Scientists and crew:A case study in communications at sea

H. Russell Bernard, Peter D. Killworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


This study reports on scientist/crew relations aboard research vessels at sea. It is a case study in a case study in a long-range project dealing with the relations of natural scientists in the U.S.A. to various segments of the lay population. An earlier paper dealt with the interaction of scientists and Government policy makers during the science-advisory process [1]. In that study we found that the frustration was reciprocal; scientists and policy makers were equally vocal on what was wrong with ‘ the other groups’. The present research, by comparison, focuses on scientists and members of ‘the working class’. Here we find the frustration rather one-sided, reflecting the differences in status and power of the two groups. On a research vessel, science and scientists control the lives and careers of the mariners. In the science-advising committee, members of both government and science meet as social equals. In this paper elements of conflict between scientists and crew on a research vessel are described. It is suggested that conflict between these two groups is the inevitable result of extending the ‘intellectual’/‘worker’ class conflict of our society to a closed space at sea. The controlling mechanism of the conflict may be called ‘subcultural privacy’, a mechanism worked out by mariners to cope with the disrupting effects of a constant stream of strangers into their sea-going home. The mechanism takes the form of institutionalized ‘bitching’ and systematic physical separation of scientists and crew during critical periods of the day. It is suggested that attempts to create greater crew/scientist harmony by forcing by greater interaction (and thus a breakdown of subcultural privacy) will be counter productive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-125
Number of pages14
JournalMaritime Studies and Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1974
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Transportation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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