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Thesis Seminar - Cecilie Baann, Aarhus University

Making a life by the sea: Livelihoods and the development-security nexus in Tombo, Sierra Leone

16.04.2021 | Mia Korsbæk

Dato tor 06 maj
Tid 10:00 12:00
Sted zoom

Thesis Seminar  - Cecilie Baann, Aarhus University

Thursday 6 May at 10 AM

Discussants: Adrienne Mannov, Aarhus University and Ann Cassiman, University of Leuven


ZOOM Link: https://aarhusuniversity.zoom.us/j/66729771667?pwd=V3FwSlFNU2o2ZjRtWXBJMHBJNGxjQT09

Thesis Abstract

Making a life by the sea: Livelihoods and the development-security nexus in Tombo, Sierra Leone

This research project explores maritime livelihoods in the fishing town of Tombo in Sierra Leone’s Western Province. Being concerned with the decreasing fish stocks in the Gulf of Guinea, and the increasing global attention given to both IUU-fishing (illegal, unreported and unregulated) and to other elements of “insecurity” at and from the sea, I research how people navigate in a shifting social, ecological and economic landscape, to sustain themselves, their families and their communities. Central to the project is the question of how an ethnographic exploration of a West African community and people involved in the artisanal fishing sector, can inform ethnographic theory concerning the development-security nexus, enable new perspectives on rethinking the economy (cf. Narotsky and Besnier 2014), and contribute to new understandings of entanglements between the global and local, between the human and the non-human, and between the land and the sea.

The ethnography is developed around a series of spaces all growing out of a year long fieldwork in the fishing town of Tombo. The first space is the fishing boats and the ocean as a world of economic opportunities, of hard bodily work and of connectivity to other times and other places. I explore how the increased global attention to Gulf of Guinea as a place of insecurity, both at local, regional and global levels, and in the maritime resources shape the experience the local fishermen have in their boats. I combine this perspective with an exploration of the embodied knowledges as shaped through lives lived by and at the sea, to argue how the increasingly precarious situation of the local fishermen does not structurally align with neither neoliberal nor neo-marxist interpretations. Rather, the boats and other forms of experiences at sea shape the foundations for local relations of care and solidarity, competition and exploitation, that are historically situated while always containing temporal possibilities and creative potential (cf. Biehl and Locke 2010).

The second space moves us from the sea and back onto land, and into the smoking houses, or bandas, where fish processors, most of them female, smoke the catch the fishermen bring home. Whereas the ocean is experienced as a place for chance, luck and sudden turns of events, the smoke houses provide a sense of continuity and stability, in terms of family history, economic stability and material relations through food. However, the smoking houses, and especially smoke oven technologies, has been the single most targeted activity of development projects in the fishing sector in Sierra Leone since the 1970s. In the meeting between the development organizations and the fish processors, I focus especially on the skills and embodied knowledges of the processors, alongside the market demands and networks through which the women trade their fish. This analysis is combined with a perspective on ruination (Tsing 2015, Stoler 2008) and asks what happens in the ruins and debris from former development interventions.

This brings me to the third space, namely to the ‘community meeting’ arena, where there was a meeting, on average once a week, between a larger development NGO or donor and stakeholders from the fishing sector in Tombo. In this space, I explore especially the temporal evaluations made by development workers about their stakeholder communities, and how the temporal practices and everyday rhythms are shaped by the cyclical involvement of a myriad of projects.

Finally, I move to gaze to the global, and explore the material and discursive assemblages of ideas, policies and goods. I explore how Western concerns about the Gulf of Guinea as a space of increasing insecurity, in combination with a push from the international development community to (sustainably) develop maritime resources for both local and global use, shape everyday activities and relations between Tomborians involved in the fishing sector, local bureaucrats and NGO workers. I argue that social changes are primarily felt in localized worlds; in bodies, houses, boats and hometowns, as these are the spaces where knowledges about extra-local phenomena like wider ecological change, global political economy relations, and governing institutions like the state, are produced to make them understood. It follows from this a general concern that shapes the whole ethnography, namely who and what are the ‘constitutive forces’ (Mueggler 2001:5) people in Tombo experience and imagine as powerful shapers of their worlds?

The following research questions has shaped the fieldwork conducted between January and December 2019, and continue to inform the process of data analysis:

-        How do people navigate in a shifting social, ecological and economic landscape, to sustain themselves and their communities?

-        How do people in Tombo conceptualize threats to their livelihoods?

-        How do wider global discourses and concepts like maritime security and the blue economy shape international interventions and development programs in the fishing sector in Tombo?

-        How does development interventions influence peoples’ abilities to shape ‘habitable worlds’ at land and at sea?