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Title: The problem of fluctuation : nature, capital, and measure in Newfoundland's saltfish industry, 1887-1937
Author: Banoub, Daniel
ISNI:       0000 0004 7656 1154
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis examines scientific, technological, and organizational innovations in Newfoundland's saltfish industry between 1887 and 1937. Since entering the orbit of European capital in the fifteenth century, Newfoundland's economy and society was organized around the export of saltfish (salted and dried cod) to consuming markets in Southern Europe and Latin America. By the nineteenth century, saltfish production was organized primarily around the small-scale fishing family financed by merchant capital. This mode of production consistently produced a large aggregate amount of saltfish of highly uneven quality. By the late-nineteenth century, however, this production system was placed under pressure as consumers in the key European markets demanded uniformly high quality saltfish, and Newfoundland's competitors began providing it. Using archival and secondary sources, this thesis examines attempts to improve and modernize saltfish production in Newfoundland over a fifty-year period, beginning with the formation of the first Fisheries Commission in 1887.I argue that saltfish producers had to confront and overcome "the problem of fluctuation." This refers to both the biogeophysical processes controlling the quantity of cod extracted (reproduction, predation, ocean dynamics, etc.) and the biogeophysical processes determining the quality of saltfish produced and consumed (decomposition, preservation, socio-biology of consumption). In contrast to many studies of the political economy of fishing, and inspired by agrarian political economy, I develop a theoretical framework called "aquarian political economy" that expands the analytical focus beyond extraction to include the entire circulation of capital. Between 1887 and 1937, I document a number of attempts at reshaping biogeophysical processes to suit the dynamics of capital accumulation in the "upstream" (pre-extraction) and "downstream" (post-extraction) phases of production. These innovations proceeded by way of introducing abstract, scientific forms of measure, which identified and helped render biogeophysical processes as amenable to human control. I define these innovations as moments in an expanded conception of the "real subsumption of nature under capital." Although many of these innovations and interventions were defined by false starts and only partial success, I conclude that this period witnessed a shift in the notion of expertise from practical experience on the ocean to techno-scientific managerial knowledge behind the desk. Through my empirical research and theoretical framework, this thesis makes a contribution to the political economy of fishing, critical resource geography, and the historical political economy of Newfoundland.
Supervisor: Swyngedouw, Erik Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Historical geography ; Fisheries and aquaculture ; Real subsumption ; Political economy of resource extraction ; Newfoundland and Labrador