«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»
My application of a historical ethnographic methodology to fishing in Cornwall shows how social change and knowledge transmission do not always proceed in linear, predictable and uniform ways. Fishing families and communities of practice are important environments for the intergenerational transmission of fishing knowledge and skills and for historicities and ideologies with which they are intertwined. However other kinds of media for knowledge transmission are also significant – including art, craft and heritage practices. These material cultures shape the diverse ways fishing is linked into wider communities and economies, with capacity for both connection and disconnection, conflict and renewal. In this context, the ocean and littoral margins around which memories, meanings and material practices are focused, have both physical and metaphorical agency as a sites for loss, rupture and decay, but also for salvage and regeneration.
Local knowledge takes many forms, commonly situated within social encounter and movement (Cruikshank 2005). In Cornwall this includes fishers, scientists, artists and visitors to the seaside. The character of these encounters is key – whether they contribute to reproducing Cornwall as a peripheral zone of extraction in which Cornish fishing producers and villages are economically and politically marginalised, or whether they contribute to strengthening Cornwall as a region, its livelihoods and diversity of skill-base.
Attitudes to the work of fishing, and to Cornish maritime pasts, also derive from wider patterns of work in society. Work situations in which people take great pride and satisfaction from work pursued on their own or with minimal supervision are
rare (Ronco and Peattie 1988):
The fishermen taking pride in their macho individualism do so against an implicit background of the regimented work of the factory or the white shirt and the bureaucratic order of the office. Those who are free to structure their work in their own way are engaged in a complex process on both the societal and the individual level. They do not have the job as a shell into which they fit. They do not just go to work; they make their work (ibid: 721).
However fishing can also contrast with increasingly precarious forms of labour in a neoliberal economy, where individuals may be required to adopt flexible and diversified economic strategies, but without the core of common practices, social relations, technologies and ideologies that fishing tends to involve. These can be conceived as constitutive of forms of community, but communities which can also be fragmented and in which many of my research subjects chose to move in and out of as it suited them. Community can be a source of solidarity, but can also be stifling, conforming, and/or riven by conflict.
In terms of models of fishing and seafaring community, my work builds on that of: Walton (2000: 128) – community as ‘mixed economy’, ‘commitment to an industry’ and ‘network of shared interests’; Fricke (1973: 3) – ‘community as changing over time, of becoming differentiated with the advent of new skills, but
also integrating itself through a common tradition and social life’; and Smith (1999:
284) – ‘communities of experience and ideas’. It also supports Wolf’s (1982) critique of the social sciences as being too caught up with a narrative of modernity as loss of community, and of social order and consensus becoming disorder and dissensus over values. My findings regarding fishing in the south west of England suggests a view of modern social change that is more complex – in which forms of disorder, heterogeneity, migration and bricolage, may serve to consolidate the viability, ideologies and aesthetics of core activities and values. This provides a point of comparison with similar findings in other ethnographic contexts – amongst groups of hunters and gatherers (Barnard 1993; Bird-David 1992) and also peasants in parts of Eastern Europe (Pine 2007) for example.
The research also speaks to recent calls (Symes and Phillipson 2009; Urquhart et al 2011) for further social science research that examines the various ways fisheries are socially, politically and economically embedded and to counter the tendency in previous accounts to approach fishery problems in terms of models derived from biology and resource-economics. Such models have informed management policies which are increasingly neoliberal in character – as with the commoditisation of fishing property rights linked to processes of EU rural ‘restructuring’ (Mansfield 2004; Reed el al. In Press). Even amongst some ethnographic analyses there has been a tendency to study fish producers and fishing communities in isolation and in terms of naturalistic models (cf. Palsson 1991). Policy statements regarding the current reform of the CFP which will come into force in 2013 86 emphasise a shift towards more regional forms of participatory management, sharing of knowledge, as well as promotion of alternative livelihoods and re-skilling. In order to understand and inform this process, this research helps to build a picture of what fishing knowledges and skills entail, the ways they are reproduced and the various implications for management and livelihood diversification.
I have shown that Cornwall and its fisheries have a long history as part of a distinctive Atlantic maritime region formed by trade, plural economies, and common technological traditions. The historical geography of this region is one defined by both ‘cosmopolitanism’ and ‘parochialism’, ‘journeys’ as well as ‘dwellings’ (Basu
2008) and it is one in which maritime exchange and routes have generated social division as well as commonality, as Simpson has argued in an Indian Ocean context (2006). The marginalisation of Cornwall’s maritime economy as a result of the transition to a market economy accompanied the ‘discovery’ and idealisation of Cornish fishing villages through art and tourism. Traditional patterns of organisation formerly characteristic of Newlyn and other fishing villages (diffuse capital arrangements, mixed maritime economies, feudal obligations) gave way to distinctive occupational communities and patterns of work (in which patron-client relations have continued but mutual aid has been eroded). Other forms of codependency have continued in the form of a persistent (if modified) share system and http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/reform/index_en.htm (accessed October 2012).
charity-funded welfare and rescue services, however inequality and social distance has grown.
Throughout this thesis I have explored ideas and practices of co-operation and competition and found that awareness of their interplay can inform the reading of fishing land/seascapes. Both are intrinsic to the fishing way of life and are adaptations with which human communities respond to the challenges of making a living from the sea. They are not a dichotomy and are often found in combination.
The research suggests potential for new combinations. Civic initiatives such as community-led regeneration and planning may have its limitations in tackling some industrial issues, but they do have a role to play in supporting local institutions (not only charities but also producer co-operatives) and in promoting alternative forms of production and consumption (of heritage, as well as fish). Meanwhile competition can promote economic diversity, challenge monopolies and foster an ethos linking notions of expertise, heritage and property of skills, and legitimate resource use.
Given the right institutional framework, this could be a powerful basis for political enfranchisement of fishers in regional level stewardship of marine resources.
However it would also need to be underpinned by mechanisms to maintain opportunities and access for young people in fisheries regions and prevent fishing rights concentrating into the hands of the largest and most ‘efficient’ producers, defined by economies of scale.
Fisher’s ecological knowledge and value-systems relating to the environment are shaped by their work at sea, by specific social contexts for learning such as kinship, and by markets and economic priorities. Their outlooks point to the chaotic complexity, unpredictability and precariousness of fishing – both the ecological environments and markets on which it depends (Acheson and Wilson 1996). This points to the deficiencies of current technologies of regulation, the disenfranchisement of fishers and the potential for alternative management models that account for, rather than exacerbate such precariousness. Such models would need to take greater account of variable regional conditions and the fragile balance fishermen must negotiate between the uncertainties of the environment and the uncertainties of markets and factors such as fuel-price and fish prices. Parametric measures such as spatial regulations (ibid), rather than sole reliance on numerical regulations (such as quota) may help to negotiate these chaotic elements in a more equitable way that does not merely increase risks for fishermen. Aspects of the current reform of the CFP and work in Britain towards establishing Marine Protected Areas are promising in these regards.
I have demonstrated some of the ways independent boat-owning fishermen account for survival and success in fishing as competition has intensified. Their narratives situate complex and diversified skill-sets including business-management, political-engagement, technological innovation, and ecological know-how, as replications of older, ‘traditional’ dispositions towards craftsmanship, selfsufficiency, independence, work ethic and having an ‘instinct’ for fishing. Success and transmission of skills between generations is understood less in terms of stability, rather in terms of movement and dynamism and the notion that ‘it is traditional to change’ (Bodenhorn 2001). Whilst such accounts emphasise individual skill and can obscure capital and labour relations (such as relationships between boat-owners and crews, between catchers and merchants, or political economies of fishing rights), they are also powerful sources of meaning, motivation and worksatisfaction that play a role in how these actors reproduce themselves as independent fishermen, and reflect a concern that such skills and dispositions are passed on to future generations.
A fishing or rural-maritime ethos is an integral aspect of place and region in Cornwall – an ethos which cannot be captured within a too narrow focus on a fishing ‘mode of production’ as measured and defined by amount of fish caught or numbers of people employed in catching, processing, distributing or retailing fish. The major actors in this research all demonstrate, in their different ways, this ethos, and its central concern with independent living – especially using one’s hands and craftskills, to create and sustain oneself as a person, and to carve out a livelihood, including forms of art and craft production. These do not necessarily provide individuals a route towards prosperity and away from poverty (as historic and contemporary examples demonstrated). They are adaptations of strategies from one form of precarious economy (fishing) to another (tourism), with some of the same dependencies on cyclical and fluctuating conditions such as seasonality. Whilst the medium has changed, what seems to be important about these strategies for the actors concerned is replication of self-sufficiency. This constitutes part of the ‘authenticity’ of these patterns of work and material production which has meaning not only for the makers but (perhaps, and this aspect invites further research) also for seaside visitors and other consumers of fishing art and craft. These activities underlie the performance of a ‘primal’, rural identity that is lived close to nature (Darling n.d).
Heritage practices (which may include or overlap with forms of art and craft) can be both a pragmatic and expressive activity, reflecting and shaping memory and sense of place. As Rowlands and de Jong argue (2007) ‘modern heritage and memory share a common origin in conflict and loss’ (p.13). This research supports their analysis that technologies of heritage and broader memory practices are not always found in opposition and provides an example of how ‘memory attaches itself to heritage’ (ibid: 13). It also suggests the relevance of concepts of ‘palimpsest’ and ‘memoryscape’ (Basu 2007) to Cornish land/sea-scapes – in which different registers, regimes and materialities of memory and heritage co-exist and co-evolve, although in ways which might include disruption and disjuncture.
Basu points to a ‘“synchronic heterogeneity” of diachronic processes in a given context’ (p.254) and how a ‘memoryscape is continuously overwritten resulting in an accretion of forms’ (ibid):
But unlike an ideal type of stratified archaeological contexts, where by successive strata overlay one another neatly, this accretion occurs in an uneven manner, and to pursue the archaeological metaphor, is constantly being excavated and reburied, mixing up the layers, exposing unexpected juxtapositions, and generating interactions.
Such is the medium of the palimpsest memoryscape (ibid).
This perspective assists in understanding the articulation and synchronicity between the different perspectives of the coast that I set out with. ‘Working’, ‘scientific/ecological’ and ‘romantic/nostalgic’ views of the coast can be seen as different components or layers in ‘memoryscapes’.