«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»
The following discussion draws on data from two mini case studies (for one of which the data was gathered by observation and interviewing during a fishing trip) and two in-depth life-history accounts. All four examples concern independent fishermen who currently are or formerly have been single boat-owners and skippers, and all four are, or were, highly respected fishermen in the industry, regarded as being successful or ‘good skippers’. High fuel prices and high fuel consumption, especially on offshore trawling vessels, is a particularly heavy economic pressure on fishing crews and also on stocks as huge catches are required to recoup costs and make any profit. A study on the Newlyn fishing fleet (Abernethy et al. 2010) found that independent boat-owner skippers (in contrast to skippers on company-owned boats) reported greater success in adapting to this pressure and were generally more optimistic and felt more secure about their futures. In addition, their crews tended to be more stable and their vessels likely to be newer, better maintained, and up-to-date.
The case studies examined here therefore provide an opportunity to consider innovation, adaptation and forms of work-consciousness in the context of small-scale / independent enterprise (although with a focus on owner-skippers rather than crew relationships). In particular I examine the role of craft, or the ‘art of being a fisherman’. The biographies and narratives have lots to say about transmission, kinship and intergenerational relationships, however they also feature accounts of migration, rupture, change and individual initiative. So whilst it maybe a common assumption that ability and success in fishing relies on strong intergenerational relationships, this is a notion that I am able to interrogate through fisherman’s own biographical accounts and conceptions of expertise. The reliance on narrative as the primary source of ethnographic data also focuses attention on the role of memory and stories in reflecting and creating fishermen’s sense of place, personhood, and the ways they locate the acquisition and application of skills.
Ingold (2000) draws a distinction between technology and technique. He explains that ‘technology’ is a compound derived from two words of Greek origin: tekhnē and logos (the latter meaning a ‘framework of principles derived from the application of reason’ (p.294) whilst tekhnē refers to ‘the art or skill we associate with craftsmanship’ (skilled making) (ibid). However Ingold argues that in modern usage ‘technology’ has become disassociated from tekhnē, to mean ‘the application of the mechanics of nature derived through scientific enquiry’ (p.295) or a ‘corpus of generalised objective knowledge... capable of practical application’ (p.315). As a form of knowledge, skill (or technique), is different in kind from technology (p.316).
Skill is ‘tacit, subjective, context-dependent, practical “knowledge how”, typically acquired through observation and imitation rather than verbal instruction’ (ibid).
Technological knowledge on the other hand is ‘explicit... objective...context independent... discursive... “knowledge that”’ (ibid). Ingold draws attention to the links between locality, practical knowledge and the human subject – the fundamental emplacement of such knowledge and its ties to personal and social identity.
In thinking about the role of craft in fishing, I am not only referring to a kind of deep sensorial engagement in a task, although this may be a feature in specific contexts. Rather in the manner of the previous chapter I am referring to combinations of skill and technological knowledge (‘practical knowledge and knowledgeable practice’ (Ingold ibid: 316) that provide a ‘technique for conducting a particular way of life’ (Sennett 2009: 8). The etymology of ‘craft’ 62 as a verb meaning ‘to make skilfully’ is from the same source as ‘craft’ in the noun form. In its original sense the Old English ‘cræft’ meant ‘power, physical strength, might’ and was of Germanic origin. The sense was expanded in Old English to include ‘skill, art, science, talent (via a notion of “mental power”)’, which led to the meaning ‘trade, handicraft, calling’. Use of the term for ‘small boat’ is first recorded in the 1670s, ‘referring either to the trade they did or the seamanship they required, or perhaps it preserves the word in its original sense of "power”’. Finally it is also interesting to note the development of the word ‘crafty’: (‘from O.E. cræftig "strong, powerful," later "skilful, ingenious," degenerating by c.1200 to "cunning, sly”’). In the etymology of ‘craft’ there are several associations that arise as themes from the following narratives. Although the term ‘craft’ is not itself used by my interviewees it nonetheless seems to encapsulate the interweaving of these themes: of good seamanship and skill in making; of self-sufficiency (strength); and of craftiness in the telling of a good story and emplacement of one’s history (the craft of place).
Learning, movement, place and memory
Anthropology’s historic engagement with the sea reflects the motifs of travel and the voyage, with man’s major marine technological accomplishment – the boat – imagined in its capacity to make connections between cultures. For example, building on Malinowski’s earlier work on kula exchange (Malinowski 1922), Munn’s Fame of Gawa shows how acts of hospitality ‘constitute a mode of spacetime formed through the dynamics of action (notably giving and travelling) connecting persons and places’ (Munn 1986: 9, cited by Casey 1997: 41). Casey (ibid) points out that the most symbolically significant event in such circuits must be the construction and launching of canoes, an act invested with magic and ceremony as Malinowski described. In this act, the beach itself is constituted as a threshold or liminal zone between island and island / island and ocean. As such these are examples of studies that have approached maritime life in its capacity to extend the boundaries of culture. Simpson however (2006) takes a different approach in his Quoted from Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com/, accessed 21/08/12).
study, Muslim society and the western Indian Ocean which looks at the sea as a realm for the transformation of personal self and the division of cultures through cycles of apprenticeship and material exchange. In a different way, the imaginative possibilities of the sea for conceptualising states of becoming has been explored in philosophy too, especially by Deleuze (Phelan 2007) who reflects particularly on Melville’s Moby Dick, and the metaphorical transformation of Ahab into his quarry.
All these readings of the sea are important and I attempt to navigate a route between the earlier and latter trends – between seas as spaces of connection and division. Admittedly, it is difficult to interpret ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ in maritime labour, given that we can’t see the same production of order that is visible with the human struggle with the land (e.g. Theodossopoulos 2004); although the way the environment and practice constitute one another at sea may be more readily identifiable with the way place is inscribed on marginal land e.g. Gray’s analysis of shepherding practices as creating forms of dwelling and attachment in the Scottish Borders (1999). The perspective that I bring to my own material is one in which the sea, and boats, are conceived as significant in shaping, narrating and making sense of change through time (in the life-course or journey’s of individuals and collectives).
In the narratives examined in these chapters, role models, competition for status and rites of passage are particularly important, with each successive fisherman, defining himself both in image and in contrast to his father, or other mentor. Such narratives highlight the dynamic relationship of rigidity in structure and of breaking away from structure, which Victor Turner (1969) referred to as structure and communitas. He identified this dynamic in all societies and especially with rites of passage, where communitas refers to a liminal state, temporarily freed from the conventions of society. Whilst for Turner the drama of rites of passage essentially maintained a static social structure, in some of my own material we see structure evolving as changes in the fisheries interact with the passage of a young fisherman from the shadow of his father, to a status of his own. Furthermore, we see that with the decline of fishing as a communal way of life, the role of memory at work in invoking the past becomes important, in creating links with a sense of past structure that tradition provides, and as a way of legitimating status in the present. In that sense, learning and narratives about learning, maybe as be much about loss as about transmission, but where loss or nostalgia is evoked as an agent in the present.
Turner drew on Arnold Van Gennep’s tripartite notion of rites of passage, as separation, liminality and reincorporation, in which the transition from one state to another was literally marked by movement from one place to another, a physical crossing of a threshold (Casey 1997). Such passages are evident in the narratives explored here, for example where the movement from one boat to another marks important life-history transitions. The language of ‘going places’ used within these narratives mark not only life-cycle transitions but also processes of learning. One interviewee described how, on finishing school, he ‘came fishing’, or elsewhere the career of fishing was described as to ‘go fishing’, communicating the sense that to take up a fishing career was not only a movement away from communal territorial life but also a movement in the sense of a life-journey. In this fashion, fishing and the knowledge of fishing is something that is grown into, rather than being handeddown.
These cross-generational patterns of learning that occur as an aspect of growing up in a particular environment, is a phenomenon recognised by many Newlyners as an important and distinctive cultural aspect of the fishing port. For example several young sons of well-known local fishermen, between the ages of about seven and twelve, regularly take a punt around the harbour fishing for shrimp and crabs and so forth and earn money doing it. Such experiences were also recollected in Billy Stevenson’s memoir, Growing up with Boats (2001). This form of learning in fishing, compared by one of my interviewees to farming, where ‘you were learning small things from an early age’ (such as tying knots) has been termed in social science as ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ (Lave and Wenger 1991). In the following narratives, my interviewees identify these informal learning processes with specific places, which I refer to as sites of habitus, and they include harbours, fish lofts and boats. These places have a strong association with ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger 1998) in fishing.
That acquiring fishing and seafaring skills may be analogous to going on a journey, has been highlighted by Palsson (1994: 29), who found that Icelandic fishermen spoke of overcoming seasickness as ‘getting one’s sea-legs’, therefore providing a metaphor for the corporeal nature of gaining competence at sea. Along with Ingold (2000), he has used the term enskillment to denote this kind of knowledge acquisition that comes from active engagement with the social and physical environment. The term can be located within a growing school of thought shared by anthropologists and cognitive psychologists, which as Gudeman sums up (2001: 39), ‘...influenced by Vygotsky and Bateson, and by pragmatism, have been exploring this communal practice under terms such as situated learning, shared reason, or social cognition’. Gudeman collectively terms such faculties and processes as situated reason, a notion difficult to specify and define but which, in various guises, he finds in the work of Levi-Strauss (bricolage), Schumpeter (innovation), Veblen (workmanship), Diderot (art), Locke (complex ideas) and Aristotle (practical wisdom). That list provides an indication of the persistent and evolving task of defining ways of knowing that has engaged thinkers for centuries.
Astuti (1995) has provided an example of a duality of structure and process in forms of identity, in her ethnography of the Vezo fishing peoples of Madagascar. To be Vezo is a category of identity that depends not on origin but on technical and physical abilities such as swimming and fishing. In other words, it’s ‘created contextually in the present through what people do and the places in which they live’ (p.3). Vezo literally means ‘paddle’ (‘to struggle against the sea’). The Vezo also have a second category of identity that depends on descent and therefore is rooted in the past. The communal village life organised around fishing is in some sense an object of the past for my interviewees, but one that remains powerfully influential in the form of collective memory. It is made present through ongoing but ambivalent village based social relationships, and links through stories and memory with the fishing villages of yesteryear. The past may thus be involved in a partly imagined sense of structure through activities in the present. In the words of Janet Carsten, writing about kinship from her experiences of Malay fishing peoples, ‘It is because relatedness is always in the process of being created that it can provide an idiom of attachment to place and people for those whose attachment is in fact transitory and contingent’ (1997: 281).