Accepted paper:

"Moving Worlds": the everyday labor of "getting along" on the multicultural cargo-ship

Author:

Johanna Markkula (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the different ways of "moving worlds" that seafarers engage in. It examines the everyday work that goes into transporting the goods of the global economy, in particular the cultural and social labor involved in living and working within the multicultural community of cargo ships.

Paper long abstract:

With my paper title, "Moving worlds", I have three different meanings in mind. Firstly, seafarers literally "move the world" by transporting the goods of the global economy across the world's oceans. Secondly, seafarers move social and cultural worlds, such as between their home communities and the multicultural environments of different ships. And thirdly, ships are themselves "moving worlds", floating microcosms or social worlds "on the move".

By drawing on nearly two years of ethnographic fieldwork onboard internationally trading cargo-ships with mixed national crews, and with maritime organisations, institutions and businesses ashore, this paper explores the different ways of "moving worlds" that seafarers engage in. It examines the everyday labor that goes into transporting the goods of the global economy, focusing in particular on the cultural and social labor involved in living and working inside these floating multicultural communities.

Many shipping companies use unequal contracts that pit shipmates of different nationalities against one another, thereby discouraging workers' solidarity and organizing. At the same time, this means that the skills required of contemporary seafarers to ensure the smooth and in-time logistical labor of the global shipping industry are as much about intercultural competencies as they are about manual and technical skills. This paper explores the tensions between these structural inequalities and the equalizing crosscultural demands of "being in the same boat".

Ultimately, the paper argues that the current global economy is dependent on an ethnically segregated maritime labor force, whose work, more than anything, involves learning how to collaborate across cultural differences.

panel P082
Moving the goods: maritime mobility and logistics labour [ANTHROMOB]