The Unsociability of Commercial Seafaring: Language Practice and Ideology in Maritime Technocracy

Sonia Neela Das

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This article explores the language practices and language ideologies of maritime technocracy and inquires into the imagined and real gaps involved in sustaining channels of sociable talk aboard cargo ships. Lacking knowledge of the routines, practices, and beliefs impacting seafarers’ productivity, shipping industry leaders turn to Christian ministries to identify infrastructural or logistical gaps in the operation of communications media networks and deficiencies in the language policies and interactional practices that animate them. These converging profit-driven and ethical projects collectively support a technocratic language ideology. It locates risks to the supply chain in presumptions of miscommunications caused by the lack of English-language use and unsociability caused by the lack of convivial talk among seafarers for channeling information about these risks. Actualized by strategies that affirm the value of face-to-face talk and online chatting rather than solitary reading, maritime technocracy standardizes the logistical coordination of media infrastructures and labor and language policies. This article draws on ethnographic research aboard cargo ships and at Christian centers to elucidate the logic of maritime technocracies in Newark and Montreal, two seaports with different governance structures highlighting the internal differences of a shipping industry facing crises due to automation, outsourcing, and neoliberal reform. [commercial seafaring, shipping industry, sociability, maritime technology, language ideology].

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)62-75
    Number of pages14
    JournalAmerican Anthropologist
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Feb 1 2019

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anthropology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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