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Roberts, B., & Higgs, J. (2019, in press). “Master mariners and practice wisdom”. In J. Higgs (Ed.), Practice wisdom: Value and interpretations. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense-Brill Publishers.

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In this chapter we enter the fascinating and challenging world of master mariners. Through their narratives we set out to examine what this space is like and how its exploration can shed light on what practice wisdom means and how it is realised in the varied lifeworlds of master mariners. We present the following key arguments:  Being a master mariner is a complex role that blends professional practice and experience-based practice;  While many professionals work in organisations and corporations, master mariners work in unique venues where they are both master and employee;  Today’s master mariners face many challenges that relate to being individual professional practitioners, team leaders, organisational managers and chief executive officers reporting to company directors – at each of these levels decision making has different and potentially conflicting challenges and human/ economic/ethical/practice accountabilities;  There is considerable pressure on these master mariners being both ship “ruler” and senior responsible officer – present in the midst of both calm seas and crises and part of a corporate command tethered to distant overseers;  Master mariners today are equipped with advanced technology and face the imperative of scientific-based evidence in this age of global and multinational corporate accountability; and  Practice wisdom is an often overlooked centrality in all of these spaces.
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© KONINKLIJKE BRILL NV, LEIDEN, 2019 | DOI XXXX_021
BRADLEY ROBERTS AND JOY HIGGS
21. MASTER MARINERS AND PRACTICE WISDOM
There is a sea within, where currents thrum
with silvered fish sensations –
where scrimshawed emotion and sinew
engage and enact my craft –
where this sea’s whispered swash barely
crests my knowledge of my journey.
And yet this sea touches far shores –
where nations ringed about
with traditions and conventions –
myths and marbled heroes – all subsumed
like the sound of distant surf –
yet compelling me on my voyage.
In this chapter we enter the fascinating and challenging world of master mariners.
Through their narratives we set out to examine what this space is like and how its
exploration can shed light on what practice wisdom means and how it is realised in
the varied lifeworlds of master mariners. We present the following key arguments:
Being a master mariner is a complex role that blends professional practice and
experience-based practice;
While many professionals work in organisations and corporations, master
mariners work in unique venues where they are both master and employee;
Today’s master mariners face many challenges that relate to being individual
professional practitioners, team leaders, organisational managers and chief
executive officers reporting to company directors – at each of these levels
decision making has different and potentially conflicting challenges and human/
economic/ethical/practice accountabilities;
There is considerable pressure on these master mariners being both ship “ruler”
and senior responsible officer – present in the midst of both calm seas and crises
and part of a corporate command tethered to distant overseers;
Master mariners today are equipped with advanced technology and face the
imperative of scientific-based evidence in this age of global and multinational
corporate accountability; and
Practice wisdom is an often overlooked centrality in all of these spaces.
ROBERTS AND HIGGS
2
Practice wisdom can be defined as “the capacity to understand and practice in a
common-sense manner that is scientifically based, sensitive to ... [client] needs,
ethically grounded and professionally satisfying” (Higgs, 2016a, p. 69). Practice
wisdom involves knowing in a way that involves insight, discernment of moral
outcomes and the ability to choose between options with sound judgement, wisdom
and foresight, drawing upon experience, learning, reflecting, critical dialogue, and
making and testing hypotheses (Higgs, 2012; Klein & Bloom, 1995).
MASTER MARINERS AS PROFESSIONALS: THEIR LIFEWORLD
Historically, a master mariner was the captain of a commercial vessel, with the word
“master” indicating mastery of this occupational role. Today the term refers to the
highest level of qualification among mariners. An advanced diploma qualification is
awarded to those senior ships officers whose competence has been assessed under
the international STCW A-II/2 syllabus (International Maritime Organization
[IMO], 2017). University degrees also exist such as a bachelor degree for master
mariners at the Svendborg International Maritime Academy1 and the Master of
Marine Science and Management degree at the University of Sydney.2
Master mariners have experienced unprecedented change in their roles in recent
decades. The lifeworld of master mariners (captains of seagoing ships) is highly
paradoxical. It is anchored in archaic traditions, yet in the current age it is also
technologically sophisticated. It is a solitary role, as well as a role that is increasingly
enmeshed with global stakeholders, decreasing the master’s autonomy on his/her
ship. It draws upon archetypes of authority and infallibility, while contending with
human limitations (of self, crew and corporate owners) and contested power bases
(both on board and on land). These insights demonstrate that the occupation of
master mariner is in transition, growing in complexity and ambiguity as stakeholders
become interdependently, and intimately, connected while traditional power and
authority becomes challengeable.
This complexity and evolution is further complicated by the impact of “liquid
modernity”. This term, introduced by Polish philosopher and sociologist Zygmunt
Bauman (2000), emphasises the chaotic continuation of modernity with increased
privatisation of services across global capitalist economies and an increasing chaos
and the pressure of responsibility on individuals through their fluid careers. In such
a world, Cherry (2005, 2014) argues that individuals need to engage in constructive
learning to achieve mastery in the face of complex practice dilemmas and to be
prepared for complex practice demands. Further, she contends that managerial
authority and professional discretion are matters that require negotiation (Cherry,
2016). Lippi (2013) also confronts the requirements of leadership in the face of liquid
modernity, calling for “liquid learning” that draws upon insights from liquid
modernity to navigate its fluid leadership conditions.
If the various interested parties or stakeholders (company owners and managers,
senior staff onboard, other crew, passengers, shareholders) in this liquid modern
world rely solely, or even predominantly on scientific knowledge and evidence-
based practice to manage, or indeed triumph, over these paradoxes then, we contend,
MASTER MARINERS AND PRACTICE WISDOM
3
this reliance is built upon an over-simplistic interpretation of the complexity of this
role, a limited understanding of professional practice and a failure to appreciate the
significance and worth of practice wisdom and wise practice. Our chapter proceeds
to reveal the foundations of this argument.
Master mariners face the responsibilities of professional practice. Professionals
have been identified as serving the interests of society, applying to their practice a
unique body of knowledge, and being held to higher standards of conduct and
performance by society (Higgs, 2016b). Master mariners fit these criteria by
providing global access to manufactured goods and commodities that make possible
our 21st century world, by performing their roles according to international seafaring
training standards (IMO, 2017), with their contribution acknowledged each year on
25 June, the International Day of the Seafarer (IMO, 2018).
It is an interesting question as to where knowledge fits in the practice of master
mariners, and what practices, roles, capabilities and responsibilities encompass their
professional practice. In many of the established professions a unique body of
academic knowledge grounded in the behavioural and physical sciences as well as
discipline-specific knowledge and technical skills underpin professional educational
curricula. In the case of guild-based learning a long history of practice-based
knowledge and competencies underpin training. Professions typically have codes of
ethical practice and professional organisations that regulate the standards of their
members and monitor codes of conduct. In the case of master mariners such
expectations are addressed by the International Maritime Organization’s
conventions of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), Maritime Labour Convention (MLC),
Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) and Maritime
Pollution (MARPOL) (Freeth, 2015). These standards are supported by professional
maritime associations such as The Nautical Institute, whose aim is to provide “the
strongest possible professional focus” for the occupation and its practice (Freeth,
2015 p. 1).
Practice wisdom builds on education, work-based training and learning, peer
learning, mentoring and reflexivity. Such development can generate practice wisdom
that exceeds knowledge, and can promote capabilities within wise practice that
extends technical expertise. This will be illustrated below through the findings of
doctoral research conducted by our first author, Brad Roberts.
RESEARCHING MASTER MARINERS
In his doctoral research on master mariners Brad Roberts (see Roberts, 2018)
interviewed master mariners who commanded medium-sized ships (see Figure 21.1)
with crews of around 22 seafarers. Such ships attend to the needs of oil and gas
platforms: both resupplying them and towing them to new locations. The masters
and their crews conduct intensive, round-the-clock operations for periods of five
weeks at a time in some of the most remote regions on earth, such as Australia’s
North-West Shelf. This section of the chapter presents findings arising from this
research; quotes identified with a hash mark (#) refer to the anonymised interview
transcripts from which the quotes were taken.
ROBERTS AND HIGGS
4
Figure 21.1. Offshore vessel and oil rig conducting cargo transfer.
The Roles of Master Mariners
From this research the vast diversity among master mariners was a notable finding;
it was evident that the participants had each built their own uniquely personal
practice wisdom. This finding supports the argument that there is no generic profile
of a master mariner. The research participants demonstrated a complexity in their
roles and the potential for encountering wicked problems. Wicked problems cannot
be solved in a traditional linear fashion, because the problem definition evolves as
new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented. The term was originally
coined by Horst Rittel (see Rittel & Webber, 1973). Wicked problems typically
occur within challenging, hazardous and isolated environments (Lurås, Lützhöft, &
Sevaldson, 2015; Misangyi, 2016). Such professional practice challenges call for
practice wisdom, to address complex, paradoxical elements and achieve positive
outcomes arising from these challenges.
Master mariners’ professional practice is a composite of many roles. In the case
of the work of Brad’s participants, their practice involves the logistical planning and
scheduling associated with supply chain operations. Towing of oil platforms at sea
requires significant planning associated with major engineering and construction
projects, due to the relocation of oil platforms weighing up to 22,000 tonnes. Other
roles involve business leadership, with many master mariners describing their role
as being like a CEO. The work also incorporates the traditional skills of navigating
and steering the ship, including manoeuvring within metres of oil and gas platforms.
Additionally, master mariners are people managers, who contend with the people
issues that arise from leading a group of people in high pressure situations within
tight environmental confines for weeks at a time. For example, one master mariner
described his actions upon being challenged by a belligerent crew member during a
safety meeting, I stopped the meeting, and I said ‘You do not run the deck’. I about-
MASTER MARINERS AND PRACTICE WISDOM
5
turned, walked up to the bridge console and said ‘Meeting closed’. That was it
(Interview #0361). In contrast to this highly directive managerial focus, master
mariners also attend to the human needs of the crew with a surprising degree of
compassion – You are a mother (one participant advised) (#0897). Indeed, the wise
attention to such paradoxical leadership dimensions (Lewis & Smith, 2014) can be
particularly challenging within the environment of a ship at sea. As one master
described this, When you’re at sea, after a period of time the whole world shrinks
basically. These things [human issues] sort of grow, because, like I said, the world
shrinks (#0190). Learning to manage both the task/functional and relationship/
people dimensions of leadership (see Hersey & Blanchard, 1969) and helping crew
members maintain perspective in this paradoxical dynamic of a shrinking world
where issues appear to be magnified, calls for wisdom in action.
Knowledge, Wisdom and Meaning Making
Work and life at sea is inherently hazardous, often resulting in catastrophic incidents:
including the Piper Alpha oil platform explosion in 1988 (killing 167 crew)
(O'Byrne, 2011), the Deepwater Horizon platform explosion of 2010 (killing 11
people and causing the worst environmental disaster in United States history) (Lekka
& Sugden, 2011), and the capsizing of the Bourbon Dolphin while towing an oil
platform, killing eight crew (Lyng et al., 2008). Each catastrophe has triggered the
development of an additional layer of maritime regulation. As remarked by the
Norwegian Government Commission investigating the capsizing of the Bourbon
Dolphin, “There is no shortage of written material of both the obligatory and
advisory kind” (Lyng et al., 2008 p. 134). Regulatory elements and actions can be
seen as part of the “hegemonic rationality” (see Higgs, 2012, p. 75) of the
professions. As one master described the regulation of practice in Brad’s research,
Everything is black and white in our industry. You either do it right or wrong
(#0768).
However, the master mariners’ narratives in Brad’s research suggest a broader
perspective; it was evident that they attend to many nuanced aspects of their roles
that are less codified and “black and white” than these technical aspects alone
account for. Master mariners must address paradoxical challenges such as tightly
coordinating the activities of their crew during round-the-clock operations while
maintaining harmony, engagement and a balanced perspective among the crew. As
such, successful master mariners have made sense of these paradoxical tensions
(Lewis & Smith, 2014) and have developed wise ways to contend with these
challenges (see also Cherry, 2014; Higgs, 2016a).
There were many examples reported by participants in their narratives during this
study of practice wisdom. The following vignette illustrates practice wisdom and
sensemaking. The example involves a master mariner contending with the demands
of towing an oil platform during extremely challenging weather and sea state. In his
initial comments, he describes the felt pressure to meet charterer demands in these
volatile operating conditions:
ROBERTS AND HIGGS
6
And it’s those charterer demands – push, push, push, push – that really impact
upon our abilities to make maybe the correct decisions. We are fully aware
that it costs money to run that rig, and every time we delay it means that
someone in the office is going to make a judgement upon us. We love it when
we see [names several competitor companies]. … We love it when they’re out
there, and they can’t do it and we can. (#0353)
This account reveals that, paradoxically, while the Master can say “No” when it is
not safe to operate, there is a strong pressure to meet customer demands. Indeed,
several narratives from Brad’s research suggested that going against customer
requirements can have long-term outcomes if the customer’s needs are not met: And
they might say to [the company] ‘Your Captain doesn’t know what he’s doing. We
want him off’ (#0361). This pressure to perform is not solely coercive, as the Master
states they “love it” when they can perform when other vessels are not able to. That
is, sometimes the master and crew want to demonstrate their expertise which may
prompt them to take undue risks. These dynamic tensions between authority and
relationships, and between safety and commercial imperative, are (using the words
of Lewis & Smith, 2014) “highly paradoxical” and “dripping with perplexities” (see
Macklin & Whiteford, 2012, p. 94), particularly in urgent situations where decisions
must be made in the moment. The master quoted above went on to describe the way
in which he balances these competing pressures between operational safety and
meeting charterer demands, as “finding the line”:
Well, to find out where that line is, to establish that line, you’ll look at ‘Why
am I doing it? Why do I do this?’ The ship is operational so I draw the line.
My experience, my confidence in the systems and the training of the crew, the
knowledge that the rig is ready and the crane is ready for me, and that the
operation can go as quickly and as safely as possible, I know where that line
is. … As soon as there’s a change, such as [a] crane driver’s no longer
available, I’ll move away just far enough to be able to come back and continue
the job. So, I redraw the line; no crane driver, therefore the line’s moved, I’ll
move away – I’m now back in an equilibrium that I’m happy with. You’re
continually reassessing where you need to draw that line. (#0353)
This approach shows an attentiveness to emerging conditions to harmonise tensions
via a “dynamic equilibrium” point (see Smith & Lewis, 2011) (“the line”) between
maintaining safety and preserving the customer relationship. Therefore, the master
avoids the contingency approach described by Johnson (2014) and Lewis and Smith
(2014) as an “either/or” framing by utilising a more nuanced “both/and”
conceptualisation. The narratives of master mariners, such as the above vignette,
suggest they apply practice wisdom (as a type of knowing/being/enacting) in their
roles. Additionally, they make meaning of their situation for their crew regarding the
customer’s requirements, as well as for their customers regarding the vessel’s
operating state: It’s like an hourglass in both directions (#0535).
The hourglass analogy was very compelling. See Brad’s sketch in Figure 21.2.
This sketch shows a master mariner at the nexus of the hourglass, making meaning
at the local level for the crew, as well as making meaning on a global level for the
MASTER MARINERS AND PRACTICE WISDOM
7
customer. This meaning making is a two-way exchange in such situations. The
master’s hands are open and outstretched, signifying tactile perception and bodily
engagement. Meaning coming from all sources allow the master mariner to “find the
line” and share this position both locally and globally.
Figure 21.2. The hourglass analogy for practice wisdom.
Making meaning for diverse groups, rather than merely stating technical facts,
requires a high degree of wisdom to be sensitive to the various stakeholder concerns
as well as being effective in creating understanding that allows optimal performance
(safety and commercial outcomes) on a broader yet integrated scale (Cunliffe &
Coupland, 2012; Weick, 2001). This hourglass approach, as a wise and necessary
practice adaptation, contrasts starkly with traditional, unilateral, command-and-
control autocracy that was prevalent in the pre-21C maritime world.
Embodied Wisdom
This section explores the embodied elements of practice wisdom, as revealed in
master mariner narratives, but also as explained by practice theory. It highlights the
hidden nature of embodied practice wisdom, how this intertwines with professional
practice traditions, and causes difficulty in reflecting on and developing wise
practice. According to Patton and Fish (2016), professional practice “is embedded
in practice traditions … and embodied in [an] individual practitioner’s performance”
(p. 55). Master mariners incorporate bodily elements into their practice wisdom
ROBERTS AND HIGGS
8
through their tactile, visceral connection with the vessel. For example, one master
described his bodily engagement with his ship while avoiding a potential collision
with another ship:
You know that that ship is about to plough into you. I mean it was close, we
got close. So, four engines, flat out, and then you’re just hoping. And it just
happened that quick. But, it was a very frightening, yeah, very frightening
position. I then turned the ship to face the stern so that if [the other ship] did
hit, well, I was a bit further up. You know, your engines are ramped up and
you can see the massive thrust coming out of the stern, and you are doing this
type of thing [hands to head, moans in a worried manner]. You know, there’s
nothing more you can do. You’ve taken your action, the engines are doing their
job, and all you are doing now is just seeing how effective that was. You’re
hanging onto those sticks, putting as much power down as you can without
blacking that engine out, and you’re just thinking ‘Gee, come on, come on,
come on, come on!’. (#0768)
In Brad’s fieldwork on such vessels, he observed embodied wisdom was present in
the everyday, routine engagements with the vessel, such as finely adjusting its
position in relation to the sea state and weather to marginally ease the load on its
engines and thrusters. He noticed master mariners integrating multiple streams of
digital information from sophisticated sensors with tactile stimulus such as the
vibrations of the ship’s engines through the soles of their feet, in order to form a
nuanced and dynamic awareness. They incorporated practice wisdom into their
decision making and responses by attending to envelopes of information and
situation observation/experience to enable optimal performance on a moment-by-
moment basis, largely through feel and subtle adjustment to controls, and without
conscious awareness of their practice. Such wisdom is enacted via a “lived body”
(Dall’alba, Sandberg, & Sidhu, 2018, p. 275), or as described by Sheets-Johnstone
(2015), “the body I have” (p. 26).
Master mariners enact their practice wisdom through their bodily actions, and the
bodies of their crew, sometimes employing them, as King (2007) describes in her
study of fishing boat captains, as bodily “prostheses” in the service of the captain’s
will. One master described his orders to the crew when he noticed a crane was
incorrectly positioned when the ship was about to come alongside the wharf:
And I’m going ‘Get the crane up! Get the crane up!’ I said to the Mate ‘Stop
the ship! Right now!’ I said ‘Get the f%@*ing crane up! Get it up!’ So, I could
see a potential, we could damage a crane, damage the wharf, damage the
company’s reputation … That’s the vision I had of what was going to happen.
(#0361)
This example shows that practice wisdom can also be extended through engagement
with the ship and with the crew as bodily extensions of master mariners (Clark &
Chalmers, 2016).
Embodied practice wisdom is also revealed in the language these master mariners
use: in phrases such as “finding the line”, achieving “equilibrium”, being
MASTER MARINERS AND PRACTICE WISDOM
9
“comfortable” (#0353), and “being on firm footing” (#0068). Embodied metaphors
reflect an ongoing, experience-based “feeling out” of sensory patterns in the master
mariners’ lifeworlds as it is experienced. There is a tactile, almost grasping, quality
in the way they make sense of, and express, their situations.
Considerable research has identified neural linkages between embodied
metaphors and bodily associated neural responses within the brain (see also Gibbs,
2011; Stickles et al., 2016). For example, when a master mariner uses the words “I
just ran” (#0768) to describe avoiding a collision between his ship and another
vessel, his words would also activate those areas of the brain associated with
running. As such, there is a neural connection between the body and the language
used that is “alive in the minds of speakers” (Lakoff, 2012), contributing meaning to
their lived experience. This meaning is reinforced in powerful “two-way cascades”
of neural activity (i.e. language-to-body and body-to-language). This bodily
reinforcement and connection with language and meaning is carried out
unconsciously (Lakoff, 2012). Therefore, not only do embodied metaphors enmesh
the language of practice with the “body-I-have” (Sheets-Johnstone, 2015), but this
process is powerfully reinforcing and unconscious. This scientifically validated
process explains how practice wisdom becomes bodily inscribed via invisible means
beyond the practitioner’s awareness. It is important to view embodied practice
wisdom not as the fortuitous intersection of separate domains of mind and body
(McGilchrist, 2011; Tucker, 2007), but as the product of an integrated, enmeshed
system (Claxton, 2015; Gordon, 2013) that encompasses thinking, feeling, action,
sensing, experiencing, knowing, remembering, creating, reflecting, narrating,
extending, being and becoming (Cunliffe & Coupland, 2012; Froese & Fuchs, 2012;
Kinsella, 2015).
Practice Wisdom and Habitus
Practice wisdom is not developed in isolation. It is enmeshed in a broader, socially
constructed domain identified by Mauss, and systematised by Bourdieu, as the
habitus (Silva, 2016). Bourdieu (2013) defined the habitus as “a system of lasting,
transposable dispositions … integrating past experiences, functions at every moment
as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions” (pp. 82-83). As such, the
habitus produces both individual and collective practices via history and the
engagement of “durably installed generative principles” that guide perception,
sensemaking and action (Bourdieu, 2013 p. 78). Habitus is also largely unconscious,
in that those who participate within their habitus forget its history through becoming
part of it (Bourdieu, 2013). In terms of master mariners, the seafaring habitus
involves a “deep immersion” and “carnal entanglement” (Wacquant, 2011) with
enduring and pervasive concepts of what it means to be a master mariner. Master
mariners gave voice to their habitus in comments such as I'm the guy with the ticket.
You should be listening to me. You shouldn’t tell me how to do my job (#0068). As
long as I've got those stripes on my shoulder, nobody comes onto my bridge and talks
to me like that (#0520).
ROBERTS AND HIGGS
10
According to Silva (2016), the habitus is “a mode of being embodied with an
orientation to the world which is lived in everyday life and practices” (p. 75). As
such, the habitus appears to be reinforced via the same neural processes as the
embodied metaphors described above and therefore has the potential to influence
wise practice in ways that are hidden to the professional. Indeed, the habitus may be
where the “body-I-have” becomes the “body-I-am”, as it shapes the identity of the
master mariner along traditional, historic terms (Sheets-Johnstone, 2015). The
master mariners’ habitus has thousands of years of history coiled within its
constructs, tapping into ancient archetypes of unchallengeable autocracy and
infallibility (Hershey, 1988; King, 2011; Roberts, 2018). Therefore, the master
mariner habitus may be a hidden yet pervasive aspect of professional hegemony (see
Higgs, 2012), that shapes, and potentially limits, the capacity for wise practice in
favour of historically preferred ways of being, perceiving and acting. Its historic and
durable nature makes the habitus biased towards the past, and slow to evolve
(Lizardo, 2013) in the face of rapid change, as found in today’s maritime sector and
the broader world of work. This helps to explain many of the paradoxical tensions
and wicked problems that have been described by the master mariners in their
narratives. However, as Patton (2016) notes, it takes courage, particularly courage
in the appropriateness of their actions, for professional practitioners to challenge the
taken-for-granted practices enshrined within their professional habitus.
BRAD’S LETTER TO MASTER MARINERS
Some of you have told me your accounts of critical events; your stories of
moments that challenge your professional practice. I listened to the sort of
words you used to describe what you do in those moments. Now, respectfully,
I would like to share my interpretations of those moments; to translate those
words to provide further meaning of what you are doing and saying.
You point to the volumes of regulation that control your industry and set
standards and expectations for your knowledge and skill. Many of these
regulations were built on the back of a catastrophic event where the
procedures at that time fell short. Despite their benefit, this fact shows that
eventually, the procedures you follow will fall short also, and you will find
yourself facing complex, ambiguous and unprecedented events, where it will
fall on your shoulders to act wisely in the moment for the good of all.
Typically, the industry expects black and white outcomes “you either do
it right or wrong”. This was easier to achieve, in simpler and earlier times,
when you would receive a telegram now and then, and your authority would
be sufficient and unquestioned for all else in between. However, the world, and
your world at sea, has become increasingly complex in its accountabilities and
more interconnected with stakeholders who can access you in real time, at any
time, at any place. These stakeholders want to collaborate in (or at times, take
over) your decisions, to receive frequent updates and to change plans to fit
just-in-time commercial imperatives. They are no longer across the globe.
They are in your ears, and “in your face”. They bring complexity, they
MASTER MARINERS AND PRACTICE WISDOM
11
challenge your authority, and they bring problems that are difficult to solve
through black-and-white, either-or responses.
You do not talk of practice wisdom, as I do. Instead, you use terms such as
“intuition”, “just knowing what to do”, or “just experience”, and yet what you
are doing, and the knowledge you are using is more than these things. Practice
wisdom taps into your expertise, your pragmatic sense of what is ethically right
and what is wrong and what is the best thing to do at the time. It is underpinned
by your perceptions, your feelings, your thoughts and your every-day actions,
all distilled into pragmatic and sound solutions for complex and exceptional
as well as more regular circumstances. Practice wisdom taps into your
creativity, and your motivation to come through and deliver results in the most
challenging of contexts. Wise practice lies both within and beyond the routine
procedures and regulations that are appropriate for 99 percent of what you
do. It is also in that one percent, in the toughest of times, that your practice
wisdom will be particularly called upon and when the rules and standards
aren’t enough – there’s no rule for this current situation yet. Practice wisdom
is not unknowable or the preserve of the exceptional, extremely wise master. If
it seems elusive, it is because it is often hidden in levels deeper than your
rational thinking, etched in actions that are outside of your words, embedded
in your values, your feelings and your knowing built through your experiences.
Wise practice also needs to be sought out and not taken-for-granted as
embedded truth and certainty in the ingrained, traditional ways of seeing and
doing your role, and the role of seafaring, that have been passed on to you. I
have called this “habitus” in the pages above, but you can also think of this as
“traditions” and “the way we do things”. You learn these ways from your
mentors, your colleagues, and even the way you perform your role. These
ingrained ways shape your practice in ways that are often unconscious or
hidden. They seep into your perceptions and actions automatically. However,
these ingrained ways are not unquestionably wise. Sometimes, due to their long
traditions, they may be out of step with the dynamics of modern shipping,
giving rise to new problems and tensions. As such, relying solely on these
ingrained, traditional ways without careful thought can be quite unhelpful.
What is important to you and those you work with and for, is that you question
your own practices and the inherited ways of doing things, particularly if you
lay claim to the title of professional.
I hope this enables you to see your practice wisdom with fresh eyes, and to
find its thread in what you do and how you think about your role. This type of
wisdom is invaluable, legitimate and hard won. It serves you well, and you
have told me of it in your triumphs and in your trials, but also in your everyday
practice. Learn to look for your practice wisdom, nurture it, and treasure it –
but above all, share it.
ROBERTS AND HIGGS
12
BRAD’S LETTER TO MASTER MARINERS’ MANAGERS
Today’s technology provides you with unprecedented capacity and power to
interact with and influence others. Additionally, commercial and operational
systems increasingly provide the opportunity to optimise and adapt
operational practice in real time. Both of these factors provide the potential
for impacting upon the leadership and performance of Master Mariners at sea.
By taking up these means of engaging and influencing maritime operations
in real time, you make yourself part of their operation and their world. You are
no longer shore-based spectators in this process, distanced from the activities
at sea. You have a responsibility for co-managing the difficult to resolve
problems and challenges that master mariners face, such as the need to
maintain exceptional levels of operational safety in high-stakes work contexts,
while meeting the challenges of commercial imperatives. This requires you to
be mindful of the impacts, both direct and indirect, that your interactions may
have on the practice of seafaring leaders. It also requires you to work with
master mariners in assisting them in developing beneficial concepts of their
contemporary role, modifying some traditional notions of seafaring practice
to better integrate with a rapidly changing maritime sector.
The accounts of these master mariners in my recent research emphasise that
many interactions with shore-based stakeholders (senior managers and
customers) leave master mariners compromised, both operationally and in
leadership terms. Their hands are (somewhat/or very) tied. It places them in
difficult predicaments between meeting commercial needs and maintaining
operational safety at all costs. Likewise, the fluid and collaborative
engagement made possible by real-time, rich communication with the vessel at
sea is often in conflict with traditional concepts of master mariner authority
and autonomy. That is not to say that such collaboration is inappropriate or
unwise. However, I am proposing that it is up to both you and your master
mariners to find ways to harmonise issues of power and relationship,
autonomy and real-time engagement, safety and commercial outcomes. This
requires a degree of reflective practice wisdom by both of you.
By and large, master mariners have a deeper knowledge than the technical
aspects of their role. Their practice wisdom involves personally held
professional values, along with finely tuned ways of perceiving and making
sense of their environments that have been shaped by their experience over the
course of their careers. As such, their practice wisdom has typically been hard
won and honed over decades of practice. It has been integrated with their
perceptions, actions and their identities, through daily physical engagement in
their jobs, in subtle ways that may make it difficult for them to identify.
However, there will come times when prescribed safety regulations and
standard operating procedures fall short in their coverage of unexpected and
unprecedented critical events. In these extreme circumstances, master
mariners’ practice wisdom (deep practice-based practical and ethical
knowledge and judgement) can find an optimal path between complex
alternatives in the most trying of circumstances. This makes the development
MASTER MARINERS AND PRACTICE WISDOM
13
of professional practice wisdom essential for organisations within the
maritime sector.
CONCLUSION
The lifeworld of master mariners has shifted significantly due to increased
information and communication technology, and a shift in global business forces
typified by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. These forces apply
“tectonic” tensions against the current seafaring habitus, with its archetype of
unchallengeable autocracy, autonomy and infallibility. As such, master mariners
contend with paradoxical tensions between authority and work relationships, and
between operational safety and commercial imperatives.
However, the master mariners interviewed in the study reported in this chapter
provided rich narrative examples of practice wisdom they use in resolving critical
events at sea. Their practice wisdom was personalised and diverse, yet had common
features of being deeply embodied, embedded in their seafaring context, enacted
during their everyday practice but being particularly prominent and vital in extreme
moments of decision making and situational challenges. Practice wisdom is
experience-based and draws heavily on personal values to provide an ethical
grounding to master mariners’ actions. Being closely enmeshed in their daily,
embodied practices, their practice wisdom is often tacit and therefore hidden from
their explicit awareness. One of the key challenges of practice wisdom is to bring
this understanding to the surface, to critically appraise it and be able to articulate and
justify this wisdom as a sound and defensible basis for decision making. During
Brad’s research the master mariners’ practice wisdom consistently came to the fore
in their narratives as the decisive factor in optimally managing critical events
taking its place alongside their technical knowledge and the requirements of standard
procedures. Practice wisdom enables master mariners to “find the line” between
paradoxical tensions that are impossible to solve when people take the side of one
pole (alternate decision) in lieu of the other. As such, practice wisdom is a valuable
component of professional practice that is not particularly realised by these
professionals, yet it plays a critical role in the challenges they increasingly face.
Practice wisdom is sometimes expressed in bodily terms and, via embodied
metaphors, this language is presented in recent research as having a powerful neural
capacity to bodily inscribe practice wisdom in ways that are hidden to the
professional. This bodily inscription is heavily shaped by the socially constructed
habitus of the master mariner. This habitus provides a durable and embodied matrix
of perceptions and actions that taps into traditional seafaring archetypes of
(apparently) unchallengeable autocracy and infallibility. Therefore, habitus both
shapes and constrains the capacity for wise practice, which becomes problematic
when this habitus is at odds with contemporary changes within the maritime
industry.
There are deep implications from both conscious/owned and embodied/felt
notions of practice wisdom. The reinforcing and unconscious nature of habits make
them elusive and resistant to superficial change efforts. The challenge, then, is to
ROBERTS AND HIGGS
14
equip master mariners with the ability to bring these hidden aspects of embodied
practice wisdom and habitus into their awareness, to understand how they influence
each other. This will enable greater reflection on and ownership of wise ways of
practising that are less encumbered by historical archetypes of unchallengeable
autocracy and infallibility. These monolithic archetypes, as habitus, are increasingly
in paradoxical tension with the emerging nature of maritime operations, as typified
by the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of liquid modernity.
Professionals today cannot defend adopting a position of unquestioning acceptance
of hegemonic practices and habitual understandings or rules.
1 http://studyindenmark.dk/study-options/danish-higher-education-institutions/schools-of-maritime-
education-training/svendborg-international-maritime-academy-simac
2 https://sydney.edu.au/courses/courses/pc/master-of-marine-science-and-management.html
NOTES
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Bradley Roberts
Faculty of Business and Law
Swinburne University of Technology, Australia
Joy Higgs AM PhD PFHEA
Adjunct Professor, Charles Sturt University, Australia
Director, Education, Practice and Employability Network, Australia
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