On the power of a spatial metaphor: Is female to land as male is to sea?

Enrique Alonso-Población*, Anke Niehof

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The spatial metaphor that links women to land and men to sea has modelled the explanations of many social scientists interested in women’s roles in the fisheries sector worldwide, which—in turn—inspired development interventions and policy development in fisheries. The metaphor is also reflected in many culturally underpinned normative emic models that structure the sexual division of labour in fishing, fish processing and marketing and in family traditions in fisher communities across cultures and countries. Building upon an ethnographic example from Galicia (Spain) and linking the analysis to global examples available in the literature, we bridge the gap between the local and the global by analysing the denials that the use of the spatial metaphor portrays. In doing so, the paper explores the dual power of this metaphor—in both etic accounts and emic models—and its performative dimensions. Whereas in some socio-cultural contexts, land-based activities can be a source of power and the spatial metaphor may be a useful tool with analytical potential; we conclude that its use may result in a denial of the variety of women’s actual roles, contributions and importance in the sector. Additionally, the metaphor removes the interconnections between spaces, blurs the liminal areas of the coastal fringe and denies diversity, including class differences. In sum, the metaphor strengthens the ideological connection between fishing and capturing fish at sea, preventing women from enjoying full rights as fishers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-257
Number of pages9
JournalMaritime Studies
Issue number3
Early online date10 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • (Dis)empowerment
  • Fisheries
  • Gender
  • Gendered spaces
  • Liminal zones
  • Mutual dependencies

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