Livelihoods, Craft and Heritage: Transmissions of Knowledge in Cornish Fishing Villages

Martindale, Tim. 2012. Livelihoods, Craft and Heritage: Transmissions of Knowledge in Cornish Fishing Villages. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

In response to a sense of ‘crisis’ in global fisheries, contemporary policies and social science accounts have tended to approach fishery ‘problems’ in terms of models derived from biology and resource-economics. Through a study of the fishing industry in Cornwall, UK, this thesis contributes an alternative perspective – examining how knowledges and meanings attached to the work of fishing are reproduced in the context of wider social relations and economies. Processes of European rural re-structuring, increasing costs and restricted access, have recently exacerbated more long-term trends of decline in Cornish fisheries. However social change and new media for knowledge transmission also contribute to the remaking and reinvention of fishing livelihoods and ideologies. The study is based on a historical ethnographic methodology which included archival research, participant observation, unstructured interviews and life-histories.
From the late nineteenth century the marginalisation of Cornwall’s fishing and maritime economy accompanied the ‘discovery’ and idealisation of Cornish fishing villages through art and tourism. Social distance and inequality in fishing villages grew but so also did new forms of co-dependency. More recently conflict has emerged around the politics of the environment, and fishers’ knowledges point to the unpredictability of fishing ecologies and economies, suggesting the potential for alternative management models. Narratives about skill, craft and expertise play a role in how some producers in Cornwall reproduce themselves as independent fishermen and reflect a concern that such skills and dispositions are passed on to future generations. Others have diversified into forms of art and craft production – activities which shape memory and sense of place whilst replicating notions of self- sufficiency. I argue for the potential constructiveness of forms of heritage practice which can be both a source of critical nostalgia and an imaginative approach to the past as a resource for the regeneration of regional maritime economies. Whilst meanings and ideologies attached to the work of fishing in Cornwall may serve as markers of loss or of conflicts around knowledge production, or may mask systemic inequalities, they can also be a source of innovation, reward and creativity

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


Anthropology, Cornwall, coast, heritage, fishing, craft, knowledge, livelihood, art

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



July 2012

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

26 Apr 2013 12:52

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 08:37


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