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The social construction of the South African seafarer’s identity and coping strategies, in the international merchant navy.

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The aim of this thesis is to analyse the social construction of the South African seafarer’s identity and their coping strategies while working in international waters. There are two main objectives in this research. The first objective is to analyse how South African seafarers, who come from diverse cultural, language, gender, and racial backgrounds, construct their own identities, and their co-workers’ social identities, as well as how their co-workers construct South African identities in the maritime context. This objective is achieved by researching the South African seafarers’ social identity construction through the discourses of culture, language, gender, and race. Furthermore, the research acknowledges the role that the maritime industry, maritime culture, ship culture, safety culture, and training plays in the South African seafarers’ social identity construction. The first objective includes historical previews of the international and national maritime industry. By researching the relevant historic foundations of the maritime industry, the research lays the foundation for understanding how the maritime industry’s development influences the social identity constructions of seafarers. The second objective is to analyse how the coping mechanisms influence the social identity construction of the South African seafarer. This part of the research entailed researching and analysing how seafarers work and live for long periods in a unique industry: as this can render them vulnerable to physical and psychological problems. The theoretical framework of this thesis is social constructionism and organisational theories. In keeping with the theoretical framework, the research was qualitative in nature drawing on multifaceted qualitative methods: semi-structured and unstructured interviews, focus groups, and netography (social media). The findings reveal that the South African government’s efforts to relaunch the South African maritime industry have not been successful at the time of print. Furthermore, it is found that the South African seafarers have a need to protect their social identities against ignorant family members, the public, and the maritime companies on a continued basis. This is because they are not able to comprehend their seafaring experiences and challenges while working at sea. Some of the challenges include: working in a multicultural environment, communication problems, cultural, language, gender, and diversity, which not only lead to an arduous working environment, mentally and physically, but also to human error accidents. These challenges play a large part in the construction of the seafarers’ social identities.


Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2017


Theses - Sociology.