Academic journal article Human Organization

In the Power of Power: The Understated Aspect of Fisheries and Coastal Management

Academic journal article Human Organization

In the Power of Power: The Understated Aspect of Fisheries and Coastal Management

Article excerpt

As with other forms of governance, fisheries, and coastal management rests ultimately on power; power to decide, enforce, and implement management decisions. Power is in this sense a productive force. Without it, managers could not do their job. But power can also be disruptive, corruptive, and, hence, negative. It can be used to block management initiatives and/or to make management serve special interests, creating thus inequity and injustice. Therefore, power in fisheries and coastal management involves potentials as well as risks, making it one of the key challenges in institutional design. Yet, although power is perhaps the most central issue in social science, a literature search on power in fisheries and coastal management research yields very little. We may wonder why this is so. But what is power in the first place? Where does power sit? And what does power actually do? How can fisheries and coastal management benefit from the way social scientists have debated these questions? This paper attempts to demonstrate what power involves and how it should be addressed in fisheries and coastal management research.

Key words: Power, Governance, Fisheries Co-management, Knowledge, Phronesis

Whether or not power corrupts, the lack of power surely frustrates.

John Forester

Planning in the Face of Power 1989:27


For a fisheries researcher, the fishing industry may look like no other industry, as a world in itself of which he or she is a part. As a consequence, fisheries tend to be perceived as a special case, where their problems are defined from the "inside-in," or from what anthropologists call the "emic" perspective (Headland, Pike, and Harris 1990). However, at closer scrutiny, fisheries may not be all that different from other industries. Although problems related to fisheries may have a particular form or manifestation, they are often of a general nature. Therefore, fisheries management research can benefit from the "outside-in" (or the "etic") perspective, in other words, from a broader social theory. Thus, "trained incapacity," a phrase attributed to Torstein Veblen, is not inevitable among fisheries and coastal management researchers. Moreover, since fisheries are not all that special, they may also provide general lessons. This, in other words, is the "insideout" (or the "generative") perspective. Here, fisheries are not the primary focus. Instead, they are a locus; where you situate yourself when you study issues of general relevance.

This paper attempts to demonstrate the differences between, and the relevance of, the three perspectives on one substantive issue in fisheries and coastal management-power. Power is an issue that has drawn interest from the social sciences for a long time, resulting in a massive body of literature. This is not so, however, with regard to fisheries and coastal management. Here, with a few notable exceptions, power is an understated and understudied aspect. What power means and does in this particular praxis rarely draws serious reflection or empirical investigation. An English language literature search on power in fisheries and coastal management yields very little. It is a word not often mentioned in this context. Other social scientists have noted the same. Christie (2005), for instance, finds that the literature on integrated coastal zone management is largely silent on how power is distributed among constituency groups, although it frequently focuses on inter-group conflicts. Davis and Bailey (1996) regard the neglect of power in fisheries management research as a potentially serious oversight. There is thus a reason to applaud the recent and, from a power perspective, unique contribution by Peter Sinclair and Rosemary Ommer (2006). My paper is another contribution to filling the gap, as it is meant to illustrate why power in fisheries and coastal management deserves more attention than it has drawn in the past. The aim is also to identify a number of relevant research questions in this regard. …

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