Accepted Papers:

'Working the ground': a labour-centred approach to seascape  


Penny McCall Howard (Maritime Union of Australia)

Paper Short Abstract:

I propose a labour-centred approach to the human habitation of the sea that examines how people, environments, and machines are drawn into intimate but often tense working relations.

Paper long abstract:

In much of the world, the sea is either regarded as a wilderness needing protection, or as a purely instrumental location for resource extraction. Marine 'sanctuaries' and 'coastal zone planning' are becoming more common, and at the same time offshore oil and gas extraction, cargo shipping, energy generation, waste dumps, fish farming, and fishing have vastly increased.

What neither of these perspectives acknowledge is the sea as a place of human habitation; we hope to recover the perspectives of those who spend their lives living and working at sea through an investigation of 'seascape'. Based on ethnographic research conducted in north-west Scotland, this paper will examine the potential contributions that seascape research can make to the understanding of human-environment relations. I argue that human-environment relations at sea are not significantly different from those on land, but particular aspects of those relations are more visible at sea and can be highlighted through seascape research.

Seascape research can contribute to an understanding of the formation and transformation of significant places at sea, which is of public policy import. Seascape research highlights the working relationships between humans and the tools and machines they use at sea. Seascape research also requires an attention to the alternative sensory modalities necessary to understand, imagine and interpret large areas people may have no direct contact with. Overall, I argue for an approach to seascape centred on the human labour that draws people, environments, and machines into intimate but often tense working relations.

panel P27
Seascape: anthropological and archaeological approaches to the human habitation of the sea