological and sociological studies have subsequently emerged that locate rural actors and communities as active and heterogeneous agents in their adaptations to integrated European and global political economies – in the context of post-socialist Eastern Europe as well as the capitalist West (Pine 1996). The task is not to dispense with concepts of tradition/modernity but to recognize that that there is a dynamic interplay between these notions that is likely to be a characteristic of most periods and places in particular ways. Pine suggests that ‘in certain contexts, people accept and adopt modern technologies, and interact with and participate in the worlds that produce them, while in other contexts, what may be seen as the encroaching and anti-social claims of modernity are consistently resisted by these same people’ (2007: 187); and as Ennew puts it in relation to her study of the Western Isles, a ‘myth of past coherence is an important backdrop to the way in which many Hebrideans conceptualise what they see as discontinuous present change’ (1980: 4). This perspective enables the application of political economy approaches such as ‘world-systems theory’ (Wallerstein 1974) to the study of rural locales whilst at the same time recognizing that the experiences and representations of centre-periphery relations, class difference, geographic/social distance and marginality, are in part actively constructed and/or performed by rural subjects themselves as a powerful source of meaning, resistance, identity and economic adaptation (Darling n.d.).

Another reason why anthropologists and sociologists have stressed relations of community in the study of rural Europe is that in rural locales a significant degree of autonomy is frequently found amongst producers. As Howard points out (2012a)

quoting Sider (2003):

Most anthropological research has taken place not in classic factory waged labour situations, but in what Sider has described as “merchant capital” systems (such as fisheries) that are characterized by the “purchase of commodities from communities that generate these products through forms of work organization that they themselves control and supervise”. The tension between the autonomy of production and the constraints of producing for a market in such circumstances can produce a uniquely varied and dynamic set of class relations (Howard 2012a: 59).

Perhaps for this reason, I also found class distinctions and boundaries difficult to objectively differentiate in the context of fishing villages in Cornwall. When my research subjects seemed to draw class distinctions, either implicitly or explicitly, these were variable and fluid depending on context. At times, stratification within the fishing industry was highlighted, including sometimes the relationships between owners of capital and workers. More often, conflict or inequality was cast primarily in terms of perceived differences between insiders and outsiders, for example, between those who knew about fishing and depended on fishing in some way, for part or all of their income, and those who did not, which may include non-fishing locals as well seaside visitors or much maligned ‘second-home owners’. In some contexts differences in perceived levels of affluence or consumption patterns were the issue, in others, differences were drawn in terms of work-culture and occupational background, or in terms of epistemic differences, as with conflicts identified around conservation and regulation issues. Invariably, when class experience was salient, a double-image was involved, one of relations close to home, and one of relations between home and more distant contexts, as between the coast and the city for example. Emphasis would shift between these two poles, calling attention not only to class, but also to memory, kinship, place and landscape.

Therefore my approach is to consider class in different contexts as one way of conceiving of relations and experiences amongst others and to examine how they interact. This sometimes calls for other kinds of language, methodologies and theoretical frameworks.

An especially insightful and cogent approach to class in the context of fisheries and other maritime settings has been elaborated by Howard (2012a). More generally, Howard argues that class remains an essential analytical concept for anthropology, not as a static category defining distinct socio-economic groups but as a way of understanding relationships and social change, defining class relations as ‘...social relations as they relate to the experience of producing a livelihood’ (p.59). This is the definition I adopt in this thesis. By focusing on work and different forms of knowledge (as underpinning and/or fragmenting the experience of place and community) social analyses are less likely to fall into essentialised constructions of ‘identity’.

A political economic framework that considers regionally variable experiences of centres and peripheries is also relevant because of the capacity of capitalism to ‘create and then dismiss a way of life’ (Nadel-Klein 2003: 1) and to concentrate the profits of extraction. However rather than seeing this process as a unidirectional and linear sequence of stages, social and economic change occurs through the multiple articulation of modes of production and the particular interactions of tribute, kinship and capitalist forms of economy in different times and places (Wolf 1982). These articulations are essential to understanding both the regional specificities of fishing communities, and the commonalities between them, that make fishing distinct from but interconnected with other ways of life.

Place, knowledge and practice Writing about the study of community history Deacon and Donald (2004) argue that the methodology for approaching community may be more important than formulating any rigidly defined concept. Like Angerbrandt, Lindstrom, and de la Torre-Castro (2011), Olson (2005) and Urquhart (2011) he also draws attention to looking at situated practice and communities as process. Similarly, seeing place as a site of situated practice rather than mere context or locality is also essential, recognizing in the phenomenological tradition of Heidegger (Gray 1999; Ingold 2000; Gray 2000) that environments are not empty containers for human activity, but like human subjects themselves, are constituted by those activities. However it is important to also acknowledge how these activities may include the application of knowledge and technologies that are linked to abstract technical/scientific representations of space (such as cartography and quota regimes).

Instead then of thinking of places as areas with boundaries around, they can be imagined as articulated moments in networks of social relations and understanding.

And this in turn allows a sense of place which is extra-verted, which includes consciousness of its links with the wider world (Massey, cited by Olson 2005).

In the case of the fishing industry, practices do often challenge any straightforward interpretation of the topography of fishing: with fishers sometimes residing, docking their boat and landing their fish in different locations; with state surveillance and regulation shaping everyday practices at sea and perceptions of the environment; and competition and co-operation between fishers creating distinct communities at sea, such as through the sharing or withholding of knowledge about fishing grounds and catches, produced via communications, navigation and fishfinding technologies. Even across historical periods, ‘common fishing practices like seasonal and gender-specific mobility, or the radical disjuncture between the spaces of fishing and places of dwelling, reiterate the inherently corrosive potentials of

everyday socio-cultural processes and the production of community’ (Olson 2005:

260). Finally it is important to also seek to understand how the practical activities that create our environments, sense of place and human subjectivities (and the socialization and learning processes involved) reflect socio-economic conditions including class differences and intergenerational politics (Howard 2012a).

My research has led me to adopt a much broader and multi-layered notion of what constitutes local knowledge of fishing. It is much more dynamic and diverse than a more narrow conception of local knowledge as specialised or occupationallybounded practical, technical and/or ecological ‘know-how’. For example, the knowledge that fishers may take for granted as constituting and maintaining their everyday lived worlds is fluid, in that over time it evolves to incorporate new forms of knowledge that allow people to adapt and innovate in the face of change (as in the example of the father and son trawlermen whose notions of natural instinct, craft and family-transmitted skills now include diverse skills such as being politically engaged, business-minded and scientifically informed). Often the context for this knowledge is as significant as the content. Fishermen’s everyday working knowledge and skills may be embedded with particular historicities, thus also reproducing, and making meaningful, knowledge about the past; but historical knowledge about fishing also exists in contexts which are outside or peripheral to the everyday occupational concerns of fishermen. Knowledge about the fishing past is conveyed via a diverse range of material culture – built environments and artefacts (including visual mediums such as art and photography), archives, stories, and also skills and techniques (such as sailing, fishing, boat-building, basketry and painting).

It entails practices of historical enquiry, of memory and narration and in some contexts reconstruction. The past is not only an object of intellectual curiosity but may also be seen as a resource for the present and the future. Practices of art, craftmaking and heritage (in which sites or artefacts are might be created, salvaged, and used outside of everyday commodity circuits) are ambivalently placed as reflections of loss and social change, but also vehicles of recovery, political critique and new opportunity. DeSilvey (2012) constructs an unconventional geo-historical account of harbour protection at Mullion, Cornwall. The harbour owners and heritage managers have found the harbour to be increasingly uneconomic to maintain in the face of environmental and social coastal change and have devised a long-term plan involving ‘managed decline’. She makes the case that the narratives we weave around such sites might be better told in ways that reflect entropy as being part of a long-term process of dynamic flux and creative change.

Summary This thesis critically examines the interaction of three perspectives on the rural coast – the labour view of the coast as a working environment, a scientific/ecological view, and a romantic/nostalgic/salvaging view. I explore tensions and conflicts between the fishing industry, science, regulation, and heritage practices, but also the continuities, interdependencies and bricolage that bind them. All of these domains incorporate forms of labour as well as representations of labour, practical and informal knowledge as well as formal and epistemic knowledge. Following Cruikshank’s example (2005), all can be viewed as various forms of local knowledge, when we recognize that ‘local knowledge is not located in closed traditions but exists in encounters, it is dynamic, complex and often links biophysical and social processes’.

The thesis builds on the fields of literature I have outlined above in several important ways: it provides a contemporary account of fishing communities in a region where little anthropological work has been done to date; it attempts to combine an approach informed by political economy with a perspective on humanenvironment relations, place and community informed by the anthropological literatures on knowledge/skill, narrative and practice; and it examines heritagemaking processes alongside industrial processes and includes a study of forms of heritage that are informal/ non-institutional and experiential.


The smuggling days of Cornwall are over and past, and the wrecker of history and romance has become the mere gatherer of driftwood upon her beaches, but still the fisherman plies his ancient trade, the first of all the long-shore types to take to the sea for a livelihood, the last to leave it (Jenkin 1932).

In Cornish Seafarers, the historian A.K. Hamilton Jenkin captures some of the romantic appeal of the Cornish fishing trade, which is at once an ancient livelihood and an encounter between hunter and prey that is unique each time it is enacted; an industry where ‘despite changes in a mechanical world’ fishermen are still dependent on ‘the unforeseen dances of nature’ and the ‘verdict of others for the ultimate reward of his toil’. Contemporary historians have also emphasised the ‘primitive conflict’ at the core of the fishing business (Starkey, Reid, and Ashcroft 2000): ‘for fishing is essentially a form of hunting, a life and death struggle in which one form of life captures and consumes another’ (p.7). Whilst fishing as an opportunistic predator-prey pursuit has ancient origins, its social organisation is highly variable and context dependent. An ensemble of techniques, fishing defies easy characterization. In industrial economies it involves aspects of factory production, and the capture of fish has been described (by scientists and policy makers and sometimes fishermen) through farming terms such as ‘harvesting’, rather than ‘hunting’. In Cornwall, the historical development of fishing doubly defies assumptions because its early modern history was more characterised by typical capitalist relations of production (such as wage-labour) than its late modern history.

It was only later that fishing became predominately a full-time occupation of shareearning fishermen and that ownership of the means of production came predominately into the hands of a new class of fish producers.

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