Accepted Paper:

We move the world: contradictions of dwelling and traveling onboard contemporary cargo-ships  


Johanna Markkula (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

Based on several months of ethnographic research onboard internationally traveling cargo-ships with mixed national crews, this paper explores the dynamics of dwelling-in-traveling, immobility and mobility, for contemporary seafarers.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the dynamics of mobility and immobility in contemporary seafaring. Ships are mobile sites built to connect, yet often have the consequence of isolating the people who work and live onboard. With globalization, as goods travel faster and faster with increased transportation technologies and more efficient ships, seafarers travel less as they find themselves stuck onboard the ships on which they work. They become "prisoners of passage", caught in the mobility which they work to perpetuate.

I also explore the dynamics of dwelling and place-making onboard ships. Ships are worksites that are also homes to people. Yet, compared to many other forms of migration, seafarers do not "move" to a new place, but rather their home remains in their country of origin. On the other hand, many seafarers have contracts that last between 9-12 months and spend a majority of time away from their homes in the floating non-place of the ship. Moreover, as maritime labor becomes increasingly flexible, seafarers' sense of belonging onboard is undermined, which also changes practices of place-making and feelings of home onboard, and of belonging within the ship community.

Finally, due to the long absences from home, many sailors feel they do not belong in their homes either, often feeling disoriented and out-of-place upon their return to their families. While many try to make up for their long absences by bringing home expensive gifts, the expensive life-style just pushes the seafarers to return to sea in a never-ending cycle of labor and consumption.

Panel Mig09
Roads, routes and the Terra Infirma: distance and place making through the lens of dwelling-in-travelling