«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»
Perspectives from the academic literature: the ‘cultural biography’ of quotas The literature most relevant to the research questions at hand is that which has attempted to analyse quotas as part of a history of evolving ideas about the relationship between society and nature and the transformations of the world which such ideas effect and in turn respond to. Quoting Gudeman (1992: 151), Pálsson (1996) has argued that quotas are an example of a ‘modernist production regime’, based on the idea ‘that the human and natural world can be organised and subjected to rational, totalizing control’. Pálsson draws on the example of Icelandic fishermen to show how fishermen’s moral discourses about quotas reflect concern about the role of money and monetary exchange in fisheries management. These arguments connect because of the way quotas are an outcome of an idea about a humanenvironment relationship, which is translated into law (in this case property rights), which in turn is used to influence markets. The main moral concerns that Icelandic fishermen have about this system Pálsson identifies as follows: (1) a concern that quotas violate the fisherman’s rule of capture (i.e. that property in fish is realised at the point of possession); and (2) a concern about the role of money in determining fishing rights (regarding quota markets as corrupt institutions and quota-leasing as leading to undesirable patron-client type relationships).
Anthropology, as Pálsson points out, has had a wide engagement with discourses about money, exchange and commoditisation and he cautions against a tendency towards utopian primitivism in the work of some modern critics of commoditisation and the assumption that market approaches ‘obliterate egalitarian sensibilities and communitarian notions of responsibility’ (p.80). I follow Pálsson’s example in Daniel Pauly (University of British Columbia) quoted by the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7623341.stm. Accessed 01/06/10) seeking to show how fishermen’s perceptions and rationalities arise from specific histories of individual and collective labour and in interaction with the dominant ethos guiding fisheries management. Biological science he notes, may influence the limits on which TACs are set, but quotas are informed most of all by the science of resource economics.
The development of resource economics within the context of fisheries has been outlined by the historian Arthur F. McEvoy (1986, 1988) who places it within a general schema of changing attitudes to nature, markets and law. The laissez-faire view predominant in the nineteenth century produced a system of common law that mainly sought to attribute blame to individuals or groups in disputes over resources.
It failed to see that the non-human environment also participated in social change.
Just as it naturalised ecology, it also naturalised markets. McEvoy (1988) refers to the case of the British handling of conflicts over declining fish stocks in the North Sea. The Royal Commission (along with their spokesperson T.H Huxley) proclaimed fisheries to be inexhaustible and reassured dissenters that if stocks were to decline, economics would compel fishers to find new grounds therefore resting the previous stocks. Regulation would in the commission’s view not only impinge on fisher’s rights of free enterprise, but also might ‘disturb in an unknown manner the balance existing between the conservative and destructive forces at work’ on the stocks (quoted by McEvoy ibid: 217). This bio-economic theory amounted to a belief that;
Fishing in the long run could have no meaningful impact on the ocean environment, and in any case was beyond human understanding and thus not a socially cognizable thing. Unfettered competition, meanwhile, was the mode of social interaction most consonant with essential human nature and thus not to be interfered with (p.217).
McEvoy identifies the next stage in the evolution of attitudes to natural resources as that of ‘Progressive conservation’, which was predominant in America in the first half of the twentieth century but also heavily influenced a similar creed in Britain.
Interdependence became an acknowledged feature of human-natural systems and was translated into a resource management strategy that emphasised ‘impartial scientific expertise, economic efficiency, and centralised planning in the public interest’ (p.219). This was the era that led to the concept of Maximum Sustained Yield. It differed from the laissez faire approach in that it recognised a dynamic between resource productivity and harvesting activity. It was considered the job of scientists to calculate MSY for each stock, which would inform the laws that government would pass to limit the harvesting to that level (and also government’s role to develop productivity to the optimum). Importantly, McEvoy relates Sustained Yield theory to scientific experience of the particular fisheries that were problematic in the nineteenth century – seals and halibut.
They are large animals, have relatively orderly life histories, and are relatively tolerant of short-term changes in the environment. The kind of fish that became commercially important in the early twentieth century when fossil fuel engines and mechanised processing made more intensive fishing possible behaved very differently (p.220).
However the model remained the same, with some devastating results such as the collapse of the Pacific Coast sardine fishery. Being lower on the food chain, the sardine is much more sensitive to environmental changes than a seal or a halibut, a condition unaccounted for in the Sustained Yield model, which only considered one variable – economic effort. The ‘tragedy of the commons’ model developed out of criticism of these early twentieth century failures in resource management. The name derives from an article published by Garrett Hardin (1968), which used the example of the way pasture is utilised on the feudal common to argue that lack of private property rights was the root of all environmental problems. In Hardin’s example the commoners all graze their cattle beyond the level that the pasture can actually sustain in the long-term because each is only concerned with his short-term interest and sees himself having no long-term interest in the common land itself. As McEvoy points out (ibid), this is an ahistorical and universalising narrative that actually bears little resemblance to the way commoners in pre-enclosure England actually managed their affairs. Nevertheless the model gained wide currency in the 60s and 70s leading to the notion of ‘Maximum Economic Yield’ that would presage the development of the European quota system in the 1980s. McEvoy identifies several shortcomings: (1) the model again contains only one variable (economic effort) and one meaningful output (monetary return); (2) it contains an implicit view of government’s role as observer of nature and arbitrator of interests which it is regarded as being above, and (3) it presents a one dimensional view of human nature and society – The farmers on Hardin’s pasture don’t seem to talk to one another. As individuals they are alienated, rational, utility-maximising automatons and little else. The sum total of their social life is the grim, Hobbesian struggle of each against all and all against the pasture in which they are trapped. Culture and community are not relevant... (ibid: 226).
The shortcomings of the predominant resource ethics and strategies outlined above are evident most of all in accelerating biodiversity loss and environmental change with consequences especially for vulnerable sections of the human population. They are also evident in the lack of legitimacy of centralised, technobureaucratic systems of environmental governance (like the Common Fisheries Policy) and feelings of disempowerment amongst producers. As Cooper (1999) has remarked, disempowerment and subsequent uncertainty amongst fishers make it unlikely that they will support reduced catch levels as they cannot be sure of benefitting from such restraint. Alternative theoretical approaches can not only reveal the limitations of linear, one dimensional models claiming universality, but can also open up conceptual spaces for alternative strategies. Urry and Macnaghten (1998) have critiqued the implicit assumptions and hegemony of contemporary environmentalism and the role that social science has conventionally played in relation to science and government. They see environmental sociology in particular as having conformed to the ‘Biology and Science First’ model which depicts the role of social scientist as ‘addressing the social causes, impacts and responses to environmental problems which have been initially and accurately described by the natural scientist’ (p.6). By contrast they highlight a number of recent alternative approaches in various disciplines including anthropology (Douglas 1992; Milton 1993, 1996); but Ingold (2000), Croll and Parkin (1992), Ellen and Fukui (Ellen and Fukui 1996), and Descola and Pálsson (1996) could also be included since all have attempted to ground conceptions of nature within socio-cultural contexts.
Macnaghten and Urry’s own approach is to consider the,...specific social dwellings, which produce, reproduce and transform different natures and different values. Such social practices embody their own forms of knowledge and understanding and undermine a simple demarcation of objective science and lay knowledge (ibid: 2).
This is an approach also evident in some recent sociological writings on modernity, postmodernity and cultures of risk (Beck 1992; Lash, Szerszynski, and Wynne 1996). Identifying three historical doctrines that inform modern environmentalism: ‘environmental realism’, ‘environmental idealism’ and ‘environmental instrumentalism’, Macnaghten and Urry (ibid: 1-2) trace the historical development of an abstracted idea of nature as singular contrary to a diversity of lived experiences, highlighting the nineteenth century as the pinnacle of juxtaposed nature and society, where nature represented ‘a realm of unfreedom and hostility to be subdued and controlled’ (p.7). The sea in particular they remark was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries regarded as an immense untamed wilderness, but was rapidly tamed and domesticated: ‘Piers, promenades, beaches, bungalows, swim suits, and swimming soon exerted the mastery of nature on the margins of society’ (p.13). They rightly include only the sea’s margins in this picture of leisure, for unlike the enclosure and improvement of land in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the law of the seas remained a largely open and unregulated affair with its own traditional moral codes, until twentieth century developments like modern fisheries management defined territorial rights and the predictability and profitability of marine resources. Furthermore, calculating and planning production from a laboratory or bureaucratic desk was a very different matter to taking everyday risks in the pursuit of livelihood. For fishermen themselves, physical danger and unpredictability remained a feature of their perception and experience of nature.
From the more managed conception of nature that was beginning to shape science and environmental law in the nineteenth century, Macnaghten and Urry trace the development of the sustainability approach emerging in the late twentieth century.
They express concern about the modernist agenda behind much contemporary science and social science and the assumption that ‘nature sets clear and measurable limits to what humans can achieve’ (p.15). Such a view, they argue, has become part of a common shared post-Rio agenda, referring to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Rio Earth Summit.
An idea of a ‘global nature’ has emerged facilitated by key intergovernmental treaties, conventions and documents, for example Macnaghten and Urry cite ‘the WWF-inspired World Conservation Strategy, the UNCED Bruntland Report Our Common Future, the Rio-inspired UNCED Agenda 21, and the EU’s Fifth Environmental Action Programme for the Environment and Development’ (28).
From the limitations of the sustainable development model of one singular nature and one social ‘consensus’, the acknowledgement of many natures and many forms of human dwelling might also, as Macnaghten and Urry conclude, prompt consideration of the many times and many spaces, or ‘timespaces’ (May and Thrift
2001) human-nature relationships entail. The language and strategies of the ‘sustainable development’ discourse may not only obscure aspects of human experience such as the particular time-space dimensions produced by capital (Harvey
1996) or quotas, but also as earlier models have done, they may fail to recognise the particular time-space dimensions of nature and the dialectic of social ideas, social change and natural change.
Like mourners at a funeral wake, the accused fishermen and boat owners gathered with an air of humble defiance. The lofty marble white waiting hall of the courts did nothing to warm the assembled from the clinging chill of the cold January morn, but several men and women stood in a circle shuffling their feet, conversing and joking.
One stood particularly proud, chest puffed out, chin high, mouth grimly set, as if he was standing at the helm of his fishing boat, anticipating an icy squall. The older folk sat on the stone benches, looking more anxious and wearied. At last the call to court came and all filed in.