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Environment, Labour and Capitalism at SeaWorking the Ground' in Scotland$
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Penny McCall Howard

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781784994143

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781784994143.001.0001

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‘Working the ground’

‘Working the ground’

(p.29) 1 ‘Working the ground’
Environment, Labour and Capitalism at Sea

Penny McCall Howard

Manchester University Press

Chapter One focuses on human-environment relations and opens with a description of what it means to ‘work the ground’ when fishing off the coast of Scotland. Through detailed ethnography and James Gibson’s and Tim Ingold’s conception of ‘affordances’, it shows how productive grounds are created through the labour of fishers. The chapter explores people’s personal relations to grounds, sensory techniques for ‘feeling’ the grounds, and the historical development of new tools to explore grounds. The chapter describes how fishermen saw themselves as contributing to the productivity of grounds - in contrast to the conventional view of fishermen as destroying the ocean environment. Drawing on Marx, ‘labour’ is explored as both a material metabolism with nature and as a subjective activity. Understandings and experiences of labour are shown to be contradictory – at times relational, productive, alienated, and destructive – reflecting people’s real and conflicted relations too their environment and their own labour. The need for ethnographic investigations of the subjective experience of labour in ‘the West’ is emphasised. A labour-centered approach to human-environment relations can ensure analysis is both materially grounded and sensitive to people’s subjective relations to environments, machines, and markets.

Keywords:   Work, Affordances, Human-environment relations, Labour, Tim Ingold, James Gibson, Anthropology, Fishing grounds, Marx

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