Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Humans at Sea: Mobilities and Immobilities of Seafarers Working in the International Shipping Industry

This maritime ethnographic project studies the lived experiences and meanings of mobility and immobility of contemporary seafarers working on board ocean-going container ships of the shipping industry. Transporting 90% of international trade and supporting lives worldwide, seafarers are ironically disconnected from the world. Their restricted shore leave and lack of phone and Internet services at sea among other forms of immobility, coupled with shipping businesses' incessant pursuit of hyper-efficiency, suggest that seafarers are moving faster and further while also becoming increasingly isolated and moored to their ships. At the same time, seafarers are obscured not only by logistics, but also by terracentrism and prioritization of mobility in both popular and academic understandings of globalization. This project aims to rectify such theoretical and ethnographic oversights by shedding light on the maritime lifeways of seafarers as humans at sea, and the complex dynamics between mobility, immobility, and mooring embedded in seafaring and the subject making of seafarers. Through a combination of ship-based and port-based ethnographic fieldwork, I will follow the itinerant, black-boxed lives of seafarers to reveal their everyday realities. My research investigates the relationship between seafarers' motion/stagnation, motivation, and identification; seafarers' mitigation of or resistance to the immobilizing forces of shipping through various mechanisms and mediations; and how compositional differences and positions within crews affect seafarers' embodied experiences and situated interpretations of mobility and immobility. My project centers merchant vessels at sea and ports as overlooked but quintessential sites of globalization and late capitalism, and seafarers as understudied workers whose bodies articulate the inter-constitutive linkages between land and sea, and whose lives are at stake in propelling the material hypermobility of the world.