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Title: The intimacy of danger : perceptions and representations of occupational hazards at Malta Drydocks
Authors: Falzon, Mark-Anthony (1998)
Keywords: Malta. Malta Drydocks
Shipbuilding industry -- Employees -- Health and hygiene -- Malta
Preparedness -- Social aspects -- Malta
Subculture -- Malta
Issue Date: 1998
Citation: Falzon, M.-A. (1998). The intimacy of danger: perceptions and representations of occupational hazards at Malta Drydocks (Master's dissertation).
Abstract: Social anthropological studies of workers and workplaces are decidedly passé. After the heyday of 'industrial sociology' in the 1970s, research focusing on humans as members of a unit of production declined and went out of fashion. Contemporary anthropology deals with various constructions of the human person - as member of an ethnic group or a nation-state, for instance - but 'the worker' is by and large neglected. It was therefore with some hesitation that I became involved in doing research on (and with) workers as workers. My interest in the topic was aroused in 1995, when an explosion at Malta Drydocks (henceforth 'the Dockyard') killed nine men who were doing repair work on an oil tanker. Over the three weeks or so that followed, the event captured the imagination of the Maltese people: journalists, politicians, the clergy, and shoppers in corner shops alike talked and talked about it, and 'it-tragedja fit-Tarzna' ('the tragedy at the Dockyard') spawned thousands of printed pages. For several months I followed the event and its aftermath as both consumer as well as producer of thoughts and discourse; then, in late spring 1997, I asked and obtained permission from the management to start visiting the Dockyard. Fieldwork was carried out over five months, from June to September and again in December. My first visit to the place was like entering a completely different world. Hitherto it had meant little to me except a distant tangle of high-rise cranes that spoiled the skyline of the harbour. But as I grew accustomed to the noisy metallic ambience and the smell of grease and iron filings, the place took on a more face-to-face feel. A stark industrial beauty challenged my aesthetic understanding and captivated my interest. Most important from an anthropological point of view, the cacophony and bustle of activity I was faced with on that first visit spelt out one clear message: humanity at work. Multi-dimensionality is perhaps the one uistinguishing feature of social reality. Accordingly, social anthropology achieves a methodology by lacking a methodology - by being eclectic, that is. Only a discipline that refuses to limit itself to rigid methodological designs can capture and convey the chiaroscuro that human societies are heir to. The present inquiry is no exception. Much of my research was based on fieldwork: I visited the place, talked informally to workers, listened to improvised technical lectures on ship structure and repair, and even donned protective wear and crawled into those most inaccessible corners of oil tankers, the 'double bottoms'. I attended brass-band recitals at the workshops during lunch breaks, mass every first Friday of the month, and a demonstration-protest against changes in management. My visits to the place proved invaluable as a way of meeting people and establishing contacts. I was invited to the homes of several workers in order to conduct interviews, which consisted of informal and unstructured conversations during which I always took notes and sometimes used a cassette recorder. In addition to direct interaction with people at the enterprise itself, I made every effort to 'be around'. The most rewarding venue proved to be the 'Meteor Bar', a little coffee shop opposite the Senglea gate of the Dockyard, where hundreds of men congregate early in the morning before going off to work. Since discourse and rhetoric were two of my central foci, my work also involved long hours at the National Library in Valletta, going through newspapers and pamphlets. I can confidently state that the major Maltese publications of the period 1950-1997 were extensively covered. As a resident of Malta, I also kept a watchful eye on news programmes, magazines and what was 'being said' about the Dockyard by the people in general. […]
Description: M.PHIL.
Appears in Collections:Foreign dissertations - FacArt

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