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"
Christian Fleury has a Ph.D. in Geography on the subject of “Border islands” in which he focused on three case studies: Jersey, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and Trinidad. He is an Associate Researcher at ESO Caen, a research centre in Social Geography based at the University of Caen Normandie. His interests are centred on three fields of study: sea appropriation conflicts, island issues and border effects.
In this podcast, we will be hearing from Christian Fleury, who has a long history with SICRI. Christian is in conversation with Prof. Henry Johnson, the Chair of the SICRI AB (3 December 2021).
Thank you Christian for connecting with me here in New Zealand. I’m talking with Christian Fleury in France and about his connections with SICRI. Warm greetings Christian. Could you tell me a little bit about your role with SICRI and a little bit about your background?
Okay, thank you Henry for your invitation. My first connection with the SICRI network was when I met Phil Hayward and you Henry, in 2008 at a conference in Sydney. At that moment I was in my post PhD time. Two years later I was at my first SICRI conference which took place almost in my garden in Guernsey, and I proposed there a paper on the different ways taken by Jersey and Guernsey for running the fisheries around together with their French neighbours. In the following years, I was present at many SICRI annual conferences, including North Sydney (Canada), Fernando de Noronha (Brazil), Gozo near Malta, Okinawa (Japan), St. John’s (Newfoundland), and finally Tatihou in Normandy in 2018. I became at the same time a member of the editorial committee of Shima. I also started drawing maps, since I once told Phil that those shown in Shima were sometimes not at the same standards as the texts. So he proposed to me to make maps upon request and it was always a pleasure to do it. In 2011, I provided the coordination of a special issue of Shima on French Islands together with Kareva Mateata-Alain. I also published six times in Shima, including three with my colleague at the University of Caen Normandy, Benoît Raoulx.
French fisherman in Jersey waters
Credit: Christian Fleury
If we look more at Island Studies in France, how would you define the field within your French setting, and is this distinct from Island Studies in other parts of the world?
I think that is a quite difficult question because I am not sure that there is a specific French way to address island studies. Just two remarks that come to my mind. I have seen in France, and maybe in other countries, but I don’t know exactly, a persistent taste for island typologies which is, according to me, a dead end as a great number of exceptions can invalidate this kind of approach. The second remark is about a less transdisciplinary approach than in the Anglo-Saxon sphere. I am a geographer, but thanks to the SICRI network, I published several times with colleagues coming from very different horizons, and you are a perfect example of that, Henry. I didn’t feel the same facilities in my own academic environment.
That’s very interesting, thank you for that. Could you talk a little bit about your personal island connections, and share some memories of researching on islands? Maybe three examples of different settings with some key points.
I will keep the three examples for the next question. My personal island connections began very early. I grew up in Granville, a coastal city in Normandy, where I could see from the beach the archipelago of Chausey, which is about 7 nautical miles off the coast. So my first island experience was to frequently go there. The navigation there is really fascinating with the presence of countless reefs surrounded by very strong currents due to its location in an area subject to some of the highest tides in the world. When the weather allows it, we can see another more distant island, but as it was a foreign one we didn’t use to go there. This island, surrounded by a kind of mystery, was Jersey, which is the southernmost island of the Channel Islands. I always considered the Channel Islands as a sort of “domestic exoticism”, both close and far and this situation made me feel a confused sense of strangeness that I put aside for a long time.
I started quite late in my academic studies during which the empirical perceptions felt by the child I was thirty years before came back to the surface. My Master’s degree dealt with a characterization of Granville, which is a port, a seaside resort, but also a border town due to the presence of these close foreign islands. And my analysis of the cross border relationships revealed that there were positive and negative consequences likely to influence social, cultural, and economical conditions.
As a positive, we can think about the tropism toward both island and foreign destinations mixed together in this case. This phenomenon has boosted nautical activities including yachting since Granville was – and still is – in this respect the most desired place on the entire northwestern part of the French coastline. As a negative, we can obviously think about the many disputes concerning both the question of the international delimitation of the sea and the other one, which is closely linked to the latter on the fishing rights in this very narrow marine space.
When I decided to start a PhD in Geography, I chose to define a spatial pattern that I called, in French, île frontière, and in English “border island”, and I chose three case studies. The first one was quite naturally Jersey because I only touched lightly on the subject during my previous works and my PhD was a good opportunity to pursue the matter further. The second one was Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, a small French archipelago, which is about twenty kilometres off the coast of the Canadian island of Newfoundland. And the third one was Trinidad, the main island of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which is very close to Venezuela, at the Orinoco river mouth.
[...] Just to look a bit closer at your work, what is the contribution of your field to island studies, and how has this evolved over time?
My first intention was to develop an in-depth reflection on what I expressed as a dialectic between proximity and otherness. There is an indisputable spatial proximity, but overall there are heavy alterities. There is in each case a political border, but also a linguistic border, a cultural border, an economic border, and we can’t forget either a relationship with space which is supposed to be specific to islanders. I had a lot of material about this topic, but another focus of research took greater importance in the global structure of my PhD – that was the importance of the sea. And what was clear is that the combination of border and island has a multiplier effect on territorial issues on, in and under the sea. This applies to the sharing of the sea according to different modalities, depending on the scale and categories of stakeholders mobilized.
The sea is a three-dimensional space with four different levels of human activities that are the surface, which is a two-dimension space where the humans have to move for different reasons: the waters themselves, where they mainly fish; the sea bed which is another horizontal space submitted to various kinds of activities including fishing, the installation of facilities linked to energies, cables, extractions of minerals; and finally the marine sub-soil which is exclusively devoted to the exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits. These spaces are not necessarily legally superimposable and some marine resources as fisheries or hydrocarbon deposits do not always – I could say do not often – fit with the increasing tendency of the countries to annex bigger and bigger parts of the ocean. That is also true for security or environmental issues. Thus, the marine space is complex and ambivalent. The sea surrounds the island; it is also a means of connecting with other territories; it is as well a separation, a ground of opposition with geopolitical, economic, and sometimes symbolic stakes.
My academic background was done at the Department of Geography of the Caen Normandy University, which is one of the most important centers of French social geography, first in the rural and later in the urban and suburban fields. It is probably why I progressively came to consider the sea as a social space, but an extremely complex one since it is vertical, fluid and continuous.
Combined with the island situation, I later found the concept forged by Phil Hayward of aquapelago, which was especially interesting and I published an article in Shima on the topic. I emphasized in this text the sometimes unexplored complex relation between the island and its surrounding waters in a mix of both vertical and horizontal complexities.
And to illustrate my point, I would like to briefly come back to the three case studies of my PhD. In the case of Jersey, the most interesting is the way the fishing disputes have been resolved in 2000 by the signature of the bay of Granville Treaty which was a way probably never seen at this level of detail of sharing the sea by a cross border fishing management. But I know that you are aware that this Treaty has been thrown out of the bathwater by the Brexit.
The bay of Granville Treaty (2000-2020)
Credit: Christian Fleury
In the case of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, they have been also some tough episodes of disputes between France and Canada about fisheries and territorial delimitations and issues are not behind us because there are still strong differences of points of view about the extension of the continental shelf. In this case, I am also interested in two other topics. The great diversity, the great ambivalence of the relationship of this very small island community of 6000 people with its huge neighbor. And also how Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon deals with the collapse of the fishing industry from the 1990s.
Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, France in North America
Credit: Christian Fleury
The case of Trinidad is also fascinating, by revealing how it can be great - the gap between legal normativity and effectiveness. As in the case of Jersey, a treaty has been signed in the 1990s with the same double objective of delimiting boundaries between two countries and of managing fisheries on both sides of it. Because of the high stakes about crossborder oil and gas deposits, both countries were urged to sign it. But it was at the detriment of the Trinidadian fishermen who suffer from abuses by the Venezuelan police in a sector teeming with oil and gas offshore facilities and subject to a lot of traffic, including drugs, wild animals and guns. It is really a very complex and fascinating border around Trinidad, in very different conditions than the other cases.
Trinidadian fishermen at Cedros Beach
Credit: Christian Fleury
You have a lot of interests in different islands of the world. And not only of the islands; it seems you have a focus on the sea, or on the aquapelago, to use that really groundbreaking term. What are you working on right now, or your most recent work on islands research?
I'm sure that you won't be surprised Henry if I say that I'm taking a very close interest in what's going on between France and the UK at the moment regarding French fishing rights in the UK and Channel Islands waters, in light of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. Which is a treaty which now organizes relations between the UK and the EU. I gave some conferences on it during the current year, and I am now involved in a project gathering French, Welsh and German researchers on the consequences of the Brexit on fishers communities from either side of the Channel, and the Channel Islands being one of the case studies. Some other directions of my concerns are around the notion of the archipelago and more generally on the epistemology of islands studies.
Well, in connection with island studies in general, and perhaps also relating to your current research, could you give some concluding thoughts about the future of island studies?
My experience with the SICRI network – which is, as I already told, highly transdisciplinary comforts me in the certainty that the island studies could be considered as a science. All sciences, each in their field, have the objective of understanding the world. The “world” is taken in a very broad sense. In the light of my own background, I see two directions about the future of island studies. Islands can help to understand the world through their ability to reveal tensions at a very larger scale compared to their modest size. Some phenomena related to islands could help to reveal global tensions. In their infinite diversity of size, location, and political status, thanks to their strengths or due to their fragilities, the islands are often convenient tools for identifying, analyzing, explaining, and why not sometimes, resolving geopolitical tensions, environmental tensions, global warming, energy issues, and economic tensions (let’s remember that most Tax Heavens are islands). And the second point, as being places under the increasing strain of their surrounding waters, no doubt for me that the special relationship of sea/land in island contexts is under-explored. In my opinion, this topic could suggest many research projects.
Thank you Christian. You’ve shared with us some fascinating information about your experiences on islands, your modern-day and up to date research, and your real engagement with theoretical issues pertaining to contemporary ideas relating to water as a space around islands. Thank you very much.
Additional resources (publications by Christian Fleury):
Butkus, C.M., Fleury, C. and Raoulx, B. (2018)
Fleury, C. and Raoulx, B. (2017)
Fleury, C. and Raoulx, B. (2016)
Fleury, C. and Johnson, H. (2015)
Fleury, C. and Johnson, H. (2013)
Fleury, C. (2011)