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The micro-politics of small-scale fisheries governance in South Africa: a case study of community-based political representation as a form of brokerage

Schultz, Oliver John
Maritime studies 2017 v.16 no.1 pp. 7
anthropology, case studies, fish, fisheries, governance, livelihood, politics, scientists, South Africa
The right of small-scale fishers to participate in governance and management processes has been increasingly recognised by theorists and policy-makers over the last thirty years. Political representation is central to the realisation of the right to participation. In the context of small-scale fisheries, the first level of political representation is usually located within a spatially or socially defined ‘community’, where both fisher constituents and representatives are members of that community. This ‘community-based’ form of political representation requires representatives to speak and act on behalf of their fisher constituency, mediating the relationship between their constituency and external actors such as government officials, fisheries scientists, and fish buyers. The role of mediation or ‘brokerage’ places community-based representatives in a position of strategic advantage–a position that some representatives exploit to gain and exercise their own power, instead of protecting and asserting the interests of their constituency. Community-based political representation commonly manifests as brokerage, yet this phenomenon receives limited attention in predominant approaches to fisheries governance theory. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in a South African coastal town, this paper seeks to demonstrate, at a micro-political scale, some of the ways that community-based representation can be manipulated as an instrument for brokerage by local elites, rather than serving as an instrument for empowering the livelihoods and democratic participation of small-scale fishers. The paper concludes by highlighting some of the implications that community-based representation has for fishing communities, as well as for the practice of fisheries governance and management. Finally, the paper argues for the necessity of a critical perspective when theorising fisheries governance processes, so as to confront and interrogate the strategic practices and asymmetrical power relations by which those governance processe are decisively shaped.