• Paul Thompson
Location:
London
Date:
Friday 17th July 2009
Reference:
SWI2009/003

Simon:

So shall we cast your mind back to the late 70s when you started on the project? Maybe first, just what was your reasons for doing it and your interest in fishing specifically at that time? Was there something significant about the period that made fishing an interesting topic to look at?

     

Paul:

Well, I think it started when I went to Shetland in 1970? Yeah, 1970, and was for the Edwardian Project so we were doing these 450 interviews right across Britain and we decided to do a group in Shetland because I felt we knew much less about Shetland than anywhere else. And I was very fascinated by that and in particular by the way children were brought up there. They disapproved of physical punishment and included the children in the social life and I thought this was rather amazing because it was like progressive child rearing in the furthest away part of Britain and I wondered how that had happened and developed an idea that ... it was because the men were going out two or three days on their boats, leaving the women in charge of the small farms, the crofts, and so both men and women had to develop skills which were sort of exchangeable. Like the men had to cook and clean on the boats, the women had to learn to look after the land and farm. And I thought that created a more equal kind of family.

 

So this was the idea we started from. We wanted to look at other parts of Scotland to see where that idea worked out you see? And there was another motivation actually which was my mother was Scottish, from the eastern side of Scotland. She was mainly brought up around Perth and so I’d always wanted to reconnect with that and this research idea gave me a chance to do that! And then so we decided to try for contrast and we already had Shetland and we went back to Shetland to interview more people there and then we looked at the North East, particularly Buckie but also Fraserburgh, Peterhead ... and Aberdeen for the company based trawling and then the Western Isles which was also small boats, but rather in decline. And tried to understand the kind of society which was behind these work activities and what was the explanation or the differences. We started, you see, with this idea which was based on work explaining differences in behaviour but I ended up thinking it was the other way around and that, in particular, the differences between Shetland and the North East on one hand and the Western Isles on the other were to do with agriculture rather than the material base which was very similar in both. I mean, both were fishing then with smallish boats and the sea was full of fish stocks in those days, so in both cases you could see in the Western Isles it limped along while in the North East and in Shetland it was incredibly successful in the 70s and 80s, to the extent that you ended up with what was essentially a working class kind of household having a couple of houses and a boat worth a million pounds or something like that! I just thought this was absolutely amazing, so that was what we were trying to understand.

Simon:

And at that time were there wider concerns around fishing that were similar to today or was that sort of lingering on the horizon? Sounds like it’s more just from this coincidental discovery of Shetland.

     

Paul:

Yeah, I didn’t come in because I was interested in the environment or the ecology or anything like that. Of course, as I researched the topic I began to realise that there were potential dangers ahead and it was really the Peruvian disaster when they fished out all their fish stock, and it was interesting too how people on the Western Isles saw themselves with their slower approach to fishing, as being more environmental than the people on the east side. But at the time we rather brushed that aside and assumed that, you know, the fishing was going to go on. I mean, I couldn’t imagine the situation like today then.

Simon:

You mentioned earlier that people were quite reluctant to talk, or you had difficulty talking with ... Was the idea of somebody coming to discuss the fishing, taking an interest in the fishing, an unusual thing at that time?

     

Paul:

No, I think I was referring to a particular group of people when I mentioned that and you’ve ... There were difficult groups. The Brethren for instance don’t like being interviewed, but on the whole I find people incredibly welcoming and really loved talking about their work and their stories of the community and so on. The one partial exception to that was in the Western Isles, especially Lewis, I found that the men rather like to be the only person interviewed. They sort of pushed the women back into the kitchen. But then I went to a kind of old people’s centre where there were a lot of old women together and they obviously tremendously enjoyed talking about their past experiences, particularly how they got out of Lewis when they were following the fishing for the herring gutting. This had been one of the great experiences of their lives and their faces lit up as they talked about it!

Simon:

I’ve found ... I’ve been talking to people on Skye and my first point of contact was with a crofting family I know, but when I asked for people to talk to they only gave me names of men. And at that point I said: “Is there no women that croft?” and it was quite interesting. They didn’t think I’d want to talk to a woman: “Women don’t croft.” But women were actually very heavily involved.

     

Paul:

That’s interesting. Well, you have to work out I think, you have to have some idea when you go to these places of who you’re looking for. Otherwise you are sort of pushed into a little box like that. When we first went to Buckie, I remember we started with the fisheries man and he recommended various old fishermen and it is just snowballed from there but they were all men and so we started looking for women. Well, that was easy enough because they were all around you but what was more difficult was that they were all retired skippers so they had all been successful fishermen so when we said: “There must be people here in Buckie who’ve not been successful and stayed as deck hands?” And they said: “Well, anyone of any intelligence in Buckie became a skipper and these other people wouldn’t have anything to tell you.” And then in the end we did find some and it was really interesting because they were equally good at talking about their lives but they had a different kind of view, much more superstitious for instance. They had different accents as well and different views of Buckie society. They saw it more like they were looking from the bottom so it was really important that we looked for them.

Simon:

It’s interesting for such a small community you get differences in accent kind of expressing a class difference.

     

Paul:

Yes.

     

Simon:

Even in the small, tight communities. It’s quite interesting. OK, well, we should come on to the ... as I sketched out, there’s four themes that I was interested in which were instability, migration, collective representation and the kind of social and economic structure. And in a way they all feel like different perspectives on the one issue. So I guess if we just work through them in that order. That seemed like the ... going from the broader to the more specific in a way. This idea of instability struck me as a recurrent theme in many of the interviews and discussions in the book and this had different dimensions to it. One was the actual instability of the natural resource, the fish itself. But there’s also this instability that came about through partly the dependence on migrational workers or seasonal workers and also then certain instabilities that were produced as a result of market, the drive to change in order to have control over the market. It kind of ties to the latter factor. In the ... in talking to people, what ways did people themselves express this idea of instability? Did it feel like something people were self-conscious of or was it more something you observed as an outsider?

     

Paul:

I think people were aware of the absent hands, certainly. I mean most of the elder generation had been through the 1930s and all the problems then and there were vivid descriptions of the humiliation of previously where fishermen were being forced to go on public works and be a labourer and so there was that side to it. I think they were somewhat less concerned with a change in fish stocks which was beginning to become obvious. For example, the mackerel fishing in Scotland which people from the North East went to and the famous Klondyke boats from Russia came to harvest and then that was a relatively new development and the mackerel probably hadn’t been coming up that far north before. I mean, nobody really knows of course. And then there’s the extinction of the East Anglian herring was pretty early I think in the 1950s so ... they were aware of some of those things. But I think it was more ... the atmosphere was more you could find more things to fish and in Buckie, of course, the prawn fishery was a relatively recent development which they had found and they created their own market just for that. And I think above all though they were emphasizing the ability to create more successful types of fishing boat technology and the way that each generation would have something more impressive in that way. And many people had five different boats and they would recite their boats and what they were like and how they were equipped and so on. And there’s that wonderful quotation from a retired Buckie skipper about how as boys they went on the boats as cooks and they would compare the cooks and - those were steam boats at that time - compare the stoves that each one had. The boat with the best stove! And later they’d be going round the harbour looking at the nets and counting how many rings there were on it and this sort of thing and he describes that in great detail and says: “This is fishing, this sort of minute attention to detail in a rather competitive way!” I think that was what particularly struck me in the 70s.

Simon:

So there’s a pragmatic attitude would you say?

     

Paul:

Very pragmatic, yes. And you see, when we were working in the 70s the fish ... there were two very important differences from later on. First of all, the sea was a common resource and anyone could go and fish when they liked so if you had the equipment and found some kind of fish, nobody was going to stop you from catching it and landing it. It gave people a chance to start something new. The other thing was there was grants for building fishing boats. Of course now, first of all, the current bill seeks to reduce the number of boats so the last thing they’ll do is encourage that. And secondly, essentially the sea has been privatised by the license system which means that you can only fish if you’ve got a license and, of course, you can only fish with the quotas which are allowed for environmental purposes. The license alone is very, very valuable. You’re talking a million pounds for a fishing license! And so, young men can’t get a grant, build a boat and start fishing. That’s really out of it now. It’s going to be families who already have quite a lot of fishing wealth. It creates a totally different kind of society to the one we saw in the 1970s.

Simon:

People are talking about ... There’s a kind of trade in the licensing and there does seem to be absolutely no way into that. It’s almost like the market is the licenses for the fishing permits, rather than the fish. And people talking about, there’s boats that cost like fifty million pounds, some of these big trawlers. So the scale of the thing has ... it was smaller at the time that you were talking to people but ... heading that way.

     

Paul:

Yeah, it was just beginning to develop but again we didn’t see what was going to happen because we didn’t see that fish stocks were so threatened and we didn’t foresee quite how large some of the boats were going to become. There were already purse seine netters. They were the kind of elite, particularly in Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Shetland. That’s where you found those but there were perhaps under ten, I would’ve thought. But at the time we were doing interviewing but we didn’t ... they weren’t the typical activity at all.

Simon:

And the people, thinking more about deck hands, did they perceive themselves as being in an unstable job or was this just their job? Was this just the way it was or ...? I’m thinking nowadays people use terms such as ‘precarious’ and talk about certain types of physical labour as such.

     

Paul:

Well, in the 1970s you didn’t hear people talking that way, partly because you could earn very well at the fishing. You were a share fisherman and could come across a very good income from that. Of course it was and certainly hours weren’t regulated. I mean, you could be laid off for a while, particularly when the boat was being repaired and so on. Even if you stuck to the same boat you weren’t guaranteed to get paid all the year round so in that sense it was very uneven kind of pay. But I think it was good pay and that made a big difference to people. Historically, it wasn’t the fisherman who usually had a sense of being well or ill treated, it was much more the women, the herring gutters, who went on strike quite often, particularly in East Anglia where there was huge numbers of herring coming in so they were very much needed. It had to be a quick turnover in the gutting for it to be effective and many many years they went on strike to raise their wages. And interestingly, they ... in sort of political terms, I would say some of the most articulate people were the women like Maria Gatt of Rosehearty for instance.

Simon:

And what was the kind of demographic mix within ... If you take the North East specifically. Nowadays ... for example, the boat I was on. The skipper was local, a Buckie man, the crew were a mix of Filipino and younger North East guys. And within the fish market again, you had the foreman and stuff were local and the handlers were mostly Eastern European. And the processing plants, it was primarily migrant workers that were in the processing plants. In those days it was more traditionally the ‘Herring Lass’ that worked. What was the kind of demographic mix around the time you were into ...?

     

Paul:

I would say that it was nearly 100% Scottish for a start. You did get people, particularly the women in the processing, would come from the smaller villages into the larger towns to work. And then ... historically, I don’t think by the time we got there this was going on, but historically people were going from the Western Isles to work on East Coast boats as the extra last person usually. So they had probably the worst deal. But no, it was entirely Scottish and I would say the reason is because this demographic is that people are still having quite a lot of children and now the birth rate’s gone down quite a lot so there aren’t so many young Scottish people around, even if they were keen on that kind of work. I mean I was really struck last month when I was at Mallaig when the Reaper, the fishing sailboat from Anstruther, came in and you would think on a historic boat like that they would find a crew of Scots people but several of them were actually Filipinos. This is amazing that they couldn’t recruit enough Scots people. Whether that’s because people aren’t interested or there just aren’t the people around, I don’t know. But that’s a huge change of course.

Simon:

Was there a sense among the younger generation of moving away from fishing. Part of that, I’m thinking ... to make a comparison with the crofting communities, people talk about how crofting nowadays, it’s predominantly the older generation that are keeping it going. One of the key things people say is the education. It opened up opportunities away from the local communities and people went for them. Partly they were encouraged by their parents as well to make that move to move away from the traditional industries, and the forms of work that the people have done. That was happening around the 70s and ...

     

Paul:

Absolutely, yes. I mean you would find so often, you would go and talk to a fisherman and his wife and they’d say their children were just finishing at university. That was so typical. Yeah, I agree. I think that has been an enormous change and a big explanation of the draining away of the younger people from those ... because we’re talking about the peripheries aren’t we? And why should people stay there after they’ve got a degree? Unless they do something that takes them back professionally, like a therapist or something, it’s different.

Simon:

And some people have mentioned to me that round ... in terms of migrant workers coming in to fishing ... there’s a skipper in Buckie, and a few people have spoke about this, people from the Western Isles as Gaelic speakers and there’s a kind of cultural difference that was perceived. And if you were a herring lass, you ’d say the language was Gaelic, like the airlies or arlies. Like wages, it’s the Gaelic word which I think is quite significant. And one of the skippers talks about the ... he said: “The boys from the Western Isle spoke in Gaelic and couldn’t read English and always kept themselves to themselves,” and at the time you were talking to people, were there ...? I guess a lot of the workers from the Western Isles were no longer coming at that time because that was mostly the 50s?

     

Paul:

Yes, there was a sort of brief arrival of the herring in the 50s but after that it was finished so no, they went.

Simon:

Was there a sense of being involved in global trade?

     

Paul:

Well yes, absolutely. That had been so for a long time because the bulk of the herring went to Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries as well, so I think they were very aware of that. I was going to say that the Shetlanders have, in particular, have for a very long time seen themselves in an international way because they see their culture as Scandinavian. They point out that the nearest big city for them is Bergen and not Aberdeen and so on. And then you feel an international aspect also in the Western Isles where there are so many people who’ve been to Canada and come back. So I don’t think they saw themselves in an insular way.

Simon:

Do you think it’s more like the popular perception that fishing communities are insular? Where the reality is actually, in a sense, they’re small hubs of a global network.

     

Paul:

Yes. Fishing communities are seen as traditional and static and so on but on the one hand they have to continually adapt in terms of technology and markets and so on. The boats of one generation are quite different from those of the next. The nets are anyway. And then on the other hand, there’s this constant movement of people between them, particularly you see in the case of the North East, it’s encouraged by the herring fishing. Because that meant the women from the communities went down the coast working together and the fishermen were coming in each day with their catch and they could meet women from other communities and ... usually did in fact. That was the normal pattern so that meant there was a lot more mixing than you might expect from a casual look.

Simon:

Was there a lot of marriage between communities ...?

     

Paul:

Yes, absolutely.

     

Simon:

I remember I was in, when I went up to Banff, I was chatting to somebody at the community centre about the project and he introduced me to a woman whose grandparents were from Lewis and he said: “Oh yeah, Simon’s doing his project about migrants coming to the North East and your grandfather was a migrant,” and interestingly she’d never thought about it. Because it had been internal migration, she’s never thought about it in those terms.

     

Paul:

Well yes, and often they’re keeping the links. We have quite a lot of Scots people who’ve settled in East Anglia through the fishing, married local women usually. And then there’s what you’ve just been talking about. It’s interesting, there’s also migration back from the East to the West coast, to Mallaig for instance. When my friend Andy Noble from Fraserburgh came over and we were introduced to a woman informant who was the best video film that they’d so far recorded and he immediately says: “Oh yes, do you know so and so? She’s my cousin,” and all this stuff, but they just knew each other’s family networks so it’s not a migration where people disappear totally. I think that’s interesting that the contact is maintained.

Simon:

Let’s move on to religion. You’ve mentioned the Brethren. I think it’s also one aspect to come back to, the theme of instability. What I thought was interesting was that you discuss, in regard to things like unions and work representation organisations, that they were often quite short lived. And yet religious organisations seem to have quite a great deal of permanence. I was wondering if you see those as being comparable in any way in terms of being social infrastructures that exist within communities? What do you feel are the ...? Or what did you perceive or get a sense of? Was it reasons for the difference in the way that they evolve or take root within different communities?

     

Paul:

Well, I think there were lots of reasons for the difficulties of trade unions. Trade unions succeed best when there is a big workplace and people are together all the time. And well, with fishing they are obviously scattered around and they don’t even have obvious places of getting together after working. And then they’re seasonal. All these kind of reasons make it much more difficult. But I think the interest in religion is somewhat different in the fact that it is fairly lasting because, after all, that’s typical of religion in Western Europe. You know, you have a church or a chapel and it’s usually there quite a long time. What I found really interesting is the way that the different kinds of religion had such different social impacts. So that in the Western Isles you had that sort of extreme Calvinism which saw everybody as predestined usually to hell and there’s not much you can do about it and that is reflected in their attitude in their working lives. While, the opposite extreme, you have the Shetlands where it’s almost like a free thinking society even though there are a lot of religious people because you could be an atheist or a socialist as well, and there was such a variety of different points of view. That’s the key thing I think. There’s an amazing amount of choice. And that’s also true of the North East where the Brethren were just one of lots of different sects. Some very tight, like the Brethren, others much more open and emotionally expressive, like the Salvationists for instance. But I think the key point is there was a lot of choice and variety so you weren’t confronted as you were in the Western Isles with the idea that there was only one way to God and that’s it and you have to accept it or not.

Simon:

And did people look to the church as a social infrastructure? Do you think there was a conscious awareness of that or was it part of the fabric of life?

     

Paul:

It was very much part of the social infrastructure on Lewis because usually there was one church in each village and then the elders of the church were the older men in the families so the whole thing was tied together in a very powerful way. But that’s not true of ... well, in the North East what you have are all these different chapels so there wasn’t the kind of organised hierarchical structure going on. Then in Shetland, it’s sort of even less organised because they weren’t ... apart from Lerwick, there weren’t really towns at all and so there weren’t places where a church could be planted and then be dominant. It was a much more home-based kind of society which meant that the church was less important. It was also less important historically because they were really not effectively Christianised until right at the end of the eighteenth century so they maintained older traditions with a less harsh way of thinking.

Simon:

So if some great event happened and had an impact on a kind of community level beyond an individual or individual family, were there a particular group or bodies within the communities that people would look to to give a voice to the communities? Would that be the church or were there other types of ... Not necessarily formal organisations but ... Something of some kind that people would look to as the voice of the community?

     

Paul:

That’s an interesting question. Well, certainly the preachers would say things. There were town councils which no doubt at some times said important things. But then you’ve got these spontaneous situations like in the 30s where a spokesperson would emerge from that situation. In a way, because that was unusual, I suppose it was much more dramatic when it did happen. They’ve tried to form fisherman’s associations every now and then. I mean, possibly those are more effective now, I don’t know, but in the time I was researching they didn’t pay very much attention to that and they nearly always were very short lived. And they were inspired partly by a French example, you know, this blockading of ports but that never worked very well in Britain.

Simon:

Did you get any forms of cooperativism?

     

Paul:

Well, there’s very little. There are examples, even in the North East, just occasional examples of that. And Shetland, you’ve got a little bit. But of course the Western Isles, the townships are cooperatives themselves and they were very interesting to me in that their attitudes were so different. I mean, they saw the fishing harvest as something to be shared according to need more than be exploited for commercial reasons. Totally different attitude to the North East or Shetland, yes.

Simon:

And do you think that was ...? What factors do you think led to that difference in ...?

     

Paul:

Well, I think it came out of the communal township tradition, which they fought for, of course, as you know. They reconquered large parts of Western Scotland from the landowners in the later nineteenth century, so there’s a tremendously powerful belief in those kind of values. And that inhibited really pushing forward with fishing which was much a more individualistic activity. You had your little boat, you weren’t that well equipped, and that’s for you to catch. It’s not for everybody in the community.

Simon:

I was wondering with in the North East, you get this sense ... I mean, many of the fishing communities were very consciously set up by somebody who had the capital, the landowner. And you get these towns, as you know, these kind of ghost towns that have failed as fishing communities that were set up. I mean, Rattray Head there’s one where the buildings still stand. So you have this sense that the fishing is something that comes about as a conscious putting in place by an external body whereas it seems the fishing in the West is more that kind of ad hoc slightly ... it’s like an extension of crofting.

     

Paul:

Yes, well, it’s true that in the West the communities see themselves as primary crofters and only fishermen when that’s worthwhile while the North East ones don’t have much land at all. But you’re also right that they originated from landlords pushing them to the sea. But also people migrating of course. Once fishing started and people could see that there was money to be made there, then they migrated. But I think it is an interesting question. Too far back in history to go. How was it that they managed to change their attitudes? I don’t know the answer to that. It is very interesting when you try and trace ... I mean, I was trying to look at family relationships and how they affect the economy and using oral history. When I was doing this work you could interview people who had memories back to the 1880s but not obviously beyond that and the trouble was, with the Western Isles, the key changes have been in the mid-nineteenth century with the disruption and the setting up of the Free Kirk and so on. And they had no idea what society was like before that happened. And again, with Shetland, in a way it was easier to sense what had happened, but it still would have been much better if one had been able to trace it back to the eighteenth century, and then you could say: “Well, all these ways of behaving went back to sort of pre ... before the strong imposition of Christianity on the islands.” You could only guess about that because there’s no documentation of those kind of things. The only documents you have are like demographic and then economic but there’s not really anything about the earlier culture that you can find in the records.

Simon:

And partly following on from that, what were people’s perceptions of the social order in terms of power relations? I think like with crofting communities there’s a kind of oppositional relationship to the landowner whereas in the North East the landowner’s portrayed as the ‘benefactor’. There seems to be less of a critical ... almost that people seem to perceive that there’s something set in place that they’re participating in and it’s for the greater good to do it. That’s the perception I’ve got from some of the people I’ve spoken to. Does that marry up with you ...? I’m seeing ‘no’ there. (laughs)

     

Paul:

I mean, I don’t remember people in the North East feeling particularly concerned about the landowners. I remember I had an interview with a landowner who said that he founded Fraserburgh and kept it going but I don’t think the people of Fraserburgh would’ve been willing to agree with that way of looking at it. No, what I think was interesting to me was much more the internal dynamics socially that some people liked to think of the town as very egalitarian, a place for opportunity. They were usually the people that had done relatively well. And then there were the poorer people that felt that there was another class higher up the brae that had servants and so on that was different from them. But they didn’t see beyond the brae to the country house. And they weren’t many country houses around anyway, were there?

Simon:

There’s a kind of culture in the North East that if you have money you don’t really show it.

     

Paul:

Yes, well that was the culture and that was enormously beneficial to the fishing industry because people ploughed back their profits into building better boats. And that’s really how the whole thing developed. The thing with Buckie, we interviewed people who had started on sail boats and then you got the steam drifters coming in, which were an amazing achievement actually. Big boats for the time and they must have been ... well, they were incredibly expensive. And done entirely through local resources, through family resources. And then they moved over to motorboats and so on but each time pushing forward. That was because, even when they had got quite a lot of money, they preferred not to display it but to live in a simple working class style. I think that’s carried on with some of the really wealthy fishing people but there are others which it hasn’t and that’s interesting. It relates to religion partly because if you take the Buchans, who’ve got a set of very expensive boats, they’re still very simple living and they’re Brethren while the Tates, who also live in Fraserburgh, they’ve a totally different way of behaving. Fast motorcars and they like a bit of wine and this kind of thing which is a very big break with the past so I wonder in the future whether you’re going to get a more consuming kind of elite developing. Particularly if the influence of religion wanes.

Simon:

I think you’ll maybe get that from people with oil jobs.

     

Paul:

Yeah, there’s that too.

     

Simon:

Was the oil having ...?

     

Paul:

They had been ... yes, the oil fields had been opened up in the late 70s but there were virtually no fishing people moving over to work in the oil fields because they didn’t need to at that time so there was no sort of intermixture. But there were people from fishing families on the other hand who did. One of the best known was Jamesie in Fraserburgh whom we recorded and his mother who was a wonderful talker actually. She had been on the herring gutting but he said that he’d published memoirs of an oil worker in the Netherlands but nobody was ever able to discover this book! (laughs)

Simon:

One thing I’ve found, even when companies are in name a local, family company, they’re quite often owned by larger multi-nationals which has become quite a common pattern. There are still some which do seem to maintain complete independence but it’s the exception nowadays. And in some cases there are companies which, whilst they are effectively independent companies, are entirely contracted out to supermarket chains as such. So the supermarkets are effectively their owners. The biggest fishing processing plant in Fraserburgh is largely Marks & Spencer’s who are the main financers behind it. Was that development ...? What sort of stage were those kinds of developments at, at the time that you were talking to people? Was it still primarily locally owned or was it this kind of larger scale firm external investment starting to happen with a controlling influence on the ...?

     

Paul:

No, I think both the boats and the processing factories were locally owned. Not only by the fishermen though because the fish salesmen had an important role in financing things. But they were Scottish people. We tried to interview ... Well, I did succeed in interviewing them but they were a bit secretive actually, but we realised after a bit that they played a crucial role in keeping the system going and, in particular, in distinguishing which fisherman was worth lending to. Which is another way of looking at how individualistic everything was. You looked at a fisherman’s character and record to decide whether to put some money behind him to help him get a better boat.

Simon:

So were you getting any ...? This is not limited to fisherman. Across the board with fruit production is the impact of supermarkets on the prices, or their pricing structures ... (inaudible) ... and that had quite a strong influence on how fishing was able to operate. Was that so apparent at the time or was it, because it’s a more buoyant market, was it ...?

     

Paul:

I don’t think the .... I mean, the supermarkets had such a small fraction of the total market back then. And they’re in the big cities anyway ... No, they weren’t an influence in that way. Not that we were aware of anyway. And of course they had old style open marketing rather than things being pre-bought as they so very often are. The Buckie fish market was wonderful! There were usually around three auctioneers with these sing-song ways of quoting the prices and all the fish in big boxes on the floor so it was the old kind of capitalism you might say.

Simon:

Fraserburgh market’s still like that.

     

Paul:

It is, yeah.

     

Simon:

There’s one point you make in the introduction where you talk about making nonsense of modernisation theory?

     

Paul:

Oh yes!

     

Simon:

Could you elaborate on that?

     

Simon:

In a way it relates to one of your initial arguments in the book, that the popular perception of fishing is quite at odds with its reality. But here you also draw it in relation to the idea of modernisation and unnecessarily causing a drive towards the cities and towards industrialization and towards monopolisation. And you say that within the fishing, at the time that you were looking at it, that was not the case and it was a much more complex picture. How would you characterise that contrast between the realities of the fishing communities and these kind of theoretical models that you were questioning?

     

Paul:

Well I think that when we were doing the research, the modernisation theory was very fashionable and that was based on the idea that on the one hand, the way society is which we quote as ‘modern’ because they were prepared to develop, adapt, be scientific, be technological, open up markets, encourage individualism and so on, and on the other hand there were societies which were quoted as ‘traditional’ which focus more on community, tradition, equality and so on and when you look at fishing communities I don’t think they’ve ever been simply traditional. There may be some things which have gone on for generations but they’ve always had to cope with change, whether it be in the fish available, the markets, the technology ... there are all those possibilities. And also there’s a constant renewal of people in them and many of them anyway have been quite short-lived. They’ve been pushed to a particular place or they’ve grown up in a particular place and then you find a generation or so later the people have migrated to somewhere else, so it’s an illusion that these are longstanding traditional places. I think having said that they’re not traditional, what’s equally important to say is you do find within them, and I think within the great many of traditional societies, much more creativity and willingness to develop and individual diversity than the stereotypes allow for and a lot of the differences between so-called developed societies and un-developed societies have come from completely different reasons like resources, conquest and migration including forced migration and so on. I think it’s a very self-satisfied kind of perspective, to describe the developed world as the one that has all the virtues and the undeveloped world as the reverse, and fishing communities are a good illustration of how that’s not so.