Accepted Paper:

Sailing ashore. The am-phi-biguous case of Belgian houseboats.  


Laurie Daffe (Catholic University of Louvain)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, the specificities of people living in transformed barges will be detailed. Their constant oscillation between the call of the water and their strong ties to the land will be addressed in terms of materiality and with regard to their relative knowledge of the fluvial environment.

Paper long abstract:

Until 40 years ago, a great number of commercial barges were circulating on Belgian rivers and canals. Nowadays, hundreds of these vessels have been converted in floating dwellings. In the French speaking part of the country, more than 200 people live on the water, and waiting lists to get an 'official' location are 3 years long.

Even though they live on the water, these river occupants are not bargemen and only a handful of them have experience in sailing. As a consequence, and as the ethnographic study shows, these houses hardly move. Furthermore, material artifacts (gardens, gateways, transformations according to the mooring place…) and daily practices (job, grocery shopping, home cleaning,…) demonstrates how anchored and firmly attached they are to the shore.

The communication will detail the specificities of this way of living, always oscillating between the call of the water and the strength of ties to the land. In an environment lived and perceived as revitalizing as much as hostile, trial and error, physical sensations, ashore-life habits, but also the sharing of skills and knowledge between "fluvial folks", are used to anticipate and mitigate insecure situations (bad stability, floods, drownings,…).

In this context, the study of material artifacts as well as the anthropology of invention of tradition offers a good frame for the analysis of these particular situations. Because, in the end, these approximations appear to be crafty solutions which work pretty well… most of the time!

Panel Env05
Amphibious dwelling: exploring life between wet and dry