Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

From Land to Sea: Unsettling Subjectivities

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

From Land to Sea: Unsettling Subjectivities

Article excerpt


In this paper I trace an important conceptual shift which emerged during my fieldwork with fishermen in the South West of Ireland. I begin by describing how my role as a social researcher was interpreted as a valuable 'bridge' between different (epistemológica!) positions, namely the fishermen and scientists. This approach rests on the belief that individual actors occupy discrete subject-positions capable of being articulated and understood within consensus-making processes. Coing to sea marked, for me, a literal and metaphorical departure from this understanding. Rather than thinking of fishermen as bounded, individual subjects acting on and in a 'dumb' external world, and thus having a 'position' from which to make themselves understood, I began to attend to experiences which extended across and between people, places and things. In part two I analyze how the concept of 'continuous experience' helps us to think about experience as relational and contingent, unsettling the (governing) call to identify one's position. Attending to the ways in which experience unfolds through the immediate mattering of relations between people, places and things also allows us to move beyond explanatory modes which seek to identify how subjects are produced through particular structuring relations. In the final part of the paper I describe how the excess of sociability can suspend normal roles and relations, including those which exist between 'researcher' and 'subject'.


Experience, subjectivity, representation, materiality

I listen to fellows saying here's good stuff for a novel

or it might be worked up into a play.

I say there's no dramatist living can put old Mrs Gabrielle Giovannitti into a play with that

kindling wood piled on top of her head coming

along Peoria street nine o'clock in the morning.

- Carl Sandburg, 'Onion Days', Chicago Poems (1915)2


When I arrived in Castletownbere, a commercial fishing port in the South West of Ireland, my research was concerned with transformations in the governance and management of the fisheries. A significant challenge for policy-makers and fisheries managers in this regard was the need to include fishermen within localized decision-making processes and fisheries management. Fishermen were identified as important and valuable actors in the sustainable management of the fisheries. This marks a significant departure from the past when fishermen were (ineffectively) regulated through a top-down management regime informed by (inadequate) scientific knowledge (Sissenwine and Symes 2007). In the first part of this paper I describe how my position as a social researcher was understood in terms of productively mediating between fishermen and other actors, such as scientists, within this new governance regime. There was an implicit assumption that I had a role to play in 'bridging the gap' between fishermen and government, articulating different subject-positions in order to foster a consensus on the sustainable management of the fisheries.

At the same time, it was clear that fishermen were becoming visible as active and responsible 'stewards' of the marine environment within a prescribed narrative of ecological modernization. Those who participated in the new forums for co-management were responding to the limits and opportunities generated by the re-organization of fisheries management. This re-organization is underpinned by the EU's objective of 'balancing' the biological reproduction of fish stocks to fishing effort. On this 'level playing field' fishermen are incited to compete with one another for access to the resource within the demands of a global market. They are able to appear as 'more' or 'less' responsible and productive in relation to the 'natural' parameters of the fish stocks and the market.

While fishermen appear in terms of their relationship to bio-economic resources and the demands of the market, my own research brought me into contact with fishermen who were part of different social and material relations. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.