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Accepted Paper:

'The Fear of Authority': Disciplinary Practices in Global Merchant Shipping  
Marie Cornelia Grasmeier (Universtit├Ąt Bremen)

Paper short abstract:

In my presentation, I will discuss the effects of disciplinary practices within the authoritarian organisational structure of global merchant ships on the daily lifes of seafarers. In the postcolonial space these ships constitute, such practices often intersect with racialised boundary-work.

Paper long abstract:

In my doctoral research, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, I explored processes of occupational boundary-work among seafarers on global merchant ships. In this presentation, I will focus on the significance of everyday practices of discipline and the effects these practices have on seafarers' everyday life. The workplace organisation on these ships resembles a quasi-military disciplinary regime, which these practices serve to maintain. Simultaneously, the hierarchical structure widely parallels the ethnic segmentation of the crew. (White) Europeans hold most of the senior positions while the junior officers and ratings mostly originate from labour supply countries of the global South. Thus, the ship constitutes a postcolonial space where global North-South relations project into the well-defined space on the micro-level of interpersonal relations among crewmembers. Therefore, it is often not apparent from the individual empirical cases whether the observed practices are instances of boundary-work in terms of 'race' or formal rank. The authoritarian practice of discipline contradicts, on the one hand, the practical demands of the labour process on seafarers to take the initiative and solve problems independently, and on the other hand the ideology of the 'new spirit of capitalism'. In my presentation, I will explore the effects these, often racialised, disciplinary practices have on everyday life on board. First, seafarers reported an omnipresent 'fear of authority' which also became evident in everyday interactions. Second, the authoritarian structure tended to transgress into the sphere of leisure relations. Despite contrary intentions, the seafarers reproduced relations of power, domination and subordination within their private interactions.

Panel P059
Sea Economies: Labour, Infrastructure and New Techno-Environmental Horizons