Q and A on Courtney Carothers and Catherine Chambers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALaurie: I really appreciated the way this article captured and clearly conveyed broad historical trends and patterns that crossed space, at the same time that it attended to variations within these patterns. Both the arguments and the language in which they were presented were refreshingly clear!

This paper did a wonderful job of synthesizing a large literature and linking theoretical and policy issues to ethnography, referencing not just the author’s own work but also studies conducted by others. The article places efforts to privatize fishing access in the historical contexts from which they emerged, examining early profit-maximization rationales and more recent environmental rationales, with the assertion that the emergence of conservation-based arguments in favor of privatization have enlisted broader support for such programs in recent decades. I appreciated the carefulness of the literature review: the authors combined identification of broad trends related to the implementation of projects to privatize resource access with attention to variations in the ways these trends have played out in different places and contexts, especially in terms of the relative degree to which access rights have themselves become commodities. The paper also attends to the ways that privatization programs have opened new possibilities for resisting privatization, discussing some of the divergent forms resistance has taken. 

Since this was the only co-authored paper submitted to the competition this year, it seems especially important to inquire into the origins and process of this collaboration. How did this co-authored paper come about, and towards what intellectual and career objectives has it propelled you? Given that the article is primarily a review article, how does it articulate with each of your research programs?

Catherine: I am currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Courtney is my advisor. This co-authored paper came about as the result of many conversations between Courtney and myself as I was developing a dissertation research proposal. Courtney’s expertise in the theoretical literature and her work in Alaska offered a solid ground for my similar research interests in Iceland. Being able to work on a paper with my advisor while still engaged in my dissertation research has given me a great learning experience. As reflected in the article, fisheries literature spans a wide range of disciplines, so it is important for early career researchers like myself to learn how to make our work meaningful to the different disciplines we draw on. For me, this collaboration on a review article is an example of how social scientists can work in teams to cover theoretical and empirical work both broadly and deeply. This article forms a basis for much of my ongoing research in Iceland, and I will be able to draw on the points made in further publications resulting from my research.

Courtney: Since I began researching the social impacts of fisheries privatization in Alaska in 2002, I have become increasingly frustrated with the simplistic and inaccurate stories often told by scientists and policy advocates about fishery systems. Students come into my classes having learned for many years that inevitable tragedies of resource overuse and degradation are bound to occur without resource privatization. Students play games in their introductory classes where they (are taught to) race to outcompete each other for beans or m&ms. These games become the common-sense models upon which students start to understand fishery and other resource systems. What they often do not learn is the social and cultural diversity and complexity that typifies fisheries systems across the globe. Many of these fisheries systems are under threat from large-scale privatization. Now that environmental groups are heavily promoting privatization, more and more people are advocating for privatization without understand the social transitions and dispossessions that often accompany it.


What Cat and I try to do in this paper is to present a broad look at these social transitions in diverse regions across the globe. We hope the paper will serve as an important teaching tool exposing students to the complexity of the privatization issue. After years of seeing headlines about how privatization saves fisheries, we were encouraged to see a recent piece in the Seattle Weekly politicizing this issue of fisheries privatization (http://www.seattleweekly.com/2013-01-09/news/sharecroppers-of-the-sea/). Researching and writing the paper was also very helpful to direct us to future objectives in our research programs. We can better understand commonalities and differences across systems and identify future research questions and advocacy priorities.

This is the second in a series of interviews with the runner-ups to the junior scholar prize. It is done by the judges with the finalists. The article referenced is:

Carothers, C. and C. Chambers. 2012. Fisheries privatization and the remaking of fishery systems. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 3: 39-59. 

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