Morality, Practice, and Economy in a Commercial Sealing Community

Nikolas Sellheim


In small social groups dependent on specific resources, it is difficult to separate actions, moral understandings, and the resource itself. It is the response to the affordances of a given environment that shapes the moral framework of social interaction. Therefore, changes in the market sphere also impact the conscious and unconscious actions relating to the affordances of the environment, as well as a community’s socioeconomic values. It is argued that moral relativism is justified when it is approached through an “affordance lens,” meaning that if the role and relevance of a resource for a community is not understood, its moral environment cannot be understood either. With ethnographic data stemming from the 2013 sealing season in a fishing-and-sealing community in northern Newfoundland, this interplay of morality, practices, and socioeconomic values is documented.