The North Sea: Work, Culture and the Transfer of Ideas

  • Joe Webster (Keynote/plenary speaker)

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course


    Small ‘Floating Villages’: Vertical Asymmetry aboard Scottish Trawlers Drawing on ethnographic data collected while working as a deckhand on two Scottish trawlers, this paper analyses the spatialisation of social, religious and economic inequalities that marked relations between crew members while they hunted for prawns in the North Sea. More than this, it explores these inequalities as a wider feature of life in Gamrie, Aberdeenshire, a Brethren and Presbyterian fishing village riven by disparities in wealth and religion. The paper argues that inequalities identified by fishermen at sea mirrored those identified by residents onshore, with boats coming to be experienced as small ‘floating villages’ in the process. Intriguingly, these asymmetries can be traced along a vertical axis, with greater to lesser wealth and religiosity moving from top/above to bottom/below. Here, the skipper’s cabin and cliff-top ‘fisher mansion’ were (literally) places of lofty prestige, standing in stark contrast to the lower echelons of the crew bunkhouse and ‘prefab’ council house. Morality too, flowed from heights to depths, with Gamrics referring to the top of the village as ‘heaven’ and the lower Seatown as ‘hell’ – a view again echoed on and offshore by the strategically elevated placement of churches and wheelhouses, creating, in effect, a pair of downward looking all-seeing eyes. Thus, this paper seeks an analytical conflation (as opposed to a polarisation) of humanity on – and beside – the North Sea, suggesting how boats become villages-in-miniature and villages become boats-writ-large.
    Event typeWorkshop
    LocationVolda, NorwayShow on map