Advances in Applied Sociology
2013. Vol.3, No.4, 199-205
Published Online August 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 199
The Social World of Seafarers. A Sociological Research
in Central Italy
Esposito Maurizio
Department of Human, Social and Health Science s, University of Cassino and
Lazio Meridionale, Italy
Received June 11th, 2013; revised July 11th, 2013; accepted July 1 8th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Esposito Maurizio. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Background: This article analyzes the social world of seafarers, with the aim of crossing the boundary
defining the field of social sciences and entering the area of knowledge, where, to paraphrase Marcel
Mauss, scientists argue for a place. Methods and Instruments: The research is based on an empirical study
carried out at port authorities, fishermen’s cooperatives and fish markets in a few regions of central Italy
during a two year period using empirical research methods utilized in fields of sociological knowledge,
such as: semi-structured interviews, talks and informal conversations. The qualitative research was
conducted through Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software using the software Atlas.ti.
Our attempt is to study in depth, through an empirical study conducted on a sample of 119 individuals, the
heuristic subject on seafarers, in particular sailors and fishermen, specifically from a sociological point of
view. The focus is an analysis of the life-worlds of these people in connection with variables such as the
socio-economic characteristics of households, the relationship with the primary nuclear family, the ele-
ment of solitude (in connection with individual feelings like melancholy and nostalgia), the relationship
with peers and the crew. Results: From empirical research, it is seen that sailors and fishermen, despite
their different local facets, represent a social world characterized by the richness of its material, social and
symbolic expressions. The craft of the sea unites them, sometimes creating a subculture absolutely dif-
ferent from that of other populations and subcultures.
Keywords: Sociology; Qualitative; Society; Seafarers; Community
A sociologist is a person who has a passionate, inexhaustible,
shameless interest for facts regarding men, and Peter Berger
wrote in his book Invitation to Sociology (1963): his natural
habitat—he continues—is any place where men meet. The soci-
ologist may have an interest for many things, but his dominant
interest is for the world of men, their institutions, their history,
and their passions.
The most frequent accusation towards social scientists is that
they want to be all-round experts, at all costs want to trace back
every aspect of daily life to “sociology”, whether it is private or
public. On the contrary, sociologists really try to subdivide the
discipline, sometimes creating insurmountable barriers within
their own fields of study. From our point of view, presented in
this article, fishing is not just a means to procure food or to
make a profit; a world of images, representations and rites
rotate around fishing, which have inspired great poets and
novelists over the centuries, have created a well-rooted com-
munity in society, with its own customs and traditions. Socio-
logy, therefore, can not in any way neglect these elements;
indeed, by moving away from single statistical data, and en-
tering the world and core of sea life, we can rightfully speak of
sociology of fishing.
The Relation between Sociology and Sea Life
Over the centuries, in the communities developed on the
shores of our country, cultural, historical and highly distinctive
dynamics have spread, so that we can indeed speak about the
true and real culture of the sea, meant as “representations, feel-
ings, mental life, social character, which nevertheless refer to
particular aggregates” (Cipolla, 1997: p. 627). Therefore, in our
opinion, life at sea is characterized as a real social behavior: to
sail or be a fisherman, one must have a technology and a tenac-
ity, a memory and a high level of coll ec tive cohesion, present in
communities where “intense relationships between individuals
characterized by their mutual identification, union, solidarity,
integration” (ivi: 466). Obviously, the hallmarks of this unique
community culture are discernible in many interpretative cate-
gories all within the culture of the sea, settled over the centuries,
where the collective identity of these people has arisen. The
unique elements of these cultural categories are: knowledge of
the sea, customs, rituals and traditions associated with it, and
lastly, its trades. The latter category of interpretation is perhaps
more than any other one well suited to be analyzed to thor-
oughly examine the experience and cultural identity of those
living in and for the sea, not only as a simple scenario of natural
background, but as a primary source of income for many com-
munities through work activities, from a sociological view,
traceable to specific patterns of life with specific systems of
social and cultural relations. The study of these sea trades, such
as the fisherman or the sailor, is well suited to identify common
and emerging cultural traits within a community that considers
the sea its lifeblood (Corsi, Esposito, & Meglio, 2012).
In our opinion, the sociological study of fishing can follow
two lines of research. The first sees the locations of the sea as
local communities outside urban areas, with their own rules of
life, customs and crafts anchored to tradition but also open to
the changes that the post-modern society brings. In sea places,
in fact, time seems to have stopped, you can still breathe the
smell of a world that seems to look out for the first time to the
sounds of modernity. Belonging to a community or a country,
for those who live the sea, does not mean belonging to a purely
geographical or physical area. The identity of those who live
there is lived in symbiosis with their peers, as in the case of
Amalfi, an ancient maritime Republic, when on the feast day of
its patron, St. Andrea, all the fishermen, young and old, par-
ticipate in the rite of the simulacrum exposure, to ensure that
the fishing of the night is propitious to the new fishing season.
Sociology of fishing must turn its attention to the sea as a
place of identity, daily life (Montani, 2000), the sharing of cus-
toms and traditions of a community. It is in fact within these
social environments that the life-worlds of individuals that live
there are built, worlds with a widespread inter-subjectivity
which, starting from the authentic values of life, create lasting
bonds with the great organized systems. In this manner the
life-world of seafarers is connected to the global changes af-
fecting the macro-social areas of the country, with what the
sociologist Achille Ardigò, in his successful work, define s “pa-
rallel convergence s” (1980).
The second interpretative line follows a few paths of modern
sociology, in relation to the attention social scientists gave the
attitudes and behavior of individuals towards the environment
in general and to specific natural resources, such as marine or
river water. The entrance of sociology within the international
debate on environmental issues was neither simple nor prompt.
The problems had to become quite relevant before the subject
was given public attention, and in turn, institutional interven-
tions had to be significantly of social importance to attract the
attention of sociologists (Pellizzoni & Osti, 2003: p. 55). Pollu-
tion, waste and climate change are only a few of the concerns
with which the national and European public opinion have to
deal with, characterizing the environment as an “epistemology
with an eco-social or global interpretation, that is, including
biological and physical elements together with cultural dimen-
sions of conscience within it” (Cipolla, 1997: p. 112). In par-
ticular, it is the climate change, more than others, which has a
major impact on the marine world. In March, 2009, the FAO
presented its Report on the state of world fishing and aquacul-
ture. The fishing sector employs more than half a billion people
worldwide. Unfortunately, little is done to implement responsi-
ble fishing practices aimed at tackling the on-going climate
change. According to the report, in fact, fishing and aquaculture
contribute little to climate changes but are significant for green-
house gas emissions during the fishing, transport, processing
and storage phases. This is closely related to the increase in
world fish production, which reached a new peak of 143.6 mil-
lion tons of fish in 2007. The increase in production is due to
the aquaculture sector, which currently accounts for 47% of all
fish consumed by humans as food. Production levels in capture
fisheries has leveled off and is unlikely to increase beyond cur-
rent levels. The report also identifies the overcapacity—a com-
bination of too many boats and highly efficient fishing tech-
niques—a key problem affecting fishing (Beck, 1992).
The two views above intend to propose a series of studies
associating fishing to sociology. Indeed, overlooking the mere
statistical calculation of people employed in the fishing Indus-
tries, the marine world presents itself to the social scientist in a
double vision: as a community full of values, norms and cus-
toms often resisting globalizing lifestyles still constituting an
unexplored microcosm, and, as an important ecological issue,
presented to the attention of sociological studies of the sector.
Research in the Field: Participants, Methods
and Analysis
Empirical research was carried out at port authorities, fishing
cooperatives and fish markets in a few regions of central Italy
during a two year period using methods utilized in sociological
fields such as: semi-structured interviews, talks and informal
A sociological type of study can not contemplate a culture
taken out of its historical and territorial contexts, thus resulting
invalid in a notional and socio-graphic sense. Therefore, we
decided to turn the empirical investigation to fishermen and
sailors of long voyages (mostly oil tankers and cargo ships).
The division of the two professions is not random: without
doubt both the sailors and fishermen know the secrets of the sea,
but nevertheless there are great differences. The sea of the great
expanses of oceans is undoubtedly not comparable to the voy-
ages off the coast, as well as the absence periods from home,
which are much longer for the former group than for the latter.
Therefore, on one hand, the sea can be the same for both but, on
the other hand, different. The interviews to the fishermen were
all carried out on the coasts of central Italy, where small-scale
fishing and mussel farming is practiced. The interviews with
the sailors were done at the shipping and landing of the ports
The subject of this study is not fishing or navigation stricto
sensu: our model remains the qualitative analysis of narratives.
The method used is therefore part of the micro-sociological
view, allowing to grasp, in the everyday life dynamics, the
ways the material and symbolic reproduction of individuals
takes place in every day life (Ricolfi, 1997).
The qualitative research, conducted through Computer As-
sisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software using the software
Atlas.ti, was based on semi-structured interviews, aimed at
investigating mainly the experiences of seafarers in regards to
their life and their work, but with a specific intention to explore
new themes through their answers. Using the grounded theory
model (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), the text was analyzed from the
data and returning back to the text, in order to complete the
construction of categories, concepts and relations among them.
Accordingly, during the first stage of analysis there was not
an advance plan, which enabled recurrences to emerge from the
text and, by extrapolation, development of one or more topics
of investigation. The contents were then encoded initially with
an open coding, mostly reporting the words of the protagonists;
only later were the “quotations” coded for recurrent themes in
Code Families, in order to build families of concepts that could
address reflections, also through the definition of relationships
within the Network themes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
By crossbreeding the Family Codes, operative Super Codes
were derived (by Boolean operators) which enabled us to ob-
serve significant relationships.
In reporting the interviews verbatim, the code “F” is for
“fishermen” and “S” for “sailors”.
Regarding the socio-demographic characteristics of the re-
spondents, the sample is characterized heterogeneously for the
number of subjects, their jobs, age and geographical origin; the
only absolute consistent data concerns their gender, all being
males. There were 119 semi-structured interviews with profes-
sional sailors and fishermen, precisely 65 sailors and 54 fish-
ermen, divided in three age groups: 18 - 39, 40 - 55, 56 and
over. The majority of respondents, 50.4%, are in the second
band, followed by the young ones. The instruction level is
mostly the common high school diploma, among which, the
nautical institute; it should be noted, however, the high number
of people who have no formal education beyond secondary
school. It is common that the sailor profession, over the centu-
ries, has always been handed down from father to son; indeed,
in this way, the ancient seafaring societies, for example, the
Mediterranean with its coastal areas, arose. Important seafaring
traditions developed, in fact, on the coasts and in the Aegean
islands, in the northern Adriatic, Sicily, in the Gulf of Naples
and the coasts of Liguria. It is the productive, social and cul-
tural specialization of these populations that can be defined as
the culture of the sea. To date, however, there seems to be a
decrease of generational continuity in the professional choice of
seamen: 37.8% of the seamen are fishermen’s sons, compared
to 58.8% of men whose father is or was a general worker or a
Work at Sea
The primary focus investigated was the degree of individual
satisfaction with their job. From the respondents’ answers, a
certain degree of overall satisfaction was seen, although there
were negative replies also. Summing up the responses to the
question “Are you happy with the job you are doing?”, indeed
the absolute majority (88%) said yes, including 32.8% firmly
convinced. It is noteworthy to see that the younger ones declare
not to be satisfied, which is soon confirmed by the quality data
of the answers given in the interviews. Substantial differences
between the two professions are not detected: many fishermen
still associate sea life with working in the fields, which some-
times appears as a way to enjoy their leisure time, but more
often becomes a real double job, as stated also by the French
historian Fernand Braudel who wrote in his well-known book
on the Mediterranean: “Our fisherman-craftsman, however,
does not only live in his boat, among fishing lines and nets. He
is also a farming expert, careful, he cultivates his own garden
and fields. Therefore, he has two professions, otherwise, how
could he and his family live? He is forced to draw an income
from both land and sea... Transferred to urban centers, a group
of Greek fishermen can not now make ends meet” (Braudel,
1987: p. 35).
If some chose the profession because forced by circum-
stances, such as unemployment and economic emergencies,
many, especially sailors, associate this choice to a personal
passion due to the love for the sea, as can be seen from the first
coding phase of the descriptive codes:
I really chose it because I love the sea very much, then it
is a job that helps you become responsible because it re-
quires a lot of effort and then finally because it is a well-
paid job (Interview 8S).
I chose it for passion, in fact I chose a school like the
Nautical Institute, which helped me for this life, it was my
passion, because I grew up among boats and nets (Inter-
view 33S).
Some, especially the younger ones, in the absence of work,
and not having continued their studies, have somehow been
forced to choose this profession, and do not hide their dissatis-
faction, with the passing of time, especially for the difficulties
and sacrifices they continually face:
Not much because it is sacrificed; I chose it because 20
years ago I did not know what to do, living near the sea,
the only alternative was to learn how to fish (Interview
No, I’ve never been happy with this job, but it was the
only opportunity we had to survive. If I could choose, I
definitely would not do it again, I chose it only because it
allowed me to make a li ving for me and my family (Int er-
view 15F).
Only those who are born and live the sea can understand the
bond that develops between man and his habitat: this seems to
be the leitmotif, beyond the negative conceptions, which is seen
from the interviews:
I chose it because we are a race of seamen, it is like an
inheritance, as a child we always went to see dad at the
port, I was fascinated by that life, the sea was and is my
world, it was almost a “heritage”, my family has always
been a family of fishe r me n (Interview 3F).
The Boat as a Total Institution?
Erving Goffman writes Asylums in 1961, a text that becomes
a milestone for anyone interested in marginalization issues.
Starting from the concept of social organization, which defines
a group of places, premises, buildings, constructions where a
specific type of activity is regularly carried out, he distinguishes
between a total or non total institution: this characteristic is
symbolized by the barrier to social intercourse with the outside
world, often based on the physical structures of the institution:
behind closed doors, high walls, barbed wire, rocks, waterways
(Goffman, 1961).
The key concept of this work is that of total Institution.
Among the various types of institutions—the author lists five—
there are those established for the sole purpose of pursuing
some work like tasks justifying themselves on these instrumen-
tal grounds: the ships are part of this category.
This assimilation was most recently repeated by the Polish
sociologist Janiszewski, who, in an article in 1993, supports the
classification of merchant vessels and fishing boats as total
social institutions; life in these contexts is suspended between
work demands and family needs experienced by sailors and
fishermen, in connection with the contradictions between the
fathers’ and husbands’ duties and responsibilities on board (Ja-
niszewski, 1993).
From the evidence of empirical research carried out by us,
the men interviewed, and more specifically the sailors than the
fishermen, perceive the boat where they live, work and relate as
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 201
a world apart, a reality in itself, which is affected totally with
that insider element typical of the primary “familistic” commu-
nity type. The crew of the ship, as well as the groups of fisher-
men (those called paranze in Campania), are contexts that, des-
pite the inevitable internal conflicts, appear as strong and com-
pact externally. These specific conflicts are sometimes miti-
gated by moments of almost absolute silence, in which “some-
times someone speaks. But almost all the boats were silent,
except for the dip of the oars” (Hemingway, 1996: p. 29).
For the seafarers, the paranza is only one of the cases, per-
haps the most organic you can ever meet in micro-fishing or-
ganizations. However, specific strategies develop in every sea-
faring organization, regarding relationships within the group as
well as with the outside world. Competitiveness, for example,
is turned to the outside world, while cooperation and involve-
ment are enhanced within the group, in a delicate balance of
roles and relationships. Valued are also courage and determina-
tion in work experience accrued over the sea, where prestige
and authority are fundamental for the function of leadership,
found in different degrees among all crew members, in any case
(see Mazzacane, 1989: p. 16).
In the case of sailors, internal compactness adds the charac-
teristic of self-defence to the sense of cooperation, since con-
tinued exposure to foreign ports conveys, besides feelings of
surprise and curiosity, feelings of discomfort, if not fear and
anguish too.
From the descriptive codes of interviews with sailors, there
are no particular problems in the relationship on board between
the shipmates:
Excellent relations. They’re the only friends I have and I
can talk about my problems. We are one for all and all for
one (Interview 54S).
We have fantastic relationships! We feel a big fami ly and
we never make distinction of degrees: we are all friends,
because I think when you share many years of work and
many experiences of danger, the bonds become more and
more close and are therefore fraternal relations (Interview
Although some respondents emphasize the fact that these
bonds are often “forced” to get along with the need to live to-
gether a long time and the fact that the shipmates are not freely
Relations must be necessarily good, since we spend so
much time together, but sometimes also occurs nervous-
ness, because often you are nervous because of the dis-
tance from the family (Interview 52S).
Relations must be good, you have to sail together months
and months, you can not argue. Sometimes it happens, but
it lasts a maximum of 5 minutes because we seek to live
in the best way (Interview 34S).
The relationship with shipmates is only a working coop-
eration, but a true friendship can be born; and then we can
not argue, because we spend too much time together. I
personally talk a lot with all staff, both when we plan a
job, and when it comes to politics, to various events. I
speak equally with everyone. Let’s say that the relations
on the ships actually have to be very well together, you
have to try to be like a family to work the best (Interview
If the above elements have somehow confirmed the goffma-
nian intuition of ship-total institution combination, this should
be reinterpreted in the light of a more open and global world-
view of the sea. If the li fe of the inmates or detainees stands out
mostly for its characteristic of temporal indeterminacy, on the
contrary, the sailors’ voyages are temporary, changeable and
free above all, lived in the open air, in contact with worlds
away from their own. Moreover, in a total institution, the
guidelines are rigidly imposed from above, from a “big brother”
who tends to control everything with his longa manus; contrar-
ily, on the boat there is greater cooperation between the crew
members, giving rise to a differentiation of social roles, each
different, in the pursuit of a collective goal that can be traced in
an excellent fishing trip, or trying to save themselves during a
The Sea and the Mainland. Family Relationships
The deep dividing line between life on land and at sea is de-
scribed with great narrative effect by Jorge Amado: “He was
asleep in a net, which of all things on earth is most similar to a
ship, rocking as if it were rocked by the waves” (Amado, 1985:
p. 109). The seafarer spends most of his day, and therefore,
most of his life, at sea, or in activities connected to his work. In
the case of sailors, the time spent at sea is sometimes immeas-
urable, being offshore for months, or even years; in the case of
fishermen in the context of our research a typical day is, count-
ing the time to prepare for fishing, out at sea, auctions and sales,
an average time of at least 15 - 18 hours per day. It is therefore
obvious that the relationship with the mainland is in both cases
extremely marginal and seafarers feel cut-off from the wider
community, both in the physical and temporal sense and feel a
sense of withdrawal, substantially a “retreat” as Lévinas stated.
From the interviews conducted, it is clear that the feeling of
resignation emerges, however not considered—as we might
expect—as feeling distressed or victimized, but rather as a con-
notation of a life often emphasized as non-binding and of lib-
eral choice.
Sometimes you get the feeling of being alone, away from
the world, from your loved ones, from your land, at the
beginning one suffers, but with time the passion and love
for the sea heal your wounds. I did choose it for passion,
if I could not stand it, I would give it up (Interview 21F).
A lot of sailors are not even recognized by their young chil-
dren when they go back home, and many fishermen tell us with
regret that they have never been able to take their children to
school; all this constitutes a reality where, in spite of the current
economical guarantees granted as well as the recognition of
inalienable rights, the life of the seafarer continues to be a mar-
ginal existence, in intra-family relationships and during his
leisure time and social activities outside the family. Thus, the
theme of temporality is strictly linked to the sailor’s and fish-
erman’s professions. Moreover, the periods of those who live
the sea go over the simple counting of lunar calendars, they go
through stages of life, childhood moments, places of memories,
which sometimes shatter like waves on the rocks.
It is, above all, the “time for the family” (Gasparini, 2000: p.
58), which includes the social occasions of each person, such as
births, child care, housework, that strongly suffer from the
physical distance of those who live the sea. In our research,
though the great majority of men interviewed stated they had a
good relationship with their wives, more often complained
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
about missing their children, the informal conversations with
the same people have instead shown a partly discordant reality,
especially for the world of sailors.
Regarding the relationship with their wives, on one hand,
unity and strength of the couple prevail, while, on the other
hand, there is a sense, almost of resignation, in accepting the
situation that takes their husbands away for months. There are
obviously cases where things do not always go well, or the
distance and husband’s continuous absence from home cause
problems for the couple’s life, above all for sailors forced to
spend long periods of separation from the family:
It is better now, but two years ago she took a period of re-
flection and went to live with her mother for about a year,
because she no longer wanted to be alone with the child.
We talked a lot and now she realized that I can not do
otherwise. Our relationship has improved and she is much
more serene (Interview 59S).
Wives are not accustomed to the presence of their husbands
at home, a presence which upsets the daily routine and makes
housework more tiring. The presence of the husband sometimes
implies a questioning of the running of the house and the edu-
cation of the children, two very important tasks which for many
months remain under the wife’s exclusive responsibility and
authority. The fathers do not find in their children what they
hoped or expected and at the same time “the children find it
difficult to recognize and accept the authority and even the
affection of a father who is not involved in their everyday
lives” (Giglia, 1989: p. 150).
This is also confirmed by a recent sociological research
(Heikell, 2010: pp. 68-70), which attests through the life story
of a fisherman’s son the perception of the father figure as an
outsider, a foreigner, an occasional visitor of the house: the
mother and the children take the scene of the family organiza-
tion as protagonists, while the contribution of the father figure
is described as marginal and insignificant: in the end, it was the
mother who found the apartment for Robert (the protagonist of
the research) for his undergraduate studies, she provided for his
basic needs and solved his everyday problems. It is no coinci-
dence that the title of an interesting book on the life of fisher-
men written by Michelle Thomas in 2003 is called Lost at Sea
and Lost at Home.
Therefore, despite the lack of interest in scientific literature
on the role of women in the seafarer’s life, they have a signifi-
cant and important role in the economic and managerial sector
of the productive and reproductive life of this social world. As
rightly stated by Paul Thompson et al. (1983), fishermen de-
pend on the role of women in three areas:
1) Women who work directly at sea as crew members (a mi-
nority of cases);
2) Women who have a substantial role in raising (in a physi-
cal but also cultural sense) future generations of fishermen;
3) Women who have the task of organizing the home and
family life during the man’s absence.
Ultimately, the nature of the profession of the fisherman and
sailor makes it impossible for the man to actively participate in
the domestic life. Very often, the social roles usually belonging
to the male figure in these families are covered by the female
counterpart, often done skillfully and absolutely essential for
the maintenance and economic reproduction and management
of resources (Marciniak, 2010: p. 76) .
The Ports, Danger, Loneliness
Books on travelling by sea and about life on board vessels
are numerous, as well as legends and mysteries that sometimes
surround this argument passed down by sailors: whole days
away from their countries, their families, with rites and work
that are repeated regularly every hour with the same cadences
and the same precision. In the analysis of our interviews, hav-
ing to work with a large number of descriptive codes, we pro-
ceeded to build “families of codes” that have helped us to build
more efficient analytical dimensions. So our respondents, be-
longing to the sub-sample of sailors, tell us about their days on
Navigation at sea is tough because you go away for a long
time. The day starts very early depending on the guard
duty and maintenance shift. You work 4 hours and then
rest 8, but in fact you work all day for friends who are in
trouble. Sometimes unexpected circumstances happen,
such as storms or accidents onboard, but we manage to
adapt to every situation. When everything goes well we
are able to sleep at night. When something goes wrong
and there is a problem with the ship we must stay on
guard or fix the ship. Recently I had to be the head boat-
man. I took care of all the on-board equipment, the water-
tight doors, fire doors, I did the maintenance work on all
these. In addition, there was the on-call service at night,
because at night the ship is like it is during the day, noth-
ing changes, it is always under control and supervised
(Interview 45S).
Loneliness is without doubt one of the most common feel-
ings for those who work and live the sea. The distance from the
family, house and affections, can not be erased in front of the
infinite expanse of the sea. From the findings of our research,
we can see that the sense of loneliness in the fishermen and
sailors is indeed present but not extensively. In many cases the
seafarers never feel really alone, because they are with other
well-known comrades, often relatives, helping to create a
mechanism of belonging to a community (it is no coincidence
that the metaphor of community traced by sacred texts is often
in reference with the image of a boat). When they have mo-
ments of solitude, they think of their family or the mission they
have to accomplish. The unwritten rule, to respect and to avoid
hetero-destructive reactions related to territoriality, for example,
is to be silent, to avoid, as one interviewee told us, to speak
only “to let the tongue grasp air”. This feeling is described by
Hemingway when he says that “it was considered a virtue not
to speak at sea unless absolutely necessary. And the old man
had agreed and respected that rule. But now he often said his
thoughts aloud because there was no one to disturb” (Heming-
way, 1996: p. 41). More than a feeling of loneliness, however,
one could speak of melancholy, in the case of seafarers. Even in
times of joy, in fact, there seems to lurk, almost always, a sense
of anguish and abandonment, which, for example, when fishing
days are no good you feel sad, and when they are good you
worry, in any case, for the uncertain future.
I often think about my children and all the things that I
have not been able to give them. In fact, I think about all
those things that I could do on the mainland, or simply
stay at home with the people dear to me. But then the
work takes over. I can think about this a whole day, but at
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 203
the end, you have to concentrate on fishing (Interview
The situation is different for those working on large vessels,
because the timing and mode of work onboard convey more
obvious and tangible elements of loneliness, where “silence is
so that hearing seems lost” (Comisso, 1988: p. 200). It is the
family, however, the theme and most recurrent analytical cate-
gory in the sailors’ thoughts:
We often think of things to do, which are many, but just
as often we think about the family, with great mela ncholy .
Many do not feel alone, because they have a lot of friends
around, but to me personally it seems like a thousand
years since I last saw my family and I often feel bad (In-
terview 35S).
The results of many studies conducted in various countries
on the profession of fishermen and sailors agree in inserting
these professions among the ones with the highest number of
accidents and deaths. For example, an Australian study pub-
lished in 2006 on Work Related Maritime Fatalities (O’Connor,
& O’Connor, 2006) has proven that the number of accidents or
death at sea continues to increase despite improved security
conditions on modern boats. On this issue it seemed interesting
to evaluate, through specific questions, the attitude towards
weather aversion and risk when “the dead sea does not reflect
the stars in its heavy waters” (Amado, 1985: p. 240). The at-
mosphere that develops between comrades on board when a
storm passes without serious consequences is always character-
ized by a sense of joy and mental relaxation. The interview
results attest rather cold and confident attitudes towards storms
and tempests. Fortunately nowadays the lives of fishermen, and
even more of sailors, are protected by safety rules and regula-
tions that make the usual terror read about in books an old
memory. Exploring the analytical categories of “queries” pre-
sent in our interviews, there are many incidents of danger
which the men at sea meet:
Dangers? Yes, many times. While we were at sea in the
middle of a storm the engine broke and so we were at the
mercy of the waves, without being able to control the boat.
It was the worst experience that I had, I was so afraid of
not being able to go back home. Luckily, after two days
we managed to go back home exhausted and hungry (In-
terview 1F).
When a sailor arrives at a port unknown to him, an alternate
mechanism of social adaptation is activated: if you are alone,
fear and distrust prevail more than the desire to explore new
places and experience new sensations; if you go out in a group,
ports and surrounding areas suddenly become places where to
find fun and entertainment that for too long, at sea, have been
abandoned. In interviews, the majority of the sailors declared
being happy to know and venture into new places, even to get
acquainted with new people and cultures. The port, therefore,
presents itself not only as a place of departure, but becomes a
place of meetings, non-return, greetings, fear of the unknown,
or simply landing and anchoring. In this context, the port be-
comes a stage for the reception of vital worlds, feelings and
adventures of seafarers.
To understand a community, it is essential to grasp the lan-
guage surrounding it, identifying in the daily routine, in ritual
occasions, in beliefs and values, like in social institutions, the
relationship created between the individual and the socio-
community dimension. In the case of seafarers, we have seen
how this relationship can be considered fundamentally impor-
tant in building a “material” culture of the sea, and in strength-
ening the sense of belonging to a group, intended as an “eso
that is socially recognized” (Cipolla, 1997: p. 1220). From our
research it is possible to see how sailors and fishermen, despite
their different local facets, represent a social world which is
characterized by the richness of its material, social and sym-
bolic expressions. The craft of the sea unites them, sometimes
creating a sub-culture, completely different from that of other
populations and subcultures. These men share the risks of
storms, the religious rites of propitiation and thanksgiving, and
they create strong ties of friendship and strongly believe in
values such as the family and sense of belonging.
The sea is the background of their existence. For any other
person this vast expanse of blue water may represent a holiday,
or perhaps a romantic setting; for those who live it and derive
their income from it, the sea is life, and you love it just like you
love your birthplace, where you were raised and protected. The
research clearly shows the close relationship that develops be-
tween the sailor/fisherman and the natural environment in
which he lives in. Even if fishing techniques or working hours
change, even if family ties remain sound and solid, that great
blue expanse calls them like an invisible siren, makes them
remodel, rebuild and in some cases, strengthens the pieces of
the puzzle that makes up the human life-world of the sea, creat-
ing a sense of belonging like deep roots that grow and nourish
stems, branches, leaves, flowers, fruit (see Groth, 1982).
Amado, J. ( 1985 ). Mar morto. Milano: Mondadori.
Ardigò, A. (1980). Crisi di governabilità e mondi vitali. Bologna: Cap-
Beck, U. (1992). Risk society. Towards a new modernity. London: Sage
Berger, P. L. (1963). Invitation to sociology: A humanistic perspective.
New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Braudel, F. (1987). Il mediterraneo. Milano: B ompiani.
Cipolla, C. (1997). Epistemologia della tolleranza. Milano: Franco
Comisso, G. (1988). Gente di mare. Milano: Longanesi.
Corsi, V., Esposito, M., & Meglio, L. (2012). I mondi sociali degli uo-
mini di mare. Milano: Franco Angeli.
Esposito, M. (2010). L’uomo post-moderno tra deriva psicologista e
“cultura della scorciatoia”. In: Bontempi, M., & Maturo, A., Eds., I
confini mobili tra le sfere della vita. Milano: Franco Angeli.
FAO (2009). The state o f word fisheries and acquaculture. Roma.
Gasparini, G. (2000). La dimensione sociale del tempo. Milano: Franco
Giglia, A. (1989). Il mestiere di navigare: Immagini del lavoro e del
territorio nei racconti dei marinai di Monte di Procida. In: Maz-
zacane, L., Ed., La cultura del mare. Bari: Laterza.
Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory:
Strategies for qualitative research. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.
Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums. Essays on the social situation of mental
patients and other inmates. Anchor Books. New York: Doubleday &
Company, Inc.
Groth, G. (1982). Toward a sociology of fishing. R ural Sociologist, IV.
Heikell, T. (2010). Growing up in a seafaring family: Recollecting
one’s childhood with an absent and present father. Annuals of Marine
Sociology, XIX, Gdansk-Szczecin.
Hemingway, E. (1996). Il vecchio e il mare. Milano: Mondadori.
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 205
Janiszewski, L. (1993). Seagoin vessel and deprivation of needs. Prze-
glad Socjologiczny, 40, 181-195.
Marciniak, B. (2010). Women as invisible fishing crew members. An-
nuals of Marine Sociology, XIX, Gdansk-Szczecin.
Mazzacane, L. (1989). La cultura del mare in area flegrea. Bari: La-
Montani, A. R. (2000). Teorie e ricerche sulle comunità locali. Milano:
Franco Angeli.
O’Connor, P. J., & O’Connor, N. (2006). Work related maritime fatali-
ties. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 38, 737-74 1.
Pellizzoni, L., & Osti, G. (2003). Sociologia dell’ambiente. Bologna: Il
Ricolfi, L. (1997). L’analisi qualitativa. Milano: Nuova Italia.
Thomas, M. (2003). Lost at sea and lost at home. Cardiff: SIRC.
Thompson, P. et al. (1983). Living the fishing. London: Routledge.