The Moves of a Bajau Middlewomen: Understanding the Disparity between Trade Networks and Marine Conservation.

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18 Citations (Scopus)


At the interface of Indonesia and Malaysia, border-crossing maritime trade appears to elude attempts to conserve marine resources. In Berau district (East Kalimantan) attempts to protect coastal waters from illegal fishing and trade fail to correspond with mobile trade networks. In this article, I describe how a female Bajau trader acts out her (illegal) trade network in practice. The article draws on 18 months of ethnographic research, during which I joined the trader along her travels through the coastal zone of northeastern Kalimantan. Using a performative network approach, I explore the trader's network as a continuously generated effect of practice and movement. Following her trading practices, I show that the performance of her network requires the ceaseless movement of people and things, in travelling (mobility) as well as in the reshaping of relations (fluidity). The trader's network is enmeshed in historically grown relations of kinship, ethnicity, and patron–client associations across the sea. These socially and spatially mobile associations are at odds with conservationists’ preoccupation with a spatial fixation of people, places, and borders. By showing how relations of loyalty, debt, and affiliation systematically transgress these borders, I demonstrate the significance of a relational approach to marine conservation that takes into account the mobility and interdependency of maritime networks. Such an approach may help to redress the hegemony of place-based approaches in marine conservation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)329-349
JournalAnthropological Forum : a journal of social anthropology and comparative sociology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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