Accepted Paper:

Performing seamanship in different media: case of correspondence  


Anne Ala-Pöllänen (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

In my presentation I will study how a single sailor is performing seamanship in a correspondence compared to a more established genre of life histories – the sea literature and the internet pages of seafarers.

Paper long abstract:

In May 2012, there was an article in the biggest Finnish daily newspaper about my study on contemporary seafaring and life at sea from the sailors' point of view. The article highlighted my special interest on maritime accidents and the question, to what extend does the old maritime working culture of sailors and officers have an effect on accidents. I portrayed some examples of modern ships' communities where the life onboard was as masculine, hierarchical, and colorful as on the old windjammers' time. Few weeks after the article was issued, I received a letter from a retired sailor. He started the letter by saying: "I was onboard when that [ship] sunk. Since then I've been wondering what caused the accident. I think it was the old maritime culture."

I wrote him back and asked if he could write some more memories. Since then I have received 18 letters of honest and straight forward text of life as a sailor with even some shameful adventures among the red light districts of harbors. While reading these letters I have reflected on different ways of performing seamanship. Within more common genre of seafarers' reminiscences - the sea literature and internet pages sharing seamen stories - one can find special structures performing life onboard and the seaman's life encompassing commonly recognizable stereotypes of more or less heroic figure. In my presentation I will focus on a question of whether sailors present their life story in less stereotypical way in correspondence than in more public media.

Panel P06
Sincerely yours: ethnography of letters and correspondence