Between Nature and Culture, Land and Sea: Spatial Practices at the Coast: A Conference Report

by Cormac Walsh

The fiftieth anniversary Conference of Irish Geographers, took place at Maynooth University, (close to Dublin, in County Kildare) from 10-12thMay 2018. In response to a call for papers for a themed session with the title: Between Nature and Culture, Land and Sea: Spatial Practices at the Coast, Ruth Brennan (Centre for Environmental Humanities, Trinity College Dublin) and I convened a double session with eight papers[1]presented to a lively audience on the last day of the conference. We were particularly interested in papers which viewed coasts and coastlines as boundary spaces and explored ways in which natural and cultural values are contested and negotiated at the coast. With this thematic focus, the session built on recent work on cultural geographies of coastal change (e.g. Walsh & Döring 2018) and was informed by a broader concern to bring together perspectives from cultural geography and the environmental humanities.

 The first paper, by Frances Rylands and colleagues from the interdisciplinary Cultural Values of Coastlines project at University College Dublin explored the concept of emotional ecologies as a means of incorporating cultural values in policy-making at the coast. Her paper addressed the question of how nature-culture relations can be narrated at the coast, working with through practices of story-telling and story-mapping. Drawing on the Lorimer’s Wildlife in the Anthropocene (2015), she spoke of the non-human charisma of seals and their role as digital personalities in the communication of particular images of nature at the coast. Her paper highlighted the importance of developing and articulating an ethic of care in relation to the marine environment and the potential role of story-telling in articulating otherwise intangible and difficult to grasp emotional responses and cultural values.

Seal photo

A charismatic seal, Glengarriff Bay, Ireland. Photo: (c) C. Walsh

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The Relationship between Fishing Generations: Community, Identity, and Knowledge Exchange

by Hannah Fennell

For many fishermen, fishing is much more than a job- it is a way of life, providing fishers with a sense of satisfaction, a connection to the environment and, ultimately, with an identity and a community that spans across the globe. The Orkney Islands is a small archipelago located off the north coast of Scotland, with an inshore fishing fleet of over 100 boats, the majority of which are under 10m in length. Lobsters and brown and velvet crabs are the most valuable species to the fishery, and this is reflected in the presence of two crab-processing factories on the islands. My work with Orkney’s fishing community is grounded largely in assessing the value of the industry to the communities. While I originally began exploring the values of the industry through an economic lens, it was through interviewing and speaking to fishermen and their families I found that the values of the industry extend far beyond the price per kilo of a crab.

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