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Relying on the kindness of strangers: Welfare-providers to seafarers and the symbolic construction of community

Turgo, Nelson ORCID:, Cage, Wendy, Gilliat-Ray, Sophie ORCID:, Sampson, Helen ORCID: and Smith, Graeme 2023. Relying on the kindness of strangers: Welfare-providers to seafarers and the symbolic construction of community. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 52 (2) , pp. 192-217. 10.1177/08912416221092001

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Seafarers who call into ports usually hope for, or anticipate, a visit from people who provide them with welfare services—from SIM cards and mobile top-up vouchers to religious or nonreligious reading materials, and free transport to the nearest seafarers’ center or shopping mall. In seafarers’ centers, seafarers can normally use free internet facilities, enjoy drinks from the bar, avail themselves of remittance services, and if they wish, practice their faith in rooms/chapels dedicated to religious observance. While port chaplains are usually the people that seafarers associate with welfare services, port chaplains are not alone in providing these services—there are also paid staff and volunteers working in seafarers’ centers. This worldwide community of welfare providers displays the patina of a homogeneous bloc, sharing the same functions, activities, and end-goals in their everyday pursuits in ports and seafarers’ centers. However, this belies a more complex and sometimes fractured community of welfare providers in ports. While their services could be described with one coherent narrative of kindness to strangers, members of this community come from different backgrounds and are employed by different welfare organizations, and in the case of port chaplains, by different religious maritime charities with varying theologies. As a result of this, and the challenges to and changing contexts of maritime welfare services, in ports worldwide, this community is riven with contestation and everyday politics, which may be associated with a symbolically constructed community. This article expands on these issues. It is underpinned by research into welfare provision in two UK ports and in five other countries. It highlights narratives of unity and conflict, opening the doors to a community of people rarely noticed by social scientists.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Publisher: SAGE Publications
ISSN: 0891-2416
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 18 March 2022
Date of Acceptance: 17 March 2022
Last Modified: 06 Nov 2023 20:44

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