Hanqing Zhang (UCL) - 2022-23 Students

Ethnography of Boat Dwellers’ ‘Home’ between Water and Shore

This project aims to explore the difference made to culture and society when a community’s home moves across ecological zones, from ocean to the land, a phenomenon which speaks to broader environmental, material and geopolitical changes. Based on the ethnography of resettled boat people in Northeast Fujian, China, who are experiencing translocation from living on wooden boats that served as homes for entire communities into concrete-built houses and apartments on land, this research aims to explore the materialities and geopolitics of dwelling, through the paradigm of sensoriness, materials and skill, further understanding of how new attachments to place are forged under resettlement conditions.

Viewing the boat as dwelling ‘home’, this project aims to explore the connections and adaptations between boats, boat dwellers and their surroundings, by searching for how the lived-in world and cultural space was founded upon and enacted by the boat’s structure and layout and the environment it inhabited. The research will also explore how people’s bodies were shaped in the hydrosocial ‘cosmos’ and how re-settlement in houses on land has affected such bodily and ontological inhabitations. The research will focus on the material and sensorial qualities associated with the ecological legacy of maritime resource use of former boat dwellers in order to shed light on how communities understand and manage relocation with the sea in mind. The ethnographic account will capture how resettled communities utilize and transform the built environment drawing on ideas and skills derived from processes of amphibious ecology, so as to reimagine the legacy of maritime life in the everyday actions among communities whose resilience has been noted yet not been explained. The research will thus hope to inform and challenge the understanding of ‘disembarked’ communities that has prevailed in contemporary literature on the subject.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Susanne Kuechler, UCL
Secondary supervisor: Adam Drazin, UCL

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