Katherine Watson is pursuing a PhD in History at Swansea University under the supervision of Dr. Hilary Orange and Dr. Sarah May. Her PhD research, which investigates the politics of heritage in former and contemporary fishing-dependent communities in South Wales, is co-funded by DePOT and Swansea University. This project brings together contemporary archaeology and social anthropology to examine the discursive and material qualities of heritage, and their affective and sensorial impact. Katherine completed an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Archaeology at Durham University in 2021. From 2021-2022, she studied for a masters’ degree in Archaeology (Medieval – Post-Medieval) at Durham University, where she developed research on the politics and impact of heritage-led regeneration in North Shields, a fishing-dependent community in North East England. She is interested in how heritage can be used to strengthen calls for more sustainable and democratic ways of living in the context of post-industrial capitalism and severe ecological crisis.
Fishing heritage has come to occupy a conspicuous role in coastal communities suffering from the decline of small-scale fisheries (SSF). The places, objects and customs connected to fishing livelihoods are increasingly ‘preserved’ through museums, heritage-led regeneration and local heritage initiatives. The effect is to reincorporate historic fishing ports into ‘productive’ landscapes, and introduce socio-economic improvements through tourist and leisure economies. This project employs an interdisciplinary methodology to investigate how heritage mediates the ongoing reconfiguration of fishing economies in South Wales. Heritage can stimulate many opportunities, but who benefits depends on the agents that control and ideologies that underpin heritagisation. Maps, photography and analysis of heritage discourses will be utilised to interrogate the process of heritagisation. This is combined with interviews, participant observation and ethnographic tours with local communities to elucidate how these materialities are experienced and perceived by the body. Ethnographic interviews are also a means to stimulate stakeholder engagement and collaboration. Grounded in an understanding of the exploitation that fishing communities have endured for centuries, and that the demise of SSF results from a conscious political choice to prioritise neoliberal agendas, this project critically analyses how and why fishing heritage has been deployed as a response to the ‘industrial closure’ of SSF. Subsequently, it will evaluate how the deployment of heritage can be transformed to support SSF. The seafood industry, dominated by SSF, is vital to the Welsh economy and sustainability of coastal communities. SSF are not outmoded, with a much lower environmental impact than commercial operations. This project will evaluate how historic fishing areas can be developed without neglecting the industry and livelihoods that imbue these places with social, cultural and economic value, and how heritage may be integrated into the language and operations of fisheries management.