"None of it is important or all of it is": Steinbeck, Ricketts, Ecology, and Identity

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Interdisciplinarity emerges as a strong theme from the Log from the Sea of Cortez, based on the shared experience of Steinbeck and Ricketts and their influence on one another’s thinking and writing. This article reflects on this and several other emerging lines of inquiry, based on personal experiences as a contemporary marine scientist. It discusses the role and importance of science outreach, in particular about the role of popularizers in connecting with audiences from diverse backgrounds and education levels. These concepts are explored in relation to an interdisciplinary reading group held as part of the Steinbeck Festival in Northern Ireland, designed to build common language and discourse between the arts and science, within which to understand the marine environment and our place within it. Issues of identity are explored, systems of classification, and ways of understanding complex systems: environmental, ecological, or personal as related to the sense of self. All these themes are explored in the Log to varying degrees and work in a complementary way. Technology and development are important and inextricably linked, from communications to methods of interrogation for the environment. As the technology improves, our ability to understand the environment changes but “common” resources are then subject to market demands. This article contrasts the speed and efficacy of contemporary marine science with the contemplative Darwinian pace of the Western Flyer that is presented in the Log, and suggest that there is value in both approaches. The industrial scale and pace of modern scientific expeditions can present obstacles to the intimacy of experience within the environment, and there is much value to the bucket and spade approaches to build this rapport and affinity with the subject. This has an inherent value of its own and is worth conserving. The article concludes that for interdisciplinarity to succeed it is relationships between individuals that really gets things done, developing common language and mutual appreciation, spirit of cooperation and the value of a shared endeavor.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-209
Number of pages19
JournalSteinbeck Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Dec 2022


  • ecology
  • Steinbeck
  • Ricketts
  • citizen science
  • science communication
  • identity
  • Western Flyer
  • pace
  • leisurely


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