Author Archives: Benedetta Veneroni

About Benedetta Veneroni

Master student of Environmental Governance (MEG, University of Freiburg), passionate about environmental justice, small scale fisheries, intersectionality and transformations.

Gender Beyond Women: Exploring Zanzibari Masculinities for Octopus Closures’ Compliance

By Benedetta Veneroni

I’m Benedetta, a Master student of Environmental Governance at the University of Freiburg (Germany). Below is a brief essay summarising my exploration of Zanzibari masculinities- the chosen focus of my internship with the OctoPINTS team.

What constitutes a man, a fisher and a poacher? Why are young male divers in Zanzibar pointed out as conducting poaching during octopus closures? And are Zanzibari masculinities to be problematised as performing dominance or should they instead be viewed at the intersection between power and oppression?

Through a 2.5 months internship within the OctoPINTS project I got the chance to explore the above questions. My internship led to a journey of discovery of Zanzibari communities, where closures– spatio-temporal blocks on the fishing of octopus – have been adopted to ensure more sustainable extractive practices. Here I followed the OctoPINTS team, tackling the successes and failures of octopus closures and the heterogeneous acceptance of their application in a context of unequal access to resources. 

Within OctoPINTS I got to focus on masculinities, to better understand the drivers of young male divers’ non-compliance and envision ways to ensure a more equitable and sustainable community management of common resources. The pathway to a deeper personal understanding of Zanzibari masculinities started with a scoping review on masculinity studies and their application in small-scale fisheries (SSF), in order to gain a theoretical base for my work. This review, together with a ‘masculinity-focused’ analysis of OctoPINTS fieldwork data from 2019, informed my Agent Based Modelling, aiming at defining potential causes of low closures’ acceptance through the integration of a masculinity variable. Finally, a workshop titled Watery Masculinities was conducted together with Liz Drury O’Neill to present the latest literature at the intersection of fisheries, masculinities and transformations and engage in a dialogue on the meaning of masculinity and its adoption in sustainability research. 

The following blog post aims at sharing the findings of my internship to inform future research on Zanzibari masculinities.

How does one define masculinity?

“What does the word masculinity mean to you?” The latter question kickstarted the workshop on Watery Masculinities, leading to very similar answers in nature. Many participants related masculinity to the societal expectations attached to it. Among others, words like dominance, strength, ego, shame & guilt, toxicity and repression were used, delineating a specific perception of the masculine identity. The latter appeared to be a one-dimensional and static reality, in binary contrast with the feminine and with little space for reinvention. Using a theoretical lens, one could perceive the definitions of the participants as attributes of hegemonic masculinity (Connell, 1995), a societal expectation towards male individuals to exercise dominance and power over subordinate identities (i.e. women, queer identities and sub-alternate racial and class identities). Nonetheless, since the achievement of hegemonic masculinity has been historically only applicable to white, male, rich, heterosexual, able-bodied identities, this has left a space for a multitude of subordinate masculinities to exist at the intersection of dominance and oppression. 

In the fishery context, social constructions of manhood shaped by the seascape and by the occupational culture of fishing, have been addressed as Maritime Masculinities– a set of globally shared norms linking masculinity to the seascape (Allison, nd). Despite the affinities that one could find among fisheries around the globe, a Maritime Masculinity lens might result in the construction of a singular fisherman identity, one unconscious of the global-to-local intersectionalities of power on which each fishery is constructed. Instead, a Watery Masculinity theory- conceptualising masculinities at sea as watery, changeable and context dependent (Bull, 2019)- represented to me a better-suited instrument to examine Zanzibari divers. 

What constructs Zanzibari divers’ identities?

Male diver catching an octopus

Trying to define the situated masculinities of the Zanzibari divers, without being fully acquainted with the cultural context, has resulted in a recurrent conflict over my biases as a white European woman researcher, only tamed by the use of a forcibly intersectional Watery Masculinity approach. From the analysis conducted over the past OctoPINTS fieldwork (see the blog by Liz Drury O’Neill, 2019) I could come up with a set of behaviours that seemed to be adopted by a small set of Zanzibari divers, attributable at times to dominant patterns of masculinity, at times to subordinate or oppressed identities. The study remains nonetheless incomplete when trying to define Zanzibari masculinities, due to insufficient data and contextual knowledge. The aim is therefore only to introduce the topic of masculinities, to allow for its potential adoption as a lens to further interpret issues of compliance and acceptance across Zanzibari fishing communities.

In my analysis of the qualitative data I discovered that many community members referred to young male divers as the main enactors of poaching and often described them as violent and arrogant. Interviewees shared instances of coercion exercised by the young skin divers over patrolling guards (often community members, among whom women) to silence them after a poaching event. The enactment of physical force and violence over subordinate identities represented to me a clear example of hegemonic masculinity at play. Forms of group identity among young skin divers were described by interviewees as fuelling resistance and illegal resource extraction. The lack of participation in community meetings over octopus closures might have represented an act of resistance of male divers towards authorities. It might also have resulted in the further enhancement of disapproval over closures, given the lack of education received regarding the benefits of octopus’ conservation. 

Nonetheless, the dissatisfaction enhancing divers’ poaching should not only be perceived as fuelled by hegemonic tendencies, but, as reported by interviewees, as the result of poverty, lack of livelihood opportunities and political turmoil. Divers have been particularly described as only relying on fishing, therefore lacking alternative sources of income. The inability of divers to accumulate the necessary wealth to start a family and buy a house reveals the unattainable expectations of masculinity in a patriarchal society exercised in a context of poverty. This renders such masculinities subordinate, because ‘imperfect’ and oppressed. 

The majority of community members interviewed pointed at young male divers as enactors of poaching. This, coupled with the presence of literature relating masculinities with illegal activities at sea (Fabinyi, 2007), might result in a biased perception of the researcher on “who it is to blame”. Therefore, without clear data testifying poaching events, it remains important to consider subjectivities and potential causes leading individuals to blame specific social groups. 

Where do we go from here?

Octopus soup being cooked

My engagement with masculinities has contributed to a deeper personal understanding of the complexities of SSF, pushing me to find the invisible causalities leading to the success and/or failure of community-led conservation approaches. The focus led me to look beyond the idea that ‘gender equates to women’, and forced me to realise the existence of patters of subordination experienced by masculine identities in Zanzibar. 

Nonetheless, the analysis conducted on Zanzibari masculinities reveals only little about the watery nature of young skin divers. A deeper research on the subjectivities of Zanzibari divers should be conducted to better define the reasons bringing divers to poach and inform of potential pathways towards higher community acceptance of closures. Engaging in the Zanzibari fishery context by studying masculinities might represent a hidden leverage point towards a more profound, long-term success of closures. Understanding hegemonic and subordinate masculinity behaviours as well as engaging with men in educational programs on alternative, positive, ecological masculinities (Morgan, 2014) might contribute not only to a more equitable society but to a more sustainable use of the natural environment. 

The Internship was a mandatory part of the Master in Environmental Governance (MEG) at the University of Freiburg (Germany), sponsored by Erasmus+.


Allison, E.H., 2013. Maritime Masculinities – and why they matter for management.

Bull, J., 2009. Watery Masculinities: Fly-Fishing and the Angling Male in the South West of England. Gender, Place and Culture 16 (4): 445–465. Collins, 1990.

Connell, R., 1995. Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Fabinyi, M., 2007. Illegal fishing and masculinity in the Philippines: a look at the Calamianes Islands in Palawan. Philippine Studies 55, 509–529.

Morgan M. 2014. Measuring gender transformative change. Penang, Malaysia: CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems. Program Brief: AAS- 2014-41.

FOCUS-MODEL-ENGAGE: An Intern’s Experience of Complexity (in) Research

By Benedetta Veneroni

Reflections from @benniVeneroni on her “multi-fold learning journey towards understanding complexity, from the personal to the systemic level” while interning at @sthlmresilience in the #OctoPINTS research project.

My two-months internship within SRC’s OctoPINTS research project led to a short-term, intensive journey characterised by exploring theories to study systems, engaging and inserting myself in a new cultural and academic space and diving into the muddy waters of agent-based modelling. The variety of the above experiences could be merged in the three words- FOCUS, MODEL & ENGAGE- each of which will be briefly covered below.


Being allowed to build my learning experience as I wished has been mostly thrilling, at times disorienting. Many were the topics that could be further explored within OctoPINTS and I remember experiencing some initial doubt when choosing a focus of study. After a week of testing out topics, one in particular caught my attention while being met with excitement by the team. The adoption of short-term protected areas (defined as octopus closures) for the conservation of octopus in Zanzibar have been experienced differently by different social groups. In particular, young male divers were recognised by members of numerous communities to be more prone to poaching during closures compared to other individuals. What caused that? And could the study of such social groups bring insights into better management and acceptance of closures?

These questions kickstarted a journey of research into masculinity studies and gender studies in Small-Scale Fisheries (SSF), which constituted the theoretical base for my scoping review on Zanzibari masculinities. Being fond of the concept of intersectionality, I discovered the term ‘watery masculinities’- describing masculinities in the fishery sector as contextualised, watery, and fluid. I therefore decided to apply such a lens in my work, that is, to view the illegal fishing of the young Zanzibari males not as a problematic act but rather the result of relational, geographically and historically situated, global-to-local intersections of power and oppression. By adopting a view from nowhere, one could go as far as to criticise the use of the word “poacher” due to its negative connotation, resulting in the problematisation of all the individuals who conducted illegal fishing. Exploring masculine subjectivities in a non-European context led me to realise the relevance of accounting for my situated knowledge, that is, a personal view of the world constantly influencing my perception of the subjects of my study. I learnt that being conscious and critical of my biases constituted an important step to advance in research.


OctoPINTS has based its research process in the adoption of multiple methods for understanding complex social-ecological systems. One of them is the empirical fieldwork conducted by Liz Drury O’Neill which then informed the development of an agent-based model (ABM). Having found my focus in Zanzibari masculinities and compliance, I was then met with the thrilling opportunity to learn about ABM and work with the agent-based software tool, Netlogo, by inserting my code and thinking into the present OctoPINTS model. Nonetheless, my previous knowledge of the R software made me underestimate the time it would take for me to learn the basics of Netlogo, as well as chosing the most important variables to model, coding and analysing the model results. What I found difficult was to insert such a changeable, watery and interdependent variable like masculinity into the structure of the ABM. I also found the ‘exploratory’ and self-made approach of ABM disorienting at times. Having said that, despite recognising that the journey towards a confident use of ABM would definitely surpass the time of my internship at SRC, I still regard the time spent in understanding Netlogo as an important and necessary step to engage with complex systems. Furthermore, the feeling of not having completed my previously set objectives made clear to me the naturalness of constantly re-setting your goals, a process I have seen unfolding both within the OctoPINTS team and across the SRC.


My experience in SRC could not have been as fruitful and thought-through without the feeling of recognition and support that the OctoPINTS team offered me (Shout out to Emilie for being always available and positive and amazing! #BestMentor). Looking back at my experience I am reminded of a positive environment where I have felt welcomed since the beginning. This has made me immediately reconsider the expectations I had of the SRC, from being an untouchable place of research to a creative and humane space of humble and passionate individuals. Space was given to vulnerabilities and insecurities to be expressed, as happened during a presentation I gave to the SES-LINK group. This, I learnt, is the key to more resilient interactions in research, historically favouring independent and publications-driven work. Within OctoPINTS, the large space I was given to insert my personality and ideas in, instilled in me self esteem and a desire to gain bigger responsibility. Giving presentations- an experience that has always been frightening to me- became a much more natural process thanks to the feeling of equality and openness I was met with. Furthermore, the extensive and continuous reflection on my privileges as a European researcher and my vulnerabilities as a young woman intern sparked interesting conversations with my colleagues and are to be listed among my learning experiences here at SRC.

Interning with OctoPINTS represented a multi-fold learning journey towards understanding complexity, from the personal to the systemic level. The privilege to learn in such a cherishing space has provided me with more advanced tools to understand social-ecological systems while exploring the complexities of the research world.

Read more about the Research Themes I engaged with at SRC; Interacting Complexities and Stewardship and Transformative Futures, and keep an eye out for my upcoming blog post on Zanzibari masculinities!