Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sea Trade Cultures

I was discussing an article I posted at Classical Values, The al-Ameriki Tribe (also cross posted here at P&C), with some commenters and made this brilliant (well you know my opinion of myself) comment.

Only a moral people can have successful revolutions. Private property has to be a core value or the result is a degeneration into wholesale thievery. Socialism.

I think being a sea trade culture is critical. It tends to impose honest dealings across cultures and tribes. Tribal or factional cultures tend to degenerate into thievery.
So I thought to myself, that is an interesting line of thought. What is the influence of sea trade cultures on politics? So you know the first thing to do is to see if any one had written anything on "sea trade culture". Nothing. Zero. Bupkiss. Searching - "sea trade" culture - is a little better. About 117,000 items. Anything interesting?

I did find something on littoral culture.
The collapsing of Oceanic culture and politics, the affinities of community and the energies of colonial resistance has me thinking of the deforming imperial visions running through seascapes and littoral cultures. Gifts, affinities, and ships point me to not the land and sea, but to the Àscapes themselves. This, as theorist Kenneth Olwig reminds, is a derivation not unlike that of friendship or citizenship, which is clearly to note that it is a community notion. Thus a seascape is primarily and necessarily founded upon a community of memory, custom, and practice. This is a divided notion—between the place of memory, custom, and community, and that of the imperial power to view, from a dominant vision, "seascapes" themselves; in considering our themes we are radically implicated in these apparent disjunctures between the local and the global or imperial.

Equally to note is the critical observation that these "ships" are indeed literally "ships." That is, they are continuously mobile and negotiated constructions, bearing meaning yet dependent upon the familiars who create them—if we strongly consider such terms as "citizenship," with all of its evocations of the ship of state, we see uniquely how it is very much a question of "representation." In the image then, to represent the seascape, is also to struggle with the notion of representation—the politics of community, accountability, and voice, and the struggle over those seascapes which are unrepresented, which have no "ships," whether communities evoked, rights to be enjoyed or demanded, or mobile cultures in which to participate.
Typical academic speak. I think what he means to say is that seafaring has a rather definite culture attached to it. In other words he has restated the premise without adding any information.

I have done some more searching and haven't found anything like Mahan's "The Influence of Sea Power On History" with respect to the influence of seafaring on politics and actual culture (as opposed to giving it a name - littoral culture - and letting it go at that). As far as I can tell what the scholars mean by "littoral culture" is that people have boats. There is no attempt to unify cultural/political constructions that are a result of such a culture. How does it influence law? Levels of trust? Clan behavior? Identity? It looks like a wide open field of study.

I have taken a look in some past articles on the advantages of safe trade routes to the general welfare in Decline and Fall and Desolation Row and
Makers vs Takers. But none of those touches on the effect of seafaring on politics and culture. I'm going to have to give this some more thought and research and see if I can add to the body of general knowledge.


LarryD said...

Hmm, I think the distinctive feature (for the current discourse) is inter-cultural trade, sustained, with several cultures. Which requires fair dealing.

Not necessarily restricted to sea-going societies, just much more likely, due to the mobility.

Tom Cuddihy said...

littoral (or litoral) is the wrong word. Implies shallow, brown water. Kind of the opposite of sea trade, which implies open ocean and far-flung, known destinations.

M. Simon said...

littoral (or litoral) is the wrong word. Implies shallow, brown water. Kind of the opposite of sea trade, which implies open ocean and far-flung, known destinations.

As far as I know sea trade begins and ends in the littoral areas of the Earth.