The classification societies, an obstacle or an accelerator to international maritime safety?


  • Lissillour Raphaël
  • Bonet Fernandez Dominique
  • Fulconis François


  • Maritime safety
  • Bourdieu
  • Theory of practice
  • Classification societies

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The high growth of maritime traffic worldwide is not without causing incidents. The industrial shipping chain links many different actors, including at least five main actors who may play a role in maritime safety matters: ship-owners, shipyards, charterers, insurance underwriters, and classification societies. In a complex chain of operations, what actor is preponderant in the management of maritime safety? Classification societies seem to play a major role in the management and governance of maritime safety. Nevertheless, many maritime casualties are still occurring every year. In this context, our research questions are twofold: are the classification societies a facilitator or a hindrance to maritime safety? What theoretical perspective can contribute to a better understanding of this inter-organizational issue linking classification societies to the maritime logistic ecosystem? We have selected Bourdieu’s theory of practice to provide deep sociological insights into the stakeholders’ interests, their source of power in the field of maritime safety, and how the dominion of the classification societies is sustained and fueled by the practices of each actor. Based on a qualitative field study with major actors of the industrial shipping chain, our results show the centrality of the classification societies. They benefit from major position due to their high endowment in the forms of capital that are predominant in the field, in particular symbolic, social, informational and economic capital.

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