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The sea within: embodied sensemaking among seafaring leaders
Abstract and Figures
Embodied sensemaking has the potential to cause catastrophic loss of life at sea. However, paradoxically, it can enable seafaring leaders to save lives, protect the environment and create order from chaos in complex and high-risk work contexts. Yet, embodied sensemaking remains unexplored within contemporary maritime human factors (MHF) literature. MHF’s prevailing paradigms of Cartesian dualism and reductionist research methodologies are inadequate for engaging with the complex and interconnected nature of living and working at sea. This doctoral thesis pursues the question: How do seafaring leaders make sense of critical events that confront their practice? In particular, it explores the degree that sensemaking is an embodied phenomenon. It does so via a research method that is novel to MHF studies; a phenomenologically attentive narrative interpretive approach. This research design involved semi-structured interviews with twenty seafaring leaders (master mariners and chief engineers). Denzin’s interpretive interactionism (2001) was employed to generate thick descriptions of seafaring leader narratives, which were then interpreted to arrive at impactful insights into the nature of sensemaking, revealing it to be a deeply embodied phenomenon. These interpretations were then theoretically examined to validate and extend upon these insights. This thesis concludes that there is a “bottom-up”, neurobiological dynamic that shapes the way seafaring leaders make sense of critical events, as well as their every-day professional practice. This dynamic is based upon commonly shared neural populations that bodily integrate perceptions, actions, emotions, sensations, and thoughts in a mind/body sensemaking system that is enmeshed with its environment. Additionally, there is a “bottom-up”, sociological dynamic that also shapes the way that seafaring leaders make sense of critical events. This sociological dynamic, conceptualised by Bourdieu as habitus, is scaffolded and reinforced by the neurobiological dynamic described above. As such, it too is an embodied phenomenon. Both these neurobiological and sociological forms of sensemaking are largely hidden from the conscious awareness of seafaring leaders. As such, this thesis makes a number of original academic and practice-based contributions, such as; • applying a holistic, interpretive approach to examining embodied sensemaking among seafaring leaders. • connecting embodiment, phronesis (or practice wisdom) and habitus in a comprehensive and theoretically validated manner. • developing a set of practice-based recommendations, including pragmatic tools and techniques designed to bring embodied sensemaking within the awareness of seafaring leaders. This thesis concludes with a call to action for the broader maritime sector to integrate embodied sensemaking within its theoretical paradigms.
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