«Tim Martindale Thesis submitted to the Department of Anthropology of Goldsmiths, University of London, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, ...»
In a collected volume entitled Seafarer and Community Fricke (1973) observed that in a number of traditional seaport communities, seafarers (including fishers) were declining in proportion to other kinds of residents and were becoming occupational sub-groups within a much larger community. One has to be wary of an unwarranted assumption that ‘traditional’ communities have ‘always’ existed, unchanging, in the past, or that they were homogenous. Nevertheless, in places where industry has declined relative to other occupations one can still recognize like Fricke (ibid: 2) that ‘the ambience of a community, the reality of its existence, may still be seen by its inhabitants as due to a particular occupational activity’. Fricke highlights changing patterns of recruitment in post-war Britain and the changing skills required for seafarers, putting forth a perspective of conceiving ‘of a 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’ (ibid: 3). Adopting longer time-scales in our analyses helps to reveal the evolving dynamics of distinct social groups and the relationship between partly imagined symbols of past tradition and community identified with the material traces of industry and rural life (such as buildings) and contemporary social groups with overlapping residence and/or work patterns.
sailortowns, naval bases, fishing villages, and marine laboratories of past times (ibid:
Fishermen have always depended on a network of auxiliary services and institutions (as well as being integrated with wider society and life on shore and at home, through family dependence on institutions like schools and hospitals and through the work of spouses). In Cornish fishing villages in the past, especially prior to the advent of motor engine boats and steel hulls, there was a particular kind of division of labour involving high interdependency within overlapping work and residential groups – coopers, boat-builders, fishers, mariners, blacksmiths, sailmakers etc, constituted a nucleus (with a degree of horizontal relations) within a wider stratified class society. This was linked to particular kinds of economic institutions – co-operative shares, credit systems (informal loans from merchants as well as between trades-people, kith and kin), mutual aid and particular attitudes towards money, debt, work and saving influenced by religion. With the transition to motor powered vessels, fishers became less dependent on these local systems of petty commodity craft production. With the advent of sonar and GPS (fish finding, navigation and ground discriminating technologies) they also became less dependent on a body of oral knowledge to find fish. Like-wise the development of plastic monofilament nets led to fishermen being less dependent on the labour of wives in making and maintaining the nets. Fishermen became much more of a singular occupational group, and as some catching methods became more active and less passive the individual skill and status of fishers, became more important and a boat’s reputation came to be associated with the skill and acumen of the skippers – not only in catching fish but also in efficiently marketing it and re-investing (money and business management). They also became less dependent on local, informal systems of credit and more on banks.
Occupational community The concept of occupational community and its application to a rural fisheries context has been considered by Davis (1986). Davis explains that the concept was first introduced in sociology by Lipset in his study of the printer’s union in the United States (Lipset, Trow, and Coleman 1956) and was expanded by Blauner (1960) and (Lockwood 1975). Fishermen and miners according to Blauner are classic examples of occupational communities. The key characteristics he identified, as summarized by Davis, are: 1) isolation from the wider society by time of work, physical location or place of employment; 2) a high degree of job satisfaction; 3) leisure time and socialization is restricted to work-mates; 3) a tendency to talk shop on the job; and 5) possessing a distinct world view where occupational reference groups guide conduct and set the standards of behaviour and systems of status and rank. As Davis points out, accounts of occupational community have tended to be andocentric – that is confined to the working world of males. However her exploration of the various social and economic roles of ‘fisherman’s wives’ in a Newfoundland fishing village, led her to argue that these do not make the concept defunct but we do need to recognize the role of women in creating occupational community (both in terms of the material reproduction and the ideology). She also found that unlike Lipset’s printers who by their patterns of association were encouraged to actively participate in the trade union, in Newfoundland the solidarity of the occupational community led to conservatism rather than radical social action.
A similar conclusion was drawn by Lummis (1977) in the context of East Anglia.
Quoting Blauner he says, …His observation that “in such worlds one’s skill and expertise in doing the actual work becomes an important basis of individual status and prestige”, seems to isolate one of the major factors in the lack of conflict imagery in the social perceptions of the East Anglian fishermen (p.57).
Lummis gathered oral histories between 1974 and 1976 from fishermen who were in particular asked to recall the period between around 1900 and the outbreak of the First World War. They were by and large herring fishermen working steam drifters on a share system.
For up to five months at a time they were away from their homeport, working from Newlyn in Cornwall to Stornaway in the Hebrides as well as from Irish ports. During these spells, the boat was their only home and the crew their basic social unit, their lives were job-orientated and male-dominated to an exceptional degree (p.58).
These working conditions consolidated the experience of a distinct occupational community but the sharing of the profits of the catch through a share system was key.
As argued in the classic Living the Fishing (Thompson, Wailey, and Lummis 1983):
There was no wage bargaining to draw out the class-consciousness of the Lowestoft and Yarmouth driftermen. When the owners put in more capital, the men also earned more. Since boat-owners were usually former skippers, there was little sense of class difference between them and the fishermen. The owners, as one Kessingland fishermen put it, ‘weren’t uppish or ought like, they were just – they were just people… They would pick you up and give you a lift home… They mixed with you.’ Skippers and men all started as boy cooks on the boats, continued to work side by side, and even the most successful kept to a simple working-class style of life (p.197).
For Lummis, the East Anglian fishermen constituted an occupational community because whilst they were conscious of hierarchy in society at large, class was not a salient dimension of their group-consciousness. This contrasts with the labour conflicts that Thompson, Wailey and Lummis (op.cit) documented for the capitalist trawling ports of the Humber estuary during the same period, where a wage system prevailed and conflict and social distance was marked between crews, skippers and owners. Lummis’ account accords with some of the data I present here on Cornwall where, in terms of relations within the fishing industry, status according to personality and skill was a prevalent concern (although in the context of the port of Newlyn class issues within the fishing community were also prominent because of a peculiar situation in which one merchant firm are owners of a large section of the over 10 meter fleet). Nonetheless the concept of occupational community needs to be used in a way that is informed by history and social change and awareness of its limitations and implications. It partly depends on what is meant by ‘community’ (i.e.
whether this is assumed to imply unity). In Cornwall fishermen are part of wider social groups and society and also fragmented amongst themselves, individualistic as well as factional; whilst on the other hand there is a level of familiarity between fishers in the region i.e. many fishermen will be known to many other fishermen across a widely dispersed area personally and by reputation. In recent times fishermen’s perceptions of broad class difference in society have shifted from the politics of labour that marked the early twentieth century capitalist ports (Thompson, Wailey, and Lummis loc. cite) to become more focused on the politics of the environment.
In sum, community form shifts over time as markets, labour relations, technologies and systems of knowledge change. Just like the concept of class, the concept of community in relation to fisheries is a thorny one, yet both are indispensible and it is the relationship between them that is important. In sociological terms we can distinguish between at least four different kinds of community: a geographic community; a community of interest; a community of practice (Wenger 1998) and an occupational community. In this thesis I broadly refer to coastal communities and fishing communities as the central subjects. By this I mean a geographic community (associated with a particular place) that embraces also an occupational community (focused around fishing) and multiple communities of practice and interest (e.g. of fishermen or artists) all of which in the case of coastal communities (in the broad sense) tend to coalesce around the foreshore (the harbour or beach). I envisage coastal communities and the harbour or beach at their centre as nodes in networks rather than discrete, bounded places. However the existence of a harbour or a beach as a common focal point does not necessarily lead to unity. It suggests a common interest although this might be the focus of conflict and competing claims. In policy planning and local debates over patterns of investment and harbour activity, the term ‘stakeholder’ is frequently used, however this implies only a narrow economic relationship to the harbour and as such frequently gets opposed to ‘the community’, which perversely comes to stand for all those who have an interest in the harbour that is not directly related to work or commerce.
In a similar vein is Walton’s argument about fishing communities (2000b):
whether ‘traditional’ or ‘occupational’ they, are in the final analysis, mixed economies, the particular form of which is always changing. Walton quotes a Lowestoft man born in 1902 speaking of what made community in his local fishing context (p.128), and concludes that the basis of community in this view was ‘commitment to an industry, not necessarily entailing actually going to sea, but being part of a network of shared interests and concerns that surrounded the fishing’. This economic view of community is similar to some recent anthropological models, especially for example as conceptualized by Gudeman (2001). Part of my enquiry concerns the extent to which evolving mixed economies of fishing can also include heritage production encompassed within shared commitment and interests.
Over the course to my research I was forced to revise my original understanding of fishing community because Newlyn proved to be a fragmented place – a node in a network of multiple and shifting forms of community, association and interestgroups. Over the course of the twentieth century the fishing industry became more divided and stratified and in Chapter Four I highlight issues such as economic monopolisation, economic insecurity and even safety risks for crew, and lack of price-setting power and poor returns for fishermen. Meanwhile some fishers working and/or residing at Newlyn felt socially estranged, ambivalent or even hostile to processes of gentrification and of the harbour becoming dominated by non-fishing concerns and interests. Yet my research also highlights interdependency between these different sides of Newlyn’s economy and population. This is explored in Chapter Four through the examples of the lifeboat and the fisherman’s mission – funded by charitable contributions mainly coming from outside the fishing industry, and yet protecting the welfare of fishermen. A concept of community remains indispensible to understanding lived ideals and practices.
To return to the two metonymic events introduced previously – the court-case and the reconstruction of Ripple – each suggested a double-sided image of community.