Reconfiguring Authority at Sea: Steamships and their Captains in a Danish Context, c.1850–1950

Morten Tinning*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


Sea captains had for long held unparalleled authority at sea. They leveraged traditional and charismatic authority, which reflects in their dual function as navigators and commercial agents and bestows on them the rights and obligations of care, punishment, and control. Yet, even deeply embedded concepts, such as the authority of the ship captain, evolve over time. The introduction of steam and telegraphy changed captains’ roles and work practices. Using Weber’s ideal types of authority, this article examines the captain’s authority in the transition from sail to steam, emphasising the perceptions and viewpoints of crewmembers as they reveal themselves in personal narratives. While the captain’s authority at sea persisted as a general principle, it was fundamentally reconfigured. In some areas, such as corporal punishment, new forms of rational authority replaced older forms of traditional and charismatic authority. In other areas, such as navigation, captains became more dependent on the specialised expertise of other crew members or the novel rational-legal forms that replaced traditional authority became increasingly taken for granted, thus providing the seed for yet new forms of traditional authority.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Transformation of Maritime Professions : Old and New Jobs in European Shipping Industries, 1850–2000
EditorsKarel Davids, Joost Schokkenbroek
Number of pages25
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date2023
ISBN (Print)9783031272110, 9783031272141
ISBN (Electronic)9783031272127
Publication statusPublished - 2023
SeriesPalgrave Studies in Economic History

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