Plotting Lifestyle Migration Part IV: liveaboard lifestyle migrants in the Mediterranean

By Nataša Rogelja

A few years ago I lost my job, sold my apartment, and embarked together with my family on a sailing boat, sailed around the Mediterranean, wrote articles for touristic magazines and – as an anthropologist – I was of course doing also an ethnographic research among liveabaords in Mediterranean. Since the beginning of my research, observing people in wet socks, living on five m2, I kept asking myself the following question: is it a luxury or marginality to be liveaboard? Since liveaboards are a specific kind of (maritime) lifestyle migrants a question corresponds nicely with the topic of relative affluence, started by Michaela.

Let me explain briefly a bit more about liveabaords. The sell up and sail syndrome within the Mediterranean is a relatively recent phenomenon connected with the opening of internal borders within the EU, rapid development of affordable navigation technology, rapid expansion of boat charter industries that introduced the pleasure of cruising, and with several recent socio-political contexts within Europe which vary from increased living standards to recession and disillusion with national state system.

Over the years I came to the conclusion that liveaboard phenomenon is a highly diversified phenomenon touching on several migration forms. The majority of the liveaboards in the Mediterranean hold European passports, they have lived in urban settlements before the migration, they represent different social strata and age groups, they have very different sailing experience (from none to sailing instructors and contestants), they have different economic strategies and backgrounds and their break from their sedentary life in the West occurred in a variety of ways.

Listening to their feelings and memories I realized that the story of liveaboards has to be understood in the context of both – marginality and luxury – and seen from two angles. To be liveaboard is a luxury – Westerners enjoy great freedom of global mobility and remain outside of public debates on migration, mobility and citizenship, whereas people from outside the West are perceived as the central constituents of the immigration problem (Juntunen, Kalčić, Rogelja 2013 forthcoming); liveaboards use the symbolic capital connected to nautical tourism and the sea; and they hold passports that entitles them to many benefits. To understand the liveaboard phenomenon fully however, we also have to take into account marginality. It is a story of people who chose to be mobile because they want to be old and active instead of treated with disdain, they want to be parents with time for their children, they do not want to feel useless, redundant or immoral in their everyday work or they just want to find moorings to their sense of self. Paradoxically they search for it in perpetual mobility on the wide open sea. Even though their social world is marked by disorder – by constant and loosely patterned nomadic travel on the sea – their problems, wishes, chances, choices and solutions are set within the normality of the global modernity where subversive has become an everyday necessity. Hence to conclude; relative affluence and an ease to sell up and sail is by no means one side of the story but there is, in my view, also the other, very relevant story that revels subversive actions of those individuals in the global modernity.

One thought on “Plotting Lifestyle Migration Part IV: liveaboard lifestyle migrants in the Mediterranean

  1. I lived on my sailboat for five years and I always referred to it as luxury camping. Often, you were moored at resort properties with access to tennis, pools, spas, etc. But on board, there was no hot water and no running water! It was a privilege to see the water, the marine wildlife, and the shorebirds every day. I miss it!

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