Maritime Work and Communication


  • Peter Andersen



communication, maritime, framework, linguistics


This paper presents findings from the project "Elastic Systems" under the Danish Center for Human Machine Interaction. The project aims at developing methods for analyzing dynamic maritime work processes and for designing flexible instrument interfaces that will support changing work environments. Here I only address the former issue, the design issues being published elsewhere, e.g. in Andersen(1999) and Andersen & May (2001). More data can be found in Andersen(2000). The purpose of the present paper is twofold: (1) to present characteristics of maritime work and communication, and (2) to suggest a conceptual framework that covers communicative as well as non-communicative acts. The latter purpose is motivated in two ways. Theoretical motivation: we know that language is self-referential, so that it can speak of non-linguistic entities like ships and waves as well as its own properties, such as the correct wording or style. The easiest way to accomplish this is for language to treat both domains in a similar way. The other motivation is more practical: it is a fact that communication and physical actions are interwoven in maritime work, and a theory that builds on a sharp distinction between these two kinds of behaviors will miss this basic characteristic. The data is from a voyage aboard Sally Maersk from Algeciras to Goteborg and back to Rotterdam. We recorded 60 hours of high quality video, and the paper builds upon a 16 hours trip from Felixstowe to Rotterdam, supplemented by data from simulated voyages in the simulator at the Danish Maritime Institute. The conceptual framework is based on Lind 1994 and Lind 2000 and distinguishes between the following types of action types: (1) Prevent(suppress, avoid): if I hadn't done it, then an undesirable state would have developed. Prevent drifting by using auxiliary rudder. (2) Maintain: if I hadn't done it, then a desirable state would have disappeared. Maintain course. (3) Help: a positive state would have developed anyway, but I/something made it happen faster/more efficiently. The wind helped us moving the ship to quay. (4) Create(produce): if I hadn't done it, it wouldn't have happened. Turn on the thrusters. (5) Destroy (remove): if I hadn't done it, a undesired state would have persisted. Stop engine. (6) Let: it will happen even if I don't do anything. Let the ship slide into berth without using power. The meaning concept implied here is a modal one, since all action types are defined by means of counterfactual statements: what would happen, had we not done anything, a course of events termed "passive projection" in Ryan 1991. This modal conception of meaning is among the stock of trade in structuralist linguistics: meaning units are constituted by means of differences and are defined negatively against units that are possible now, but not actualized. Saying that something is blue is to negate that it is green, brown, yellow, etc. The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann has a meaning definition very much in agreement with this. To Luhmann, meaning is a specific mode of experience: namely that human experience, although always filled with a specific actual content, is still aware of the possible contents that are left out: Experience experiences itself as variable [...]. It does not find itself closed and self-contained, not restricted to itself, but is always referring to something that is at the moment not its actual content. [...] The problem of integrating the actuality of experience with the transcendence of its other possibilities remains inescapable, and inescapable, too, is the form of experience processing that accomplishes this. It is this that I call meaning. Luhmann 1990: 25 A linguist would say that meaning is structured in paradigms only one member of which can be chosen, while the rest of the paradigm is present for the consciousness and affects its actual contents. Meaning is also characterized by its immense complexity that cannot be handled by the individual system: The most important feature of the differentiation between Actuality and Potentiality found in experience resides in the character of the overabundance of possibilities, which by far exceeds what can be realized through action or actualized in experience. Luhmann 1990: 26 Therefore, actualizing a specific meaning presupposes negating the rest. The constitution of this world of not-yet-actualized potentialities, which is constantly given and accompanies all experience, rests on the specifically human capacity for negation..[...] Negation appears [...] to actually constitute the universality, i.e. the world reference, of all practical life — especially where experience or action is directed positively toward some particular meaning and intends it under the form of "is" or "ought". Luhmann 1990: 27- 28


How to Cite

Andersen, P. (2001). Maritime Work and Communication. Australasian Journal of Information Systems, 8(2).



Research Articles