Advanced Unmooring: Louisiana Shrimpers in a Civilization without Boats Open Access

Lirette, Christopher (2017)

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The story goes that the Louisiana shrimp fishery, once lucrative, has fallen into decline, beset by global markets, environmental calamity, and industrial and governmental malfeasance. And yet, some fishers still cling to shrimping, an increasingly anachronistic form of work. I went to coastal Louisiana to ask them: why continue shrimping? Shrimpers answered: shrimping is in our blood; in shrimping, we are free to be our own bosses. To fathom why shrimpers might persist in an ebbing industry, this dissertation revives an old nautical definition of the word "unmooring": to reduce to a single anchor, using the final mooring to position the boat before departure. I argue the shrimping life is a game of unmooring--an embodied, imaginative negotiation of freedom and connection--that offers shrimpers the possibility to imagine themselves as something other than bound to the relentless, totalizing control of twenty-first century social institutions and global capitalism, while still belonging to something.

"Advanced Unmooring" traces practices of unmooring based on two summers of participant observation and interviews with shrimpers, archival research, and a scholarly practice that foregrounds interdisciplinary, experimental, lyric, unmoored writing. The introductory chapter theorizes unmooring and engages five disciplinary areas: Louisiana studies, utopian thought, industrial history, experimental anthropology, and creative writing. The three body chapters focus on governing images of the shrimping life: blood, water, and nets. "Blood" takes seriously the claim that shrimping is in a shrimper's blood, re-centering shrimping as a corporeal, embedded practice that posits a fantastic, historical kinship in opposition to an uncertain future: a sacrificial rehearsal of haunted labor to found a livable world. "Water" explores a primal, asignifying function of unmooring: the sea--an inhuman, deathly form of freedom. By standing against nature and institutional humanity, shrimpers enact a model of survivability based on agency and surrender. "Nets" imagines how trapped the shrimper must feel: caught by the tight mesh of biopolitical regulation. Nevertheless, shrimpers have, miraculously, made a life. This dissertation discovers shrimpers practice an alternative possibility of freedom--through improvisation, hope, mooring and unmooring--that tears an opening in a fixed world where it is, still, possible to live.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents....vii

List of Figures....ix


Unmooring for Beginners....9

Lesson One: Rigorous Disloyalty....22

Lesson Two: Making Space....34

Lesson Three: A Brief History of the Pre-Bust Louisiana Shrimp Fishery....48

Lesson Four: Fishers of Men....58

Lesson Five: Overwriting....80



Blood Magic and Cruelty....121

Ecology and the Body....144


Bodies of Water....175

Names of Water, or the Idea of Order at Mare à Clay....179

Bodies on the Water....195

Land's End....206

Oil and Water....216



Ghost Nets....248

Miraculous Draught of Fish....280


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