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.
"Island Notes" composition in Cretan Flat Mandolin by Christophoro Gorantokaki @"Melody Box"
Dr Evangelia Papoutsaki
Island greetings, I am Dr Evangelia Papoutsaki, SICRI’s co-convenor and the host of this island conversations podcast with Prof. Adam Grydehøj. Adam is a Professor at South China University of Technology’s Research Centre for Indian Ocean Island Countries. Adam has a PhD in Ethnology from University of Aberdeen, in Scotland and he is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Island Studies Journal and an executive committee member of the International Small Island Studies Association (ISISA). Adam’s research, much of which is deeply collaborative, concerns the ways in which islands and islanders create one another. He is interested in encouraging an island studies that better reflects the diversity of island experiences around the world. In particular, he has helped establish the subfield of urban island studies, promoted research concerning regions and contexts that have previously played little role in island studies, and advocated for a decolonial island studies. Born and raised in Miami, USA, Adam has worked in the North Atlantic, Scandinavia, the Arctic, and East Asia and is still grappling with his multitude of place attachments, statuses, privileges, and identities.
Adam, welcome to island conversations!
Prof. Adam Grydehøj
Thank you so much for having me.
Let's start off on a personal note. Growing up in Miami is not perhaps like growing up on an island. But Miami nevertheless has very strong Island migrant communities, especially from the Caribbean, given its location. How was it growing up in this environment? What were some of your earlier memories?
It's a really interesting question. At the time, I didn't really think about it in terms of the islandness of Miami's communities. Although I knew a lot of people from different island backgrounds, it's only later that I came to understand it in this way. I guess it was just something I grew up with. At the time, people often said that Miami didn't have a culture of its own, because Miami was just a mixture of people who came from different places. But of course, local cultures inevitable. People don't just live alongside and interact with each other, without it somehow changing who they are.
Absolutely! What are some of your personal Island connections? Perhaps you might want to share with us some of your early memories of experiencing island life.
This is something I've often reflected on over the years. My first experience of islands as islands is associated with my getting involved in the field of island studies. I'd visited islands as a child and as a teenager, but I hadn't given them particular thought. I can't claim to have been aware of any special attraction to islands or island life. But then, during my bachelor's degree at The Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington, I ended up doing what they called an ‘independent learning contract’ where I left the university and did some studies on my own on the theme of isolation. And I spent three months in the Scottish islands of Orkney in a little, very isolated, unheated cottage. After that, I went to Svalbard, Norway, which is a strangely international archipelago. It's there that I met my future wife who was from Denmark and with whom I would move to Denmark. We ended up moving to the Danish Baltic Sea island of Ærø, where she had family connections. When I started doing my PhD later on, it focused on the islands of Shetland, in Scotland. It was at this point, while I was doing my PhD, that I happened upon the work of Professor Godfrey Baldacchino and saw that, ‘Oh, there's someone doing Island studies, which sounds relevant to my work in Shetland.’ And it was only at that point that I realised I'd been living on four different islands in succession. It had not actually occurred to me before. So my awareness of islands sort of came from encountering Island studies, but it was clearly with me all along. I just hadn't put words to it.
Unst, Shetland, 2014
Credit: Adam Grydehøj
This is interesting because in a way you found yourself on an island, and that led you to Island studies. What it is that you were studying or observing on those islands as part of your Bachelor's degree?
I was actually mainly observing myself. At the time, I was studying philosophy, which I'm very happy to say I no longer do. My bachelor's degree was enough to make me no longer wish to read any more philosophy ever again. But the concept, which I developed with my supervisor at The Evergreen State College, was to study isolation, by placing oneself in isolation, and not speaking to anyone for six months. There were obstacles that prevented me from following through on this 100%. But I did manage to speak very little when I was in Orkney, and basically keep myself to myself and do nature observations, which was also part of my independent learning contract. This was a really stereotypical island situation, the idea of islands as isolated places, islands as places where you can go to be alone. In the beginning, it was hard not speaking to anyone, but after three months, I found it was quite easy; you just sort of get used to yourself.
When I moved on to Svalbard, I gave myself the new challenge of allowing myself to write notes to people while still not speaking. A different kind of isolation, also a very different community. But looking back at all this, I wasn't really thinking about the island nature of these places, rather than the possibility for isolation in itself. I’ve visited Orkney since then, but what can I actually say about Orkney? For me, islands aren't primarily about the natural environment; islands matter because of the people who live there. Islandness concerns what people do with and in environment and with each other. My early, wholly stereotypical experiences of isolated islandness have little to do with that which interested me later since I don’t really see islands as particularly isolated places. All this shows that you can make islands isolated if you want to, but it's not necessarily a good idea, or very informative.
That must have been a very tough experience, but also transformative!
I'm sure it had a deep personal effect on me. And it certainly was tough, especially in the beginning. There again, when I was in Svalbard, I ended up meeting someone with whom I would get married. So this suggests a challenging situation, but perhaps a little bit less philosophically strenuous.
So the islands did in the end have a deep impact on you because you met your future wife, and you ended up living in another island and starting another chapter in your life. Subsequently, you moved into Aberdeen to do a PhD in Ethnology. Tell us a little bit about it, and whether this was your starting point, or entry point into your island studies or whether that came later.
While I was living on Ærø in Denmark, I was doing research on and about the island, again without thinking about it in terms of islandness. I did my PhD in folklore and ethnology at the Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen, and at the time, I was studying folk belief. I was interested in how people today relate to ideas regarding what we might call ‘fairies’ and ‘ghosts’ and ‘spirits’. Looking back, islandness did matter for my choice to study Shetland. This was due to a realisation that Shetland has an unusual history, having been under Norwegian and then Danish control for quite a long time before becoming culturally Scottish relatively late. People have a very strong sense of local identity and local difference, as well as a strong awareness of local history, including folk belief. So I was interested in how people make that history part of their everyday lives. When people have experiences with the supernatural or with things that they can't understand, how does their knowledge of history influence their interpretations? This was very much a continuation of the work I was doing in my bachelor's degree on the Danish island of Ærø. As I mentioned before, it's only when I was doing my literature review that I came across island studies and ended up getting interested in ideas about policymaking, economy, and tourism branding—in things that are connected to folklore only because everything is sort of folklore. But it's at this point I started realising how much I was interested in islandness as something that can encompass all different aspects of island society.
It's fascinating how you maintain a fascination with the folklore, and then discover all these other aspects of island life. I think this is what Island study is about, in a sense, you don't just focus on one aspect of the island, it has a trans-disciplinarity into it, or interdisciplinarity in that one thing leads you to study another.
Yeah, that's certainly the case. It can be a challenge sometimes. Especially for someone like me who's quite undisciplined, in the various senses of the word. But it was a challenge already in my PhD where I ended up having to defend a thesis that involved both fairies and economic development policy.
That must have been a fascinating piece, and really difficult for your supervisor to try to reconcile these two extremes, and in a disciplinary way approach, but I think I will take your lead on, perhaps what we need is an undisciplined island studies!
That's certainly something I feel strongly about. I can make no claims to having thought about this back while I was doing my PhD, but I've become increasingly aware over time of how disciplines themselves can restrict knowledge and can restrict the kinds of island experiences we hear about. It’s not just the issues about people in different disciplines being siloed from one another. It’s also a form of scholarly control, in a way that excludes certain perspectives.
I definitely agree with you, the more I immerse myself into the island life, the more I want to get away from established ways of studying, engaging with islands and allowing the island to tell me what needs to be shared. But was it at that point that you started calling yourself an island scholar?
I remember at the time, this being in 2008, feeling I was a relatively young student, feeling that I was getting involved in this established field with these older and impressive scholars and so on. And I can look back now to the history of the journals and organisations in island studies and realise, well, I wasn't there at the beginning, but I wasn't exactly there particularly late either. But at the time, it felt I was just getting involved in this grand scheme of theorisation that had been going on. My actual entrance into thinking of myself in terms of island studies was related to organising a conference in Shetland in 2009, which was called ‘Taking Shetland out of the Box’. The University of Aberdeen was the main partner, but also what would become the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands. This is one of their early activities. And it was explicitly an island studies conference and involved a great many scholars from outside of Shetland, speaking about things that had nothing to do with Shetland. It was an eye opener for me. This ended up becoming a conference series under the Island Dynamics brand, which was originally run out of the University of Aberdeen. But as soon as we started planning for a second conference in 2011, and the university finance department realised this was going to be in Malta, rather than somewhere in Scotland, they no longer wanted anything to do with it, which is how Island Dynamics eventually became an island studies conference organising company.
Midday in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, January 2017
Credit: Adam Grydehøj
This is really very interesting information about how Island dynamics came to be.
Over the subsequent years, until the pandemic, Island Dynamics organised over twenty international conferences, almost all of which were on islands, and many of which explicitly involved island studies. And these conferences were in China, in Kalaallit Nunaat/Greenland, in Svalbard, in various places in Europe. Conferences played a large role in my getting more deeply involved in island studies, although I also have to say, thinking about it in retrospect, that I published articles in Island Studies Journal and Shima back in 2008.
We will be speaking a bit later about your contribution to the study of islands. It seems to me Island Dynamics was one of these contributions. But before we get into that, can you share some of your island research so far. You've been to several places, you lived in different islands. Through Island Dynamics, you hosted events in different islands. Can you share some highlights from your fieldwork in some of these islands? And what does it mean to actually do research on islands, about islands?
What I would say now, which I wouldn't necessarily have said at the beginning, is that it really depends on which specific island one is trying to research. Certainly, when I was in Shetland for my PhD, it was a truly lovely experience and the easiest place I can imagine to be doing ethnographic fieldwork, with participant observation as well as semistructured formal recorded interviews. And part of what made it so easy and lovely is maybe what many of us within island studies think of as the stereotypical ‘strong, close-knit island community’, combined with a strong desire to tell everyone else how amazing their island is. Going and speaking with people in Shetland about local culture, and even about folk belief, I was often met with the impression of “Well, what took you so long to come and speak to me?”. There is a strong desire to explain to other people what their island identity means and how amazing their island is. I found Shetland to be extremely beautiful, but also extremely friendly and a welcoming place for a researcher. Of course, it doesn't mean that other places I've been were less friendly. It might mean that some places are less welcoming to researchers, which is a totally different issue. And there's something slightly problematic in the way in which researchers can go to places and equate the way that they are encountered with how friendly a community is.
So I did have experiences elsewhere, where I was less welcomed. A great highlight for me and something that changed my perspectives in many ways was when I started teaching at Ilisimatusarfik/University of Greenland in Kalaallit Nunaat, which is the Indigenous name for Greenland. I went there first in 2014 with very much standard views of Island studies, and ideas about economic development in small island communities. And I very quickly learned through my encounter with the place and with the people that maybe it's time for me to stop believing some of these ideas. It was through being with students, through living in the community, even for relatively short periods of time, that I started gaining understanding of actual lived experiences of colonialism and of what this means, not just for how societies function but also for how people want societies to function in the future. And I'm still learning, but it had a very big influence on me, these four years of teaching on and off at the university.
Kapisillit , Kalaallit Nunaat, December 2018
Credit: Adam Grydehøj
That is a long engagement. What is your current Island research on?
My current Island research actually involves thinking about what islandness means in terms of island city situations. This is part of what I look at as the subfield of urban island studies. Even today, there's this tendency within island studies to associate islands and islandness with certain kinds of geographies. That kind of ‘remote island’, like places that I studied in the past, Orkney, Shetland, Svalbard, Kalaallit Nunaat. But often excluding highly urbanised Islands, which don't have the sense of isolation and remoteness that is often associated with islandness in the field. But there's an element of self-selection here inasmuch as it's the field of island studies that decided what islands are to begin with, what real islands are, and then decided to do research that would back up that claim. So, at the moment, I'm looking at small islands in the city centre of Guangzhou, one of the largest cities in the world, very densely populated islands. In some cases, islands that have merged with other islands through land reclamation to become part of the mainland or one large island. I just recently arrived in China, about a month and a half ago. So I'm still at the very beginning of all this, but what I would like to be looking into is how senses of islandness do or do not persist when you're in a megacity, when you're in a city of 20 million people. Because some of these places today are still called islands, and other places actually have Chinese words for ‘island’ in their names but are no longer seen as islands. And that really fascinates me.
Yes, there is a whole literature about islands where they had been bridged, and whether they're still islands and how that changes their islandness. I gather this will be something similar to the densely populated urban islands that you're interested in studying.
Now, we've talked a little bit about your contribution to Island studies, we mentioned the Island Dynamics that you have started, and also the fact that you are the editor of island Studies Journal, one of the leading journals in the field. Can you tell us, in your own opinion, how your work has contributed to this field of studies?
My main contribution isn't really as a theorist or someone who has these fantastically innovative ideas about what islandness means. It’s maybe more an interest in trying to expand the field’s perspectives on islands. If we go back to the issue of islands in the city: Part of the background to this was me doing the very typical island scholar activity of looking at a map, looking at this cartographic representation of the world and trying to find islands. And noticing that there are a great many small islands around coastlines and that there are a highly disproportionate number of major cities that are based or were historically based on small islands. It seemed to me that this had to be some effect of islandness, that somehow island space seems to affect how urbanisation works. But it was largely excluded from island studies at the time, in which, other aspects of islandness, which are equally important, were in focus. If we're going to ask ourselves what it is that makes islands special, then it's important to ask what it is that makes different kinds of islands special. So it's not just our own parochial, specific type of island, which might be fascinating, but which might not actually have much to do with the nature of islandness itself.
And in this sense, I can sort of draw a line, connect my interest in urban Island studies to my interest in saying, “If people in different parts of the world have different ideas about what islands are, then it's important that we also look at islands in various parts of the world that island studies hasn't necessarily had much to do with in the past.” So my main contribution to island studies is trying to encourage this greater awareness of different ideas of islands.
Urban river, Nancun Town, Guangzhou
Credit: Adam Grydehøj
Could you give us some examples of what you mean by some of these islands that haven't been considered in island studies?
The most obvious example for me, because it's where I am now, is China. The Chinese mainland had very little involvement in the international, Anglophone field of island studies. I'm not aware of anyone having attended an Islands of the World Conference, for example, from a Chinese mainland institution until relatively recently. Island Studies Journal had never published an article from a scholar in the Chinese mainland. And part of it is, we spoke about it as ‘the mainland’. So it doesn't sound very ‘islandy’. I started getting involved in China after being contacted by Huan Zhang, who would become a very good friend and who is located at Zhejiang University and works with the Zhoushan Archipelago. I realised over the next few years, from 2015 onwards, that in fact there are a very large number of islands around the Chinese coast and that there are large numbers of people in the Chinese academic and policy environments who are explicitly studying islands, even if they don't call it island studies. They are studying Island development or Island tourism. I rather suspect there are more people explicitly studying islands in China than in the rest of the world combined. But somehow, this had escaped the notice of the international field, partly for language reasons and partly for other reasons.
There has been this tendency on the part of people from outside China to approach Chinese islands using foreign developmental perspectives about what island nature and ecosystems ought to be and what we should do with economic development to make these islands more ‘island-like’. But this sense of islandness doesn't actually fit with the ideas of local researchers, some of whom come from islands and archipelagos themselves. If island studies is trying to ‘study islands on their own terms’ (which is a motto from which I have distanced myself a few times), then it's important to actually ask, “Well, what are the islanders’ own terms?”. Rather than to take our terms, and then imagine that this is what islanders believe. This has been a problem with which island studies hasn't always grappled significantly.
[…] what comes out of that, this international space, is more of a Western, academic scholarly engagement with islands and not that this doesn't have value, it just reflects a particular epistemological framework. That brings me to this other question about the indigenous Islands and the indigenous islands scholarship. […] it's not as if there is not enough Island studies to inform the islanders on what they want to do in terms of economic development, but how much of that is indigenously informed?
As I mentioned earlier, this question has occupied me since my time in Kalaallit Nunaat, largely due to the people I met there, as well as scholars from elsewhere. I have to name drop my very good friend and colleague Yaso Nadarajah, who introduced me to decolonial scholarship. If we go back to the idea of the disciplining aspect of academic creation—One of the nice things about island studies, is that it has this multidisciplinary status, which makes it more difficult for the establishment, if we want to call it that, to exclude particular ideas. But that doesn't mean the field has always been particularly good at going out of its way to try to look at what, say, Indigenous islanders are thinking about. I've been discussing a lot with colleagues recently how the international field of island studies often engages with Indigenous scholarship or with islander scholarship by taking islanders who have written scholarship, calling them ‘island studies scholars’, and then using their ideas to back up the European and North American and Australian theories that already exist. Now, in some cases, we have Indigenous scholars who have shown no inclination whatsoever to be involved in island studies – some have actively distanced themselves from island studies, but then become major names within island studies, sort of against their will. One might ask: If we're learning from them, what’s actually wrong with this situation? My feeling is that, if island studies is going to try to respect people's ideas involving islands, then it also involves respecting people's ideas not to have their societies viewed as islands in some cases. So that's part of the challenge that the international field has to deal with: what to do when we want to study places as islands when maybe that's not the most important factor from a local perspective.
Another really very pertinent comment! That brings me to what you had mentioned earlier on in our introduction about your work, that you're really interested in deeply collaborative work. How does that take place in island studies, especially for us who are international scholars who go on location to do work with islands scholars?
It's one of these ironies—I'm sure I'm not alone here in having found that my deeply collaborative work has increased since the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, maybe I would go on lots of short trips involving relatively shallow meetings with people and then go back home. On these trips, one could re-establish connections, and then maybe might write a co-authored article, or something, but it wouldn’t necessarily go much deeper than that.
I'm not particularly interested in what I have to say about academic things. This might be hard to believe, hearing me talk for so long. But I'm not sure that my own insights independently of other people are particularly important. That might be because I largely believe that we all have the capacity to gain so much by seeing what happens when we combine our ideas and perspectives with those of others. Short, in-person meetings are extremely valuable, but since the pandemic began, my practice has slowly evolved to focus on close work with a smaller number of very close colleagues. It's Yaso Nadarajah, who I mentioned earlier, and my good friend and colleague Su Ping, who's also at South China University of Technology, where I am now. This idea of really sitting down together, in a mental way, sharing experiences, and finding out—from very different cultural and academic and disciplinary perspectives—what does this tell us about this situation, about this case? Crucially, for me, it goes beyond saying, “Well, we need to involve a local expert in this project, we need to call someone who knows about the place so that we can have some credibility and gain local knowledge.” Because this isn't about learning facts about a particular environment. It's about seeing what different worldviews, what different perspectives, even just different personalities can tell us about what we're researching. So if we look at the visible aspects of my scholarly production today, they're nearly all co-authored articles. And my favourites of them are deeply, deeply co-authored and deeply collaborative. It's a lot of work, but it involves trying to put together different voices, trying to create something that truly belongs to all of us equally.
Perhaps, we need to reflect a lot more on the ethics of collaborative scholarly work within the island studies.
I'm obviously not the first person to be saying that. And it's worth stressing here that I don't regard myself as some kind of a trailblazer in decolonial scholarship. Of course, island studies is developing as the wider academic world is getting increasingly aware of the limits to representation. For example, the idea that the diversity of people involved in our field isn't actually enough, can sometimes lead to tokenization. I don't think that there any easy answers to any of this. There's no simple way for trying to figure out how to do research ethically. I guess for me, it's crucial that researchers begin by trying to figure out where they are. What's their position? How do the power geometries work out? And how can we find ways of bringing ourselves more justly in conversation with others?
I love that, […] positionality and reflexivity as key elements […] Let me take you now to your work as the editor of the Islands Studies Journal. You have been the editor for quite a long time. I'm sure you have observed certain changes or trends in scholarship reflected in the work that the journal has published. Can you speak to the contribution of the journal, to the development of islands studies, but also some of your observations about the changing nature of the scholarship and how it's been reflected in what you have been publishing?
I first became editor and was being taught the ropes by the previous and founding editor, Godfrey Baldacchino, in late 2016. My first real issue of Island Studies Journal came in 2017. So it's been five years now, but I still see myself as the new editor. I guess that's how these things work. Island Studies Journal, for me, as with the other journals devoted to island studies, plays a truly central role in keeping the field running as a field. Of course, there are great many people who attend island studies conferences but who never write in the journals, and even more people who write in the various journals without thinking of attending these various conferences or joining the associations. But there's often this this idea that for people contributing to the journal that, “Oh, well, I'm a bit out of place here, because I don't really do island studies, I just have an interest in this island.” Actually, very few people define themselves primarily, or even to a great extent, as doing island studies.
Certainly, most people on the Island Studies Journal editorial board don't use island studies as their primary field, and most of our authors don't either. So the various journals devoted to this field are necessary for bringing together research about islands and about islandness within an island studies framework, because in many cases, this framework wouldn't exist otherwise. In this sense, maybe, we could say that the field is smaller than it sometimes looks. But on the other hand, the field also has the ability to reach outside of itself and to evolve, involving all different kinds of scholarship.
The contents of Island Studies Journal have certainly changed over time. One thing is the journal has gotten much, much larger, for reasons that have nothing to do with me, I can assure you. In my first year as editor, the number of submissions to the journal tripled or quadrupled. We had, I think, 120 submissions in 2017. I'm not entirely sure what happened that year to cause that number, as they’ve dropped a bit since then. But this also led to significant changes in the way that the editorial board works and the way that the journal functions. Something I'm proud of is helping to bring Island Studies Journal into a new place institutionally. In the beginning, when I first became editor, the previous editor Godfrey Baldacchino had been doing a tremendous amount of work and was responsible for many, many, many parts of the journal process, the editorial process, the production process. Other people gave substantial help, but this was very much a project for which we have to think Godfrey. But this becomes utterly impossible when you're dealing with 120 submissions a year.
Together with colleagues, there was a process of changing how the Island Studies Journal editorial boardworks, and creating the position of associate or co-editors, who have editorial power themselves, and who are handling paper submissions, within their own disciplines and have their own areas of interest and expertise. This greatly expanded who got involved in the journal on the editorial side, which of course then also has an influence on the sorts of people who are involved in other ways.
I think we have to bear in mind the context in which Island Studies Journal arose, in which island studies had sort of developed in its earlier years. Just this morning, I've been making changes to the Island Studies Journalwebsite, in which I've been trying to collate previous publications into anthologies, which is an innovation that was launched by the journal Shima. And I was looking at what papers Island Studies Journal published on particular topics and particular themes in the past. Originally, I planned on doing what Shima has done and placing these articles in ascending chronological order. So, we’d look at the first important works and see where it's developed over time. But if we did it that way, I very quickly became aware, for a lot of these themes we’d just have a list of 10 or 15 men at European and North American institutions at the very beginning. Now, this is a problem with the system, right? This isn't the fault of individual men who are writing very good articles. But it's really glaring, especially when, if we switched the list around to reverse chronological order, there's definitely… I can tell you, having looked at our articles, there's a lot of room for improvement. But the journal is now significantly less white and male then it was in the past. That doesn't actually solve the problems, but it's a necessary step towards solving some of the problems of coloniality.
View from Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16 2, Macau, China, April 2019
Credit: Adam Grydehøj
It's fascinating when you're looking back at the scholarship being produced, and what are some of the emerging observations […] one of them is male and white. And what do you do to address it as a journal?
Together with some colleagues, on the editorial board, we've actually been doing some sort of a quantitative analysis of papers published since I became editor. So excluding what was happening earlier, and just looking at what trends we can see and what's been happening in the last five years. And one thing that's evident is, sort of surprisingly, our biggest nationality in terms of authors is now China. And it's not entirely coincidental, because here I am editor of the journal and I've had this abiding research interest in China and good colleagues here, but it certainly represents a change in the actual quantity of material in the journal. But it's not just a numbers game in terms of “Let's count articles and authors!” because when we look more closely at all this, I think one of the key findings for us is that scholars from outside Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America are almost only writing about their own region. So Chinese scholars write about China, or maybe they write about another region and China put together. Same with people from other—what might be called in a sort of essentialist way—non-western regions. Whereas our North American and European and Australian scholars write about places all over the world. In fact, if we look at these easy metrics, like citations, a highly disproportionate number of citations coming into Island Studies Journal are coming from papers that are about the world as a whole. Those are not exclusively but are really predominantly written by people from western regions, from particular backgrounds. And so, looking at actual numbers of articles in the journal from different kinds of people doesn't actually address issues surrounding how people are using the work of scholars who write in Island Studies Journal. Progress has been made in some ways, but it's a much more difficult question, figuring out how to how to publish work that's influential when globalised academia is racist, and sexist.
I'm afraid I really don't have any solutions there beyond the importance of being aware of the problem as a starting point. It's often a struggle to have these conversations because people, depending on their positions and situations, might feel personally attacked. And these conversations can be difficult for me too: I'm a white man from the United States, who's writing these articles about islands all over the world, right? But the starting point comes at understanding the systemic injustices.
Mount Baishan 5, Zhujiajin, Zhoushan China, September 2018
Credit: Adam Grydehøj
That's a good starting point that needs to be followed up. This is […] leading to my next and perhaps wrapping up question, where do we need to take Island studies? I remember in a previous conversation […] about your work, where you had indicated very few people who do islands studies, call themselves island studies scholars. And along with what you just mentioned, about the persisting trends within international academia, also reflected in the island studies. What, do we need to do? Where is island studies going to? Where can we take it? What contribution can we make to the field?
I'm going to have to give you another complicated answer. I'm sorry. I think that one side of this is that field-building work by scholars is so important, also to sort of institutionalise island studies in their own domestic contexts. So, one reason why Chinese academia has ended up being so open to island studies, once there were efforts by the international island studies to engage with it, is that Chinese academia is fairly undisciplined. People at Chinese universities are generally speaking free to research, to do things outside of their own discipline, or outside of the discipline in which they're employed. Obviously, that doesn't work in all contexts. I think people struggle in many countries when they trying to do things that are outside of any discipline at all, such as island studies. So, work to institutionalise island studies is important, to sort of show in various national contexts that “Island studies is an actual thing, isn’t just something I made it up right now. It truly exists. And there are people round the world who are doing it.” That’s really of vital importance.
Part of this comes down also to increasing the profile and impact in various senses of the publications and associations that are dealing with island studies. A response that I often receive to these sorts of highly pragmatic, kind of technical concerns about how we create an island studies that people respect is that all that really matters is what people in the field are doing with island studies. Those kinds of comments are often coming from positions of exceptional privilege in themselves. The people who might most have need for an island studies that's able to accept them, the people who are most often excluded from island studies today (if they want entry) might at the same time be the people who have need for an internationally recognised island studies, that's more than just a group of colleagues who know each other really well, and who love spending time together, and who can see each other every few years, and all of that.
So, for me, island studies’ future is tied up with issues of how to be more inclusive, not just of other types of people, but of other perspectives and other academic needs. More people need to realise that the academic needs of, let's say, scholars in China, or Japan, or Brazil, might not actually be the same as those of people in Denmark or Canada. And if we want the field to encompass different ideas of islandness, then we need to find ways of making the field more welcoming and more open to people whose scholarship might function in different ways.
On that note, I would take one key thing from our conversation today Adam, the un-disciplining, if we can say that, of island studies because the disciplinary or multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary way of doing things is a form of this epistemological control and that epistemological control is in the hands of certain scholars by default or by historical continuations of the western dominance. So it's not only being inclusive, but also really freeing ourselves from expected ways of doing things and letting go of that control of the field.
You put it much better than I could ever do myself.
And on that note, I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts today. Clearly, your contribution to the island studies is important, and I think well recognised and documented. I'm looking forward to seeing where you will be taking the Island Studies Journal in the future, and how you will be contributing to this new space of urban islands research; and what else is going to come out of your new epistemological and ontological location because you are now located in Southeast Asia, in China. Even just by being located in a different place, you are opening up yourself to seeing the world differently. I am looking forward to seeing how that is going to be shaping your work with island studies.
I'm sure that I'm going to let everyone know at great length. Thank you so much for all of the really, really insightful questions.
Thank you Adam.