Littoral Society: The Concept and the Problems

University of Hawaii Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of World History, 2006, 17 (4), pp. 353 - 373
Issue Date:
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In any study of seascapes, an investigation of the littoral must be central, for it is here that land and sea meet. Is there such a thing as littoral society? Is it possible to go around the shores of an ocean, or a sea, or indeed the whole world and identify societies that have more in common with other littoral societies than they do with their inland neighbors? If so, do these societies draw more on their forelandsthat is, their maritime connectionsthan on their hinterlands? Fishing peoples, who ostensibly are quintessential littoral peoples, exemplify the difficulties of this identification. While their men draw their livelihood from the sea, their women engage in processing and marketing on land, and the whole fishing community is dependent on landbased economic forces. Many fishing communities engage in agriculture as well as piscatorial activity. Concepts of littoral society need to be sensitive to gradations along the strand, from the more aquatic Marsh Arabs and peddlers at the floating markets in Bangkok to peasants who happen to live on the coast. Three criteria in particular need attention: location, occupation, and culture.
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