Society and the Seaside

This workshop will explore how proximity to the sea has influenced political stability and identity.


This workshop begins an investigation into the relationship between the sea and the shore in the C21st.  Living by the sea generates its own forms of insecurity and opportunity (Mah 2014) and these have structured how communities living by the sea have been organised.  In this workshop we first explore how proximity to the sea has influenced political stability and identity.  We then explore the sea as a resource for wellbeing and ask whether sea swimming could be shown to have benefits as a mental health policy intervention.  Finally we put this in context by examining how water therapies went in and out of fashion in C20th medicine and English spa towns.




Welcome and introduction Charlie Dannreuther (POLIS)

13.45 -14.45

Security and the Seaside

Neil Winn (POLIS) “Land based anti piracy initiatives in the Horn of Africa”

Charlie Dannreuther (POLIS) “Left Behind at the seaside – UKIP and the coastal vote”

14.45 - 15.45

Identity and the Sea

Daniel Burdsey (University of Brighton) Race, sport and the seaside

Karen Throsby (SSP) Gender identity and sea swimming

15.45-16.00 break

16.00 – 17.00

Sea swimming, mental health and evaluating well being

Jana Javornik (SSP) - Wellbeing in a comparative context

Charlie Dannreuther (SSP) Pool to Pier and “common mental health problems”

Ana Manzano-Santaella (SSP) Realist methodologies and wellbeing

Hannah Denton (NHS) “Severe and enduring mental health problems” and sea swimming


Sea cures in History

Jane Adams (Warwick) “Scientific Hydrotherapy and the Medical  Profession  in Britain 1880-1960”

Rachael M. Johnson  (Bradford) “Water Cure at the seaside”

Thanks to Elly Layfield from the Care Connect Hub and Chris Dent from the Social Science Research Group for funding and support.


Four sessions will examine the relationship between the sea and society in relation to security, identity and health.

The first examines the disintegrative effect of the sea on coastal communities. Neil Winn, from POLIS, examines piracy in the Horn of Africa and the combined forces.  Piracy is an organised crime that is land based and so unlikely to be suppressed by naval interdiction (Percy & Shortland 2013; Pham 2010).  Neil discusses how attempts to control the high seas have influenced state building agendas within Somalia and tried to bring stability to communities which have been divided by piracy.  Charlie Dannreuther, also from POLIS, will bring the discussion closer to home by examining whether being beside the seaside implies resistance to change.  Support for UKIP into a durable force in British politics has been attributed to swathes of society who feel “left behind” by the political and economic changes of recent decades. Charlie examines how important proximity to the seaside, and the political and economic changes experienced there, helps us to capture these trends.

The second theme examines the relationship between identity formation and the sea.  First Daniel Burdsey from the University of Brighton explores some preliminary ideas on how race and identity combine and relate at the seaside. Karen Throsby (SSP) an elite long distance swimmer has published on how the body responds to the immersive training required to complete long swims.   She explores how preparing for such events helps us to understand our bodies and the technologies that we use to manage them (Throsby 2013 a&b).

The third theme examines the relationship between notions of wellbeing and the sea.    In this session we examine how we might find out if sea swimming might be a suitable intervention for mild or more serious mental health issues and most significantly how these might be evaluated.  Jana Javornik explains the place of wellbeing in comparative contemporary welfare provision.   Charlie Dannreuther (in lieu of Paul Smith (Brighton Swimming School)) will explain the proposal for examining common mental health benefits of sea swimming through the pool to pier programme.  Ana Manzano-Santaella (SSP) will explain how realists evaluate wellbeing interventions. This methodology requires greater awareness of the context in which an intervention occurs and explores how subject and context influence the evaluation of outcomes.  This more qualitative framework offers potential for evaluating how sea swimming may relate to the “severe and enduring mental health problems” that Hannah Denton (NHS) works with.   

The fourth theme examines the relationship between the seaside and health in a historical context.  Jane Adams (Warwick University) has also recently published a book on Spa towns and water cures in the C19th and C20th and will explore the changes that characterised the decline of water cures during the period. Rachael Johnson (Bradford University) will look at the history of the water cure at the seaside, from its origins in the early eighteenth century. Focusing on sea-bathing at Margate and the General Sea Bathing Infirmary, Rachael will consider the relative importance of medicine and fashion to visitors who flocked to the coast in search of leisure, pleasure and wellbeing.