From Sea to Shore: An Ethnographic Account of Seafaring Experience (in Hebrew)

Polina Baum-Talmor

    Research output: Other contribution

    68 Downloads (Pure)


    This study examines seafarers’ experiences on board merchandize ships. The purpose of this study is to describe seamen’s life aboard merchandize ships, to understand the seafarers’ experience on board the ship and the way they experience transitions from the ship ashore and vice versa. Another purpose is to examine the ship as a “Total institution” (Goffman 2006), and to expand on Goffman’s concept by using sociological and anthropological comprehensions of space, alternative family configurations, experience of time on the ship and symbolic interaction among seafarers. The theoretical framework guiding this study consists of the literature on total institution in general and on seafarers in particular. The methodology used in this study combines a pilot study in a pensioner seafarers club, two participant observations on board two merchandize ships lasting two weeks each, 36 in-depth interviews with seafarers and innumerable hours of spontaneous conversations with the seafarers. The findings suggest that the ship is a total institution as Goffman has put it, but also those seafarers’ lives are complex and unique, implying constant paradoxes in their lives, assimilated in their daily routine, and further conceptualization is therefore needed to fully grasp their experience. The research findings include four main concepts, all joined by the concept of total institution, revealing a number of themes. The first concept is space, relating to the ship as a liminal space, while being on the ship as a contained place and at the same time surrounded by the endless sea, the seafarers experience contradictory feelings of contained freedom. This indicates that the closeness of the seafarers on board the ship can be referred to the way the space
    defines this closeness in different ways. The second concept is the alternative family configurations. Whereby Goffman (2006) claimed that the total institution is not in line with the family, the findings showed that the seafarer maintains constant interaction with his family. Furthermore, the seafarers’ family constitutes a mixture of the traditional and the alternative configurations of family, since the seafarer treats the ship as his home rather than the home onshore. The third concept is the way the seafarers experience time. The findings implied that Goffman was right about the strict schedule in the total institution; however he did not refer to the different ways the time is experienced by the seafarers aboard and ashore. Although the time that passes aboard and ashore is the same time, the seafarers experience subjective transition of time in different ways aboard and ashore. The fourth concept is the symbolic interaction with significant others onboard the ship. The findings approve that Goffman was right about the continuous presence of others near the seafarer, but the findings also add to Goffman’s conceptualization by attempting to separate between the two spheres of work and leisure in the total institution. Due to the lack of separation between the space and time of work and leisure, the seafarers face constant conflicts related to symbolic interaction with others, and face the need to decide about different ways of interaction. All the findings suggest the seafarers’ experience of life onboard a ship is significantly different from their life ashore, in all aspects of life. It is therefore suggested here that this experience, taken as a corpus of knowledge and analysis (Freund, 2010), could provide a basis of research for other liminal research fields that could be characterized by closeness and totality. On a practical level, this thesis offers feasible contribution to the studied group of seafarers, considering possible interest groups like the ministry of transportation and shipping companies that, based on this research, could promote seafarers’ welfare around the world.
    Original languageEnglish
    TypeMA Dissertation
    Media of outputWritten Paper
    PublisherUniversity of Haifa
    Number of pages110
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


    Dive into the research topics of 'From Sea to Shore: An Ethnographic Account of Seafaring Experience (in Hebrew)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this