"Island Notes" composition in Cretan Flat Mandolin by Christophoro Gorantokaki @"Melody Box"
Welcome to SICRI’s “island conversations” podcast series.
The aim of these podcasts is to highlight the work of island studies scholars and practitioners who make a significant contribution to islands’ research, arts, and culture landscape.
The podcasts are accompanied by a curated transcript that is edited to read as an independent piece.
In this podcast, we will be hearing from Dr. Jonathan (Jon) Pugh. Jon is in conversation with Prof. Philip Hayward, SICRI's co-founder and Honorary Chair.
Jonathan Pugh is Reader in Island Studies, Department of Geography, Newcastle University, UK. He is particularly noted for his work on the ‘relational’ and ‘archipelagic’ turns in island studies, disrupting the figure of the insular island. Jonathan's present work examines how work with islands is playing an increasingly prominent role in the generation of wider approaches to critical thinking, knowledge and policy practices associated with the Anthropocene (particularly in the prolific development of relational ontologies and epistemologies in opposition to modern reasoning). Establishing a platform for discussion and debate, in 2021 he launched the 'Anthropocene Islands' initiative.The initiative gains its initial impetus from the book Anthropocene Islands: Entangled Worlds (Pugh and Chandler, 2021) and the Dialogues in Human Geography paper Anthropocene Islands: there are only islands after the end of the world (Chandler and Pugh, 2021). For Jonathan's publication see here.
Jon, it's great to talk to you, we've never actually met in person, so this is our first opportunity to discuss ideas and for me to learn more about some of the fascinating work you've done. I'll start with a very general question, I want to know how you got involved in island studies, and which kind of disciplinary routes led you to it?
Well, first of all, thanks … as you're saying, it's really weird that we've never met. And I've been a massive fan of your work for years and it’s great to just finally be able to chat. In terms of this question, I guess, like most island studies people that I know, I've had a really eclectic background. And perhaps that's because islands aren't actually a discipline… like geography or politics, or archeology, they're a geographical form that can't be grasped by single discipline. And I think one of the nice things then is that island scholars tend to read really widely, and across the disciplines, and they tend to have this rather eclectic background as a result, which I find really ‘funky’. And I really enjoy that.
In terms of my own journey, it probably took me a good 10 or 15 years before I became firmly a scholar associated with Island studies. I started my PhD in 1998, which was in Caribbean development and planning. And one of the indirect but main outcomes of that was that I published a paper from my research in the Transactions of the Royal Geographical Society (1). And it kind of got picked up as an impetus for the development of a broader radical politics network. So, as I say, I didn't start off thinking about islands, it was much more radical politics. And for about 10 years, I ran this network with Doreen Massey and Chantal Mouffe (2). I've also had a strong interest in philosophy, particularly that of Wittgenstein (3). And practically, I was engaged with a lot of union developments in the Caribbean with fisherpeople, trying to develop an archipelagic union … (4) So a really eclectic background!
Left: Book cover for the Anthropocene Islands book Right: "Bussa" Barbados (photos provided by Jonathan Pugh)
Perhaps a key point for me was in 2012 I was … really unhappy with academia. And I was ready to give up, because the career path of an academic was becoming too algorithmic … (5) just far too many metrics and too much kind of narrow instrumental reading and research being done … I was just down on how academics work, you know, it's too much of a game. But fortunately, and this is where the islands studies connection now comes in, in 2012, I was at the AAG (the Association of American Geographers) in New York, and I met Godfrey Baldacchino and Elaine Stratford and they just asked me to be a discussant on a panel. And as I say, that was really important for my career. I was really down at this time in academia, but I just thoroughly enjoyed being a discussant on this (islands) panel. And what really grabbed me was just the interdisciplinary nature of the approaches around islands and just the excitement and the openness to debate (6). And I think that's kind of what got me into island studies. And I've never really … looked back since 2012.
And one other point I think I should probably mention is that throughout the last 20 years my main influence has been my long friendship with David Chandler who co-wrote the Anthropocene Islands book (7), and I’ve been absolutely fascinated, with Dave, about shifting trends in critical thought. So, what brings me to island studies is how islands play this generative role in the development of broader critical thoughts. And so, as I said, there's a lot there, and it's a really eclectic background, but I think if you ask most Island scholars, they do have this … long and winding route that goes on in their career.
Yes, it's a fascinating kind of entrée point and I entirely agree with you re a lot of people's work that I really appreciate … I'm always startled by all the kind of disciplinary angles, they have got into (I mean, obviously I've come from all around the shop, every one of my degrees is in a different subject) and that has made the discipline rich. But I actually have a slight reservation about island studies courses and qualifications because I fear a degree of homogenisation might come in from that … I think it's inevitable when something takes off in that manner. But it has been a very stimulating place where academics can find homes. And one of the factors in editing Shima, the journal, is that really regularly, I mean, say 10-15 times a year, I get an email from somebody that says, “Ah, people who study islands, I thought I was the only one” and then they read up stuff and come into the fold and contribute. So, it does feel good for that.
Absolutely … I think what you're saying is right … I mean, there is a canon of thought, there has to be in any field, you know, the development of things. But that tension always needs to be kept in play. So, it doesn't become too narrow, because otherwise the field just starts to get really dull, you know?
I was a bit surprised when, at volume 10, Shima dropped islands from the subtitle and we looked at some non-islands, island like entities. And some of the responses I got almost reminded me of that infamous concert that Bob Dylan played at Manchester Trade Hall. When the electric band came on someone from the back, shouted “Judas” at them … I mean, I still get a few responses for that. It's like kind of … “you've ‘sold out’”
I don't think so. Absolutely not.
I digress. But look …, going back to your work in the Caribbean, and the fishers union, which particular islands were you involved with did any of those exercise a particular fascination for you? And why was that?
… My PhD was in Barbados and St. Lucia. So those are, I guess, the two islands and friendships, you know, this is what happens, isn't it? … I've worked there since 1998. And, coming back to what we were just talking about … about disciplines and things … maybe island studies people, because of our desire to kind of think outside the box, we can sometimes be a bit stubborn. And I think what drove the work I've done in the Caribbean, and Barbados and St. Lucia was a kicking off against the way development consultancy works. So, I'd studied the whole kind of academic and consultancy process. That was what I was doing a lot in my PhD. And what we wanted to do was develop a fishing project where fisherpeople themselves were paid to be their own consultants, if that makes sense. So literally all the money went to them. And as you can imagine, my university was thrilled by that [laughs] which caused a lot of problems. And it's actually why I ended up in Newcastle because obviously I wasn't generating income… But it was through a kind of certain belligerence around the way in which … development consultants who work in development work, where so much money goes to people that aren't actually from the island, that we tried to do that. And we did that over a few years. But the irony was that the fisherpeople ended up still having to submit reports and hit metrics and targets. They kind of said, “well, if this is a development consultancy, you can keep it”. So, I guess this work was kind of based around how it could be that, you know, ordinary fisherpeople could try and take more of a stake in development, but it was an interesting journey, for sure (8).
Left: Jonathan Pugh Right: Weston Fishing Community, Barbados (photos provided by Jonathan Pugh
I first became aware of your work with regard to Bermuda, and the Landship. So, how did Bermuda fit in with that?
Yes, so Barbados - Barbados and the Landship, everyone always says Bermuda … The Landship is fascinating because, I think, it’s when I started to get really involved with relational thinking, and you know, it's funny you should say that because that was when I was turning fully to island studies. … I became really aware of your work and, you know, the relational thinking with islands that was really developing at that point. So, the Landship is a paper published in Social and Cultural Geography, you can get, 2016, if people are interested (9). And it's a kind of a dance and social welfare organization that is, I guess, kind of unique to Barbados … although there used to be lots all over the region. And it's this fascinating relational institution where they re-enact what took place on ships, slave ships and steamships. So, it really brings in the … ship, but it's on land. So, it's a social welfare organization that takes place on land, that's a cultural performance. And it also played a really important role in the development of welfare in the early 1900s in Barbados. So, I just find it a fascinating institution, because it brings in those long histories of oceanic and ship connections, it's a re-enactment on the islands as a land+ship. And at the same time, it was, you know, for, for ex-slave populations that had emerged through emancipation, and were going into independence. And it was an important social cultural organization … providing welfare to poor people and things. So, it's a really lovely illustration of the sorts of things that that you and I write about, about islands being these kind of relational forms. And in this case, also how that form becomes a social welfare organization.
Yes, it was a great topic and a great analysis … you did. I've been to Barbados where I wasn't aware of that particular custom. So, I thought it was insightful. I mean, one of the paradoxes about island studies is that island studies [journals] have published very little material on the Caribbean, because the Caribbean tends to be covered in specialist journals. And it's very thinly covered, it's something that I think … we should try and engage with more, but there's almost also a kind of ‘Caribbean-centric’ thinking, where it's seen that the Caribbean is the focus rather than global islands. This is the focus in some of the work I've seen anyway. But there are many islands…
I could not agree more, Phil, you know, I worked in the Caribbean for nearly 10 years before I'd thought about it in terms of island studies. And as a young academic, you're not … made cognizant of those kinds of ways of thinking. But you know, you think about Glissant or great Island writers like Braithwaite, these are Island scholars, even though they're writing about a particular region … I couldn't agree with you more Phil is what I'm saying.
It's a fascinating area. I mean, I've spent most of my time in Trinidad and Tobago, down south, which are … almost an overlooked area within Caribbean writing as well for their complexities. But the whole history of relations between Trinidad and Tobago and of internal racial differences in Trinidad … there's obviously theses by the dozen that could emerge from there… So, this is your beginning and you rapidly became inserted into island studies, the formal sector, because you've been involved in the Island Studies Journal for several years now as a contributor, but most recently as the theme editor responsible for material addressing aspects of the Anthropocene. Can you tell us a bit about your general involvement with the journal and also the importance you attach to the journal and also to what you bring to the journal?
So yes, I have been very involved with Island Studies Journal, and … obviously, Godfrey [Baldacchino], and now Adam [Grydehøj], have just done … just exceptional work … getting this going. I think you're probably picking this up. I mean, for me, it's the ‘vibe’ that's important, that attracts me to anything, you know … I talked about my longer history and my concerns about academia and the way it works. And I think for me, what's great is that the two key … islands related journals Shima and Island Studies Journal, are open access, and open, you know, in the sense that they provide platforms for people to just explore ideas … Sure, there's canons of literature … but my sense … watching Shima and Island Studies Journal is there's an openness to do a whole range of interesting things. So, the fact they're open to people who live on a small island in the middle of the Pacific, and often poor communities in Barbados, or the Caribbean or wherever, is crucial for me. … This makes Island studies, it gives it a character … which I think is absolutely important. And I think the other thing that's really important for me is that both Shima and Island Studies Journal are also informally and … formally linked to all these different innovative spaces and conferences and workshops and things that exist … if you're talking about the Anthropocene part that I have, the ‘Anthropocene Islands’ section … it's linked to a monthly reading group, which you've been involved in, an early career monthly group. And it's linked to all sorts of other areas … that we're working on with the Anthropocene Islands project (10). So, for me what I like about Island Studies Journal, just as much as Shima, is that it’s part of these open networks for exploration, and that they’re open, they're free, which is just wonderful when you think about how much it costs to subscribe to some journals!
Yeah, we had an interesting discussion in Hong Kong, at one of Adam’s conferences he organized, as part of, you know, the organization that he ran - Island Dynamics… And the issues came up about the journals being free access and … the other journal that's an open access journal, Island and Marine Cultures from Korea as well. And also Adam’s journal, Urban Island Studies. So, for a period, there was four open access journals, and I think through the various routes, it's arrived as an open access field, which is now a big strength. I've heard it said by young academics who come in that the first thing they can do is they can get the entire canon of material published in Shima and the Island Studies Journal just open access. And we noticed with Shima, a very rapid pick-up of material from the last issue, because people haven't had to go through particular hoops, you know, in order to … to get that stuff. So, I entirely agree with you about the field being good. Also, you've personally done very well, with the reading groups attached with early career academics. Can you tell us a bit about what motivates you to do that? And how they've gone?
Well, yes. And I think it has … gone well, and it is going well. And I think you hit the nail on the head because … when you were talking about Shima and … Island Studies Journal, and I think there's something about islands’ work as a group of people, as these networks that we've gradually formed over the last couple of decades or so, which is open to early career. And I think … it's important to establish that ‘vibe’, you know, I feel there are fields of studies where early career people don't feel they can speak, they don't feel they can stand up and say something because they're nervous or whatever. So, I think it's really important to establish these spaces. I worried about calling it ‘early career’ but we, Maggie Henry and I, that kind of run this [early career group], decided to keep that because then it's this … safe space where people can just say whatever they want about some concept, like resilience or something like that, and just explore spaces and for thinking about these things. So, I think that Island’s work, it's beholden on us to really think about early career scholars … and provide those spaces where they can develop their ideas in any way they kind of choose, you know, so that's what's
been important to me about that aspect of the Anthropocene Islands project.
Yes, it is. I mean, the field is not overburdened with … aging white male kind of power. I mean, a lot of the people obviously set it up in the early days are aging white males, but I mean, I think that some are going over the horizon and some are getting out of the way so there is a space for early career researchers to come in, unlike some disciplines that seemed kind of you know ‘logjammed’? ....
That's right … And yes, I think that's really important … [because] … loads of people work on islands! I know I am part of ‘Island Studies’ as a kind of thing … but what's important is that there are a lot of people that work with islands, and so … I'm just interested in anyone that works on islands, whether an artist, a poet, a biologist, or geologist, or whatever … if we think that actually… it is the island that's the center, and not a field of study or a discipline, then that changes the ‘vibe’ and the dynamic of how people interact, I think … because [with] an island [there] is something there you can see, ‘Geography’ is an abstract concept … so, it's centering the island or the archipelago, or you bring it in that way, rather than kind of the other way around.
I agree. Going back to your work on the Anthropocene, the most obvious … occasion … for doing this interview about your kind of overall perspectives, is the recent book you've done with David Chandler, Anthropocene Islands: Entangled Worlds, which I, and a number of others, think is really important contributions to the field. And in a way it is … like, we all need to up our game a bit, because you guys have come back, and you've thought through the paradigms underlying particular ways of conceptualizing thinking and theorizing about islands and you've got a kind of a narrative of how they go and you've got an agenda for the future. So apart from basically praising you for doing it, it's a great project. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of that project and what you're hoping to achieve with it? I mean, was it based on like, looking at islands within geography and islands and Island studies and thinking ‘we've got to get perspective on this in order to gain disciplinary wisdom?’ Was that … the starting point?
Mmm, that cropped up at points. First of all though, thanks, Phil. It means a lot that you in particular would say that about the book. It was a big project, and then, you know, to get that response from you is, is wonderful. And the genesis is actually what I kind of mentioned earlier, which is just my friendship with David Chandler that I have. You know, I've known him for 20 years, and we have this kind of obsessive interest in tracking wider shifts in critical thought. So what we were kind of just chatting about as friends, every so often, was the trope of ‘relational entanglement’ starting to emerge as a – if not the – dominant trope of much contemporary thinking in the Anthropocene, after the waning faith in modern reasoning, you know, so the Anthropocene Islands project and book, that kind of emerged from that. [We started] off with “Okay, so relational entanglement seems to be this recurrent trope and theme and Anthropocene thinking”… and the islands work … was less a kind of planned response to this. It wasn't like we just went “let's forward Island studies or islands”, it was that we kind of realized … as we're reading, more and more generically about the Anthropocene, islands were just cropping up everywhere, you know, in debates about resilience, or the key thinkers of Anthropocene thinking seem to be turning to islands more and more. And we were like, “well, this is interesting” … and slowly, we just started to see how, whether it's mainstream policymaking, or critical thought, activism, arts [or] humanities work, these things [islands] that were so on the periphery of debate 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, were just cropping up in every area of research. We were starting to get our heads around this, and we thought, “well, they're [islands] not just symbols … of rising sea levels or global warming or intensified hurricanes. They're not the symbolic figures of the Anthropocene, they're [also] kind of doing work in these debates. They're being kind of engaged, and perhaps sometimes appropriated, but they're being worked with as generative for the way in which concepts like resilience and that kind of thing play out…
What the book does is chart how they [islands] become these generative figures for Anthropocene thinking and … Anthropocene thinking is a huge area of thought. But like any thought, it doesn't exist purely in the head, you know, humans are in the world. And, you know, geography matters to how we develop our thoughts. So therefore, geographical forms matter to how we develop our thoughts. So, it would kind of be inevitable that, as a trope like ‘relational entanglements’ becomes key to think with, that academics and policymakers turn to geographical forms that enable them to work that through and develop thought within that way. So, you know, I think that what the book does, is it turns to how the figure of the island moves from the periphery to the centre for this generation of relational thinking, about relational ways of being and knowing in the Anthropocene, and becomes generative for Anthropocene thinking more broadly – whether that's in your work on the aquapelago, which we engage quite a lot in the book, or broader critical thinking, or the poetry of the Anthropocene, wherever, the island becomes this kind of generative figure. And the Anthropocene Islands project is just a kind of expansion of that, the book is just a start. [The book] just talks about a few different ways in which islands become generative for Anthropocene thinking. And what we want to do in the broader network of the Anthropocene Islands project is generate the spaces we were talking about earlier, for people to think through the various and different ways in which islands are becoming generative for broader Anthropocene think.
Left: Jonathan Pugh in Soufriere, St Lucia Right: Weston Fishing Community, Barbados (photos by Jonathan Pugh)
…What was fascinating reading the book is the way you engage … precisely with those issues, the entanglements in the centrality. I’ll just make two responses … I'm currently finishing off a review of the book, two things that I’d highlight… One is, when I came to read your discussions of some of my work, I thought, “Ah, that is what I'd been doing”. So ,you often need somebody else to actually say that. So, I thought you actually kind of got inside that very well, but I’ll ask you something slightly provocative. In the early days of Island Studies, academics over-emphasized the difference of islands from peninsulas, bridged islands, coastal areas, etc. In order to assert the importance of the disciplinary area (or the interdisciplinary area). I'm reading your book, one of the things that struck me is, although the islands are the focus, a number of the works which are most interesting, that you bounce off, are not about geographical islands; some of them are about bio-geographical islands. Do you think there's a degree of strategic over-emphasis on the islands in the book in order to make your case? Or are you happy with the characterization of islands as really distinct markers.
I think a way of answering that is that the book is probably more about Islandness, even though, obviously, we're talking a lot about real islands. For I think, for us, [islandness becomes key] with the collapse of modern frameworks of reasoning, or the waning faith in them, and the rise of the relational ontologies and epistemologies … it's the kind of generative power of thinking with a kind of islandness … We talked about the Patchwork approaches, or the Storiation approaches in the book … [and]… that doesn't mean to say that you're literally on an island. So, I'm just thinking around the … chapter … when we're talking about the aquapelago - if you noticed, another example we talked about near your work is about gardens. And how there's a move in garden thinking to think with islandness. Now these aren't gardens that are surrounded by oceans … these are gardens in cities or wherever. So it's the productive power of islandness that becomes key for the generation of Anthropocene thinking … it's a good question, because I think it [shows why] these interviews are great, because it allows me to kind of clarify that … it's the power of the islandness, as opposed to … a classic definition of an island surrounded by water, if that makes sense.
Yes, we had an interesting article that came into Shima that was unfortunately rejected by the referees … One of the things I liked about it, it had a lot of discussions about island-ish-ness … Which I thought was actually a really nice hook... because you can think about ‘almost islands’ through that framework.
… I entirely take the points you make and I know that you're not talking necessarily about looking at classic islands, but islands and island-ish-ness, which I kind of took through and that's what I found most captivating about the book … and I thought one of the most interesting things in there was the example it takes from a biogeographical area of Texas and forests, which actually was really good in thinking about classic islands. So, I think you learn the material very well. I think my concern is that if we get into too much of an island studies orthodoxy, it will be all about the classic geographic/geological islands, and not about the metaphoric ones or the biogeographical ones. But I think the strength of your book is you actually bring those in.
Thank you Phil… You’re talking about the Cary Wolfe example, I think there … he draws on Derrida's idea that there's only islands after the end of the world. What that means is after the end of modern reasoning … yeah, I mean, what could be a less traditional island form than the middle of Texas? It's islandness that's generative. Yeah.
So following on from that now, Anthropocene Islands is a ‘big picture’, but the kind of one that you … have to take, it's holding up very complex ideas in your head … to manifest them and put them down. So, I'm wondering whether the next project you've got to do is going to be something equally or more extensive, and scale? Are you going to do some small research cameos to move ideas along? What's your own personal trajectory?
Well, you know – and this has happened in the last few weeks and months – I honestly thought, no more ‘big picture’ books, and I honestly thought, no more books for a while. But you know what, it's like you get excited, don't you? And so what David and I have come to realize over the last year or so, slowly, you know, a bit like with the Anthropocene Islands book … these things gestate… I think you hold back until you're more sure of something. … We were talking about the Caribbean earlier, and how you're saying it needs to be engaged more by Island studies, we think that the Caribbean is now beginning to play a really important and generative role in the development of a much more recent, but nevertheless, still strong contemporary line of critical thought that we've started to become interested in. And so what we're doing at the moment is we're intensively reading for a new book, which is about this [new] strain of thought that we're tentatively calling ‘abyssal geographies’ and, this [new] book is both a continuation but also a disconnection from the Anthropocene Islands project. Because abyssal geographies kind of move away from the kind of relational approaches that characterize Anthropocene Islands and islands thinking. It's not so much about relational ontologies and epistemologies.. it’s associated but not confined to recent debates around critical Black Studies … It's more anti-ontological … it's got kind of a more negative immanence and radical immanence to it that we're seeing coming out from the way in which the Caribbean is engaged in a lot of contemporary critical black scholarship, in particular, as kind of a region that relentlessly deconstructs the modern frameworks of reasoning that construct it. So the work of Fred Moten, the massive return to Glissant, Benitez-Rojas, [M. NourbeSe] Philip’s poem ‘Zong’ is fascinating, and the work of [Alexis Pauline] Gumbs (11), and they're all doing some interesting work here, which we think is kind of pushing against, but pulling in new directions, to the kind of Anthropocene Islands work that we did. and edit
Soufriere, St Lucia (photo by Jonathan Pugh)
You know, as you can tell, by the way, as I'm kind of talking about this, it's still very early stages, and we're just thinking it through. But perhaps the key point is I did think no more books for a while. But then we realized that the Caribbean region … is playing this productive role in the generation of what could be seen as a new line of thought that's emerging. And because Dave and I are just obsessed with these shifts in thought … and we're just thinking this one through … [P]erhaps one thing just to finally say about this is, as with the Anthropocene Islands book, our work with this project and elsewhere, we're not normative, we're just drawing out shifts in thoughts. Now obviously, in certain areas of my work more than others … I've [been more critical of particular trends] … published a lot on how I'm no fan of [for example] resilience (12)… [But more generally I am interested in] tracking shifts of thought, and the productive role of islands or island regions in the generation of kind of broader shifts in debates, because I just think it's fascinating how islands and islandness, and now a region like the Caribbean, becomes something that punches way above its weight [in the development of broader new thought]. You know … if we just go back to your work on the aquapelago, I mean, this is so widely read now, beyond Shima, and island studies journals, you know, think about the way in which it was picked up [in] geography journals recently, and so on. It's fascinating. And I don't think that's just because you're good. Of course, you're good. And hopefully I'm reasonably okay. It's because people are fascinated by thinking with these ways, and they're drawing upon them, and it's informing broader areas of thought. And that's kind of what I'm trying to think through in a new way. Now with the Caribbean [and the rise of what David and I are calling abyssal thought].
… what's interesting about the Caribbean is also what's interesting about number of African American writers who are writing about the Atlantic passage as a generative point for both black experiences in North America and also in the Caribbean, and how there's very interesting looping of fiction, mythology, arts and representations creating that central space. And I'm wondering, with regards to that, I mean, slightly provocative question - in writing a book about the Caribbean from two guys who aren't from the Caribbean, is there any delicacy you perceiving an approaching that? I mean, you're obviously very aware of it, but I'm wondering how you're going to negotiate that.
Now. That's a really good point. And, you know, we opened by talking about longer career arcs, and clearly as a white man, when I was doing empirical work on the ground in the Caribbean … the question of positionality was something that was huge, you know, and … you have to become aware of that and … you go through all these angsts … which are real and important. I think, with our more recent work on Anthropocene Islands, and now with Abyssal Geographies, what we're trying to do is just track broader shifts in thought. So we're reading, as it were, rather than claiming or doing something like I did with the Landship, where it's an ethnographic piece of work … where that’s what plays out. That's not to say that positionality isn't important. But it's like … the Anthropocene Islands book and the abyssal geographies work is an exercise in tracking broader shifts in thought, if that makes sense. So it's an observational exercise, although hopefully, there's something rich to it. So that throws up its own kind of different contentions and issues. And I think it's about trying to just read a lot and try and do your very best to represent and draw out what what's going on in the literature and in broader debates rather than claiming to actually speak for people who you've met in the Caribbean, if that makes sense…
… No, I entirely agree with you. And also don't believe that you can't talk about a place because you're not from there, because that would restrict everybody in doing the writing. Some of the interesting work that I've found coming in to Shima in particular, is really causing me to reconsider aspects of (you mentioned) the aquapelago before. It's a concept that's kind of grown up left home and going out in the world, and some of the work that’s coming in, I'm thinking, wow, that's a much more refined and interesting version, I'm thinking about some of [Ayasha Guerin ‘s] work that's been done on involvement of black Americans in the oyster and whaling trade recently, [i] which is rethinking about relations between ethnicity aquatic spaces, power and those things. So, I think, you know, the Caribbean project is a great project. Outside of your own work, and the work in Island Studies Journal and Shima, can you tell us about some of the more interesting clusters of critical analytical work emerging that have attracted your attention that you think might be relevant to island studies as it progresses?
Yes .. I will just say, [to] pick up on the aquapelago, because I often had that in mind when I was thinking about the how to write the book on Anthropocene Islands … I think what's so brilliant about what you've done with the aquapelago, you say these things take on a life of their own, if they’re defined enough to have real meaning, yet, they are able to be taken in all sorts of different directions. And one would hope that what we've done on the Anthropocene Islands book can work in a way [as well] … with the aquapelago … you hit the tone right in how you've kind of engaged and designed that concept and I think I just wanted to flag that up in advance of your question here on networks … I think the thing is … I work with so many people and groups, to single some out would be really tricky. … [So] perhaps what I could do is say what attracts me and what doesn't, if that makes sense … the vibe that attracts me to certain networks and why I don't want to get involved with others. And I think, we've mentioned this but for me the real problem today is the fact that the university is algorithmic, it is a machine that is killing thought in terms of the metric culture that is producing it, and it's beholden to us to create [different] clusters and spaces …[A] kind of kick away from that. I mentioned Fred Moten and he and Stefano Harney have just written a book called All Incomplete (13) … which is a fantastic text, which explores all aspects of a kind of radical blackness, but they spend a lot of time talking about the university, and the importance of creating spaces that kick off against the metric culture and the instrumental culture. Because the irony is, whether it's you, or David, whom I work with, or the [other] people that have shaped me in my career, like Doreen Massey and Chantal Mouffe, they never played the game.
Well, we will have to play the game a bit, but they didn't play the game. You know, you have worked on mermaids on aquapelagos on all sorts of things. And if younger career academics can realize the importance of generating spaces where we can just explore stuff, yeah, the irony is you actually end up getting read more widely, because you produce more interesting stuff anyway. So for me, what spaces I'm interested in doing is, is just … generating these spaces that enable you to talk and read really widely, from biology, to anthropology, to geology, to technology studies, around islands, because you know, an island isn't a discipline. And unfortunately, universities are driven by disciplines and metrics. So we need to create these spaces. And so that's where, what I get drawn to, it's why I like Shima. It's why I like island studies networks more generally. So the vibe that I'm interested in – and I wish I'd have known that, at the beginning of my career – that it's okay to step outside of discipline and to read widely because that is where the interesting thought comes from.
Yes, I entirely agree… [what] I always try [and] encourage postgrads to do is to read outside the discipline. And, for example, I had a person recently who was doing some research … around [I’ll be vague…]some British islands and they were doing it from very much a socio-cultural point of view and I said ‘well what about the history of … agriculture on this particular island and its relations to shipping and all this and they were like ‘no, no I’m not going to do that’ and it’s like ‘you can’t not do it.” You can’t try and talk about the folklore of a place that’s an island without talking about … the shipping, the fishing, movement, export … I think you have to keep that in mind to multiply relate. In a way, the smaller the island, the smaller the population, every single bit of everything is everything…
…I think that’s something interesting about islands because people are trying so hard to kick off… You know the Anthropocene isn’t necessarily a discipline and critical Black Studies kind of isn’t either, and I just wonder whether there is really something very contemporary about islands work in that regard just from a stylistic point of view about how it demands that you break down these barriers in order to understand what you are interested in better.
And … simultaneously you’ve got to realise that it’s tough for PhD students and emerging researchers because they often come from quite ‘straight’ disciplinary backgrounds and they submit pieces and the referees say ‘you’ve got to consider this theory and that theory, this topic, that angle…’ It’s probably quite intimidating so I think our duty is also to be encouraging, supportive, nurturing in that context, which you certainly do through your online networks. And I think that both Island Studies Journal and Shima do, in terms of how we manage the refereeing processes and reports... A lot of journals, if it’s not quite hitting the target, it’s like, basically ‘go away’, we always try and be encouraging and say, ‘it’s great, you’ve got a lot of work to do, do you want to look at this and we will work with you’. So, hopefully, that’s another strength we’ve got.
I think so… It’s an atmosphere, isn’t it? … You know, people who work on islands, it’s about generating an atmosphere, of this openness.
It’s not just junior colleagues as well, because I recall your engagement with me with Island Studies Journal on one of my articles (14) when I was really stretching where I was going and you were being encouraging me and saying ‘yeh, you can step it up a bit and get it through.’ And I thought, ‘yeh, I can’… [JP laughs]. You are never too old or too experienced to be told that you can lift it up a bit, just give it a go.
[Laughs] Well, you publish so much I’m not sure which one that one was! But I mean your work is just brilliant, I think it’s the character of it really hits the vibe for me of what academic work and islands related work should be doing. It is tough, you know, what you were saying about early career academics is spot on. I mean, it’s brutal. There are hundreds of people going for a single academic job at a decent university now and the algorithmic culture is just awful and I guess the only other thing I’d say is that the irony is that you need to play the game within reason because… if you play it too hard and fast you’re never going to produce anything interesting and therefore you’re actually never going to really make the splash that you’re hoping to make in your field. You have to have that kind of balance and confidence to go ‘ok I’m just going to talk about something… I’m going to engage the canon…’, we all have to do that… we have to… have the discipline of reading the back catalogues, because that’s what you’re kicking off against, or developing or critiquing, but [also] have the guts to step outside that space because you’re never going to produce anything interesting otherwise.
Absolutely. The movement that you have done through the stuff that we have talked about in this interview has been a great example of that because you would have never imagined from your first steps that you would have come through to this particular angle…
(i). Guerin, A (2019) Underground and at sea: Oysters and Black Marine Entanglements in New York’s Zone-A, Shima v13 n2
1. Pugh J. (2005) The disciplinary effects of communicative planning in Soufriere, St. Lucia: Governmentality, hegemony and space-time-politics. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 30(3), 307-321.
2. Pugh J, ed. (2009) What is Radical Politics Today?. Basingstoke: Palgrave-MacMillan.
Pugh J, ‘Spaces of Democracy’ network. (2008) What are the consequences of the ‘spatial turn’ for how we understand politics today? A proposed research agenda. Progress in Human Geography, 33(5), 579-586.
3. Pugh J. (2017) A skeptical approach to ‘the everyday’: Relating Stanley Cavell and Human Geography. Geoforum, 79, 36-45.
Pugh J. (2012) Wittgenstein, Shakespeare and Metaphysical Wit. Philosophy and Literature 2012, 36(1), 238-248.
4. Pugh J. (2013) Speaking Without Voice: Participatory Planning, Acknowledgment, and Latent Subjectivity in Barbados. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103(5), 1266-1281.
Pugh J and Grove, K. (2017) Assemblage, Transversality and Participation in the Neoliberal University, EPD: society and space, 35, 6, 1134–1152.
5. The Analogue University (2019) Calling all journal editors: Bury the metrics pages!, Political Geography, 68,3-5.
Analogue University (2019) “Correlation in the Data University”. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 18 (6), 1184-1206.
The Analogue University (2017) Academic identities in the managed university: Neoliberalism and resistance at Newcastle University, UK, Australian University Review, 59, 2, 23-36.
The Analogue University (2017) Control, resistance and the ‘Data University’: towards a third wave critique. Antipode
6. As an illustration see Pugh, Jonathan. “Human Geography and Islands.” Oxford Bibliographies in Geography. Ed. Barney Warf. New York: Oxford University Press, DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199874002-0230.
8. Pugh J. (2013) Speaking Without Voice: Participatory Planning, Acknowledgment, and Latent Subjectivity in Barbados. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103(5), 1266-1281.
Pugh J and Grove, K. (2017) Assemblage, Transversality and Participation in the Neoliberal University, EPD: society and space, 35, 6, 1134–1152.
9. Pugh J. (2016) The relational turn in island geographies: bringing together island, sea and ship relations and the case of the Landship. Social and Cultural Geography, 17(8), 1040-1059.
10. Anthropocene Islands website: https://www.anthropoceneislands.online/ See also freely downloadable article …Pugh, J. and Chandler, D. (2021) Anthropocene Islands: there are only islands after the end of the world, Dialogues in Human Geography (forum including responses to this article from Claire Colebrook, Craig Santos Perez, Mimi Sheller, Kevin Grove, Stephanie Wakefield, Sasha Davis, Elena Burgos Martinez).
11. Benítez-Rojo, A. (2001). The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective, Second Edition. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Glissant, E. (1997). Poetics of Relation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Gumbs, A. P. (2020). Dub: Finding Ceremony. Durham (USA): Duke University Press.
Moten, F. (2003). In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Moten, F. (2013). Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh). The South Atlantic Quarterly 112 (4).
Moten, F. (2017). Black and Blur: Consent not to be a Single Being. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Moten, F. (2018). The Universal Machine: Consent not to be a Single Being. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Philip, Marlene NourbeSe (2008) Zong! As Told to the Author by Setaey Adumu Boateng, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
12. Pugh J. (2014) Resilience, Complexity and Post-Liberalism. Area, 46(3), 313-319.
Pugh, J. (2021) Resilience. In Fassin, D. Das, V. (eds) Words and Worlds: a lexicon for dark times, Durham and London: Duke University Press. Ch 11. pp225-242.
Chandler, D. and Pugh, J. (2020) Islands and the rise of correlational epistemology in the Anthropocene: rethinking the trope of the ‘canary in the coalmine’. Island Studies Journal.
Chandler, D and Pugh, J (2018) Islands of Relationality and Resilience: the shifting stakes of the Anthropocene, special section in Area on Contemporary debates in Island Studies, 52 (1), 65-72
13. Harney S and Moten, F (2021) All Incomplete. Minor Compositions: Brooklyn.
14. Hayward, P (2019) Sanctuary islands in a hostile matrix: the perception, representation, and protection of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Gulf of Mexico, Island Studies Journal, 14(2), November 2019, pages 157-170