"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. Solène Prince who currently holds a senior lecturer position at Mid-Sweden University. Solène is an early career research with research interests in tourism geography and sustainability who has written about the impacts of tourism on local identities, cultures and livelihoods in rural and island destinations. She has carried out research in various places around northern Sweden, on the island of Bornholm in Denmark and at an eco-village in Iceland. Her research on islands is published in Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, Island Studies Journal and Shima. Solène completed her undergraduate degree at Mount Allison University, Canada in international relations before moving to Sweden where she did her masters in sustainable development at Uppsala University and then completed her PhD at Mid-Sweden University in 2017.
Mo (Meng Qu)
What is your background in island studies/research?
I am interested in islands that are destinations for rural tourism. I did my PhD in tourism studies at Mid-Sweden University in Sweden and I had a case study on the island of Bornholm in Denmark. I looked at how professional craft-artists take advantage of the island’s very intensive tourist season and its brand of idyllic rural charm to make a living and pursue their career as artists and their ambitions as artists. My interest as a PhD student was not to look at islands in particular. It just so happened that the case I was interested in, this cluster of craft-artists, was on an island. Really, I focused on alternative forms of tourism and how they impact the lives of local actors who get involved in them to fulfill professional, personal and community goals. It’s only later during my PhD studies that I got interested in island studies, that’s when I was invited to participate in a special issued of the journal Shima, the international journal on small island culture. I was a guest researcher in Australia at Monash University during my doctoral studies, and my contact person there was editing a special issue on tourism and the cultural landscape of small islands. He was working on with several colleagues and he said: “you should write for this special issue. You should write on your case study about craft-artists on Bornholm to contribute to the special issue”. That’s when I discovered island studies, because I was writing my case study from the point of view of island studies and not from the perspective of rural tourism. That was a nice opportunity to discover a whole new field of studies. And to discover Shima, which I thought was a very cool and interesting type of journal, vey eclectic! I thought that I wanted to continue reading this journal and continue looking into island studies.
What has brought you to island studies?
It would be that special issue. I would say that’s how got interested in it and discovered what it was, and decided that I would like to write more about islands.
What islands do you focus on?
I would say cold-water islands with rural attributes. I come from Canada and I have done my masters and my PhD in Sweden, and I studied places in Denmark and Iceland, so I seem to prefer nordic destinations. Besides Bornholm, I have also been interested in Öland in Sweden. I did my post-doctoral research in a city called Kalmar in the south of Sweden, and there right next to this city, there is a bridge to a really beautiful island called Öland. It has all the idyllic charm of rural destinations. I did not do any research there, at least I haven’t yet, but we had a master student there who studied their harvest festival. It’s a very famous harvest festival in Sweden and the people there are very proud of it. Öland has an agricultural culture and a gastronomic culture has evolved from it, which makes this festival very sought after. We helped this student publish his study after he finished his master’s thesis. We made a book chapter out of it where we talked about social sustainability and festivals. This is also a nordic rural island that I have been interested in.
Bornholm -Gudhjem is a small town on Bornhom
What is your current island research project or interest?
I have to admit that at the moment I am not looking into an island in particular, but I do have plans. I am interested in pursuing my own research on Öland. Ok, mostly because I thought it was such a great place and I’d love to go back to the south of Sweden where I lived for two years, but also because it is the perfect space to study my new research interest, which is elderly community volunteering in rural areas. Öland has a large population of retirees. Studying their involvement in local festivals and community activities would help understand what makes small islands interesting places where to grow old. I hope to get funding for this project in the near future and keep that connection with rural islands.
Oland - the tip of Oland, Ott enby is a nature preserve
Can you share with us a highlight from your fieldwork in islands?
I would say that what I liked the most from being on Bornholm and even visiting Öland is this feeling of freedom, of being able to hop on a bike and ride to the beach during the week-ends and discover the islands. That would be my best memory; just to be able to explore islands on my own. Bornholm has very much developed into a rural tourism destination so it has lots of micro-business and boutiques selling all sort of local products. They have their local gastronomy. You can taste chocolates, have a beer, try out some fish dishes that they serve in old smokehouses. On a sunny day in the week-end to bike around and discover these places and end it all on the beach; that’s fantastic fieldwork that I have never experienced after that! There is just so much to discover in terms of culture and nature in places like these.
A bicycle path in the countryside of Bornholm
Bornholm - The white sandy beach of Dueodde on Bornholm
Why are islands important to study?
Islands are very popular tourist destinations, yet their physical, environmental and cultural carrying capacity is limited due to their small size. If we want to continue to enjoy them as small cozy destinations of the type I am talking about, we need to understand their local populations and what they value and not; what they see for their island’s future in light of its development as a tourist destination; how much development are they ready to accept and what kind of development do they want? I think these are very important questions to ask so that we can preserve these places and they can remain destinations that have a cultural essence, meaning something very particular to them. Research is one way to get the impressions of local people and create the forums for discussion where these decisions can be made; what do we want for the future? What is acceptable and not? I think that as research we can play that role. Especially tourism researchers because we know that tourism changes places, but this doesn’t need to be for the worse. The well-being of these island populations is crucial and we have to promote a form of tourism development that answers to local needs, rather than clash with them. Tourism research and island studies can help establish these limits and possibilities by giving a voice and forum for discussion to local island populations.
What are your personal island connections?
Could you share some memories of islands for you? Did you grow up on an island?
I didn’t grow up on an island, but on the coast next to the Atlantic Ocean in East Coast Canada. So, I have an interest for maritime cultures like mine. I like places that have a connection to the Ocean. But islands, I discovered them as a traveler and as a tourism researcher.
What brought you to island research?
Do you consider yourself an island studies scholar or more of a geographer who focuses on island studies?
I consider myself a tourism scholar with an interest in geography and society. My research has focused on the effects of tourism on rural spaces and social identities. These dynamics are very interesting to study from the point of view of islands. Because islands are islands, they generate certain images, discourses and identities. To studies how identities come to evolve over time, how places adapt and change, specifically because they are islands, that’s what I find interesting. What attracts people to destinations that are islands? What is specifically interesting for tourists about islands? This is where island studies can help tourism researcher further understand their own field.
What is the contribution of your field to island studies? How has this evolved over time?
Tourism researchers have long looked at the evolution of destinations and tried to understand their decline, stagnation and rejuvenation. This is significant for small island destinations because many of them depend on tourism for their economic stability. In the past decades, tourism research has been highly influenced by discourses of sustainability and resilience. It is often believed that tourism can be a good alternative to keep an economy alive in light of other economic activities declining. Here, I can think about fisheries, like on Bornholm where it declined in the seventies. Tourism scholars have been key players in promoting critical debates about the development and management of tourism to preserve local economies and cultures and environments, not less on small islands.
Sol over Gudhjem - A fish speciality on Bornholm
How has your personal work contributed to the study of islands?
I was fascinated by the relational turn in geography as I started my PhD work. This turn is also popular in island studies, many have written about it and it is gaining traction in island studies. I liked the idea of knowing places, or in this case islands, on their own terms, and not just through the analysis of literary work, destination images and travels books about them. Places have their own essence and it is local people who create this essence. It is a place’s interconnections to the world; the way it responds to external processes, which gives it is special character. By using narrative analysis to study the craft-artists on Bornholm, I hoped to give an account of the agency of islanders in building their own future in light of all sorts of external dynamics. I wanted to contribute to the relational turn and its endeavor of knowing islands for their specificity, but also their complexity as players in a highly interconnected world. I would say that my interest in narratives and local realities led to me contributing an account of rural tourism from the islander perspective. These islands might be rural in the minds of tourists and in tourism promotional material, but in reality they are much more complex due to their interconnections with other places.
What are you working on right now or what is your most recent work on islands?
Right now, I don’t have an island in particular that I am researching. I haven’t done fieldwork on an island in a long time! But I have kept busy with island studies! Mainly by comparing my case study of craft-artists on their rural island with other cases of artistic and creative people in peripheral areas with different colleagues. Some here at my university, but even with you Mo! We are comparing our islands because they have similarities, but also differences. The reality of these craft-artists and the reality of other people on small islands and peripheral areas is so crucial to understand in order to promote sustainable policy and development strategies that will bring resilience to these places. That’s why I am still writing about this case! I am hoping to widen my spectrum of knowing islands as rural destinations.
Do you have some concluding thoughts about the future of island studies?
Well at the moment, we’re in a pandemic and tourism has basically come to a stop, and unfortunately many islands are dependent on tourism, even if it’s just seasonally. This is the case for the islands that I have studied here in the Nordic context. They are very dependent on tourism during the summer; they gear their whole economy towards taking advantage of tourism, and now we are seeing that it has its limitations. A more diverse economy, meaning one less dependent on tourism, would have been a better strategy in light of these times. So, this will be part of the challenges that tourism research and island studies researchers will have to face; how will islands come back from the Covid-19 crisis and ensure their resilience for the future? Will they continue to look mostly into tourism as their main economic strategy? Or will they try to diversify? What kind of tourists do they want on their islands and what kind of products can they offer? But at the same time this pandemic as made a lot of people long for natural spaces, so maybe that will be something that will be good for island destinations that have invested a lot in preserving their environment and their own culture. One thing that could be detrimental though is that if people are afraid to be close together and in confined spaces, this might make it difficult for islands to recover since you often have to take a boat or a plane to reach them. There will be a lot of challenges there that researchers will have to look into, and they will need to pay special attention to the “islandness” of islands as they propose a way forward.
Solène Prince with Meng Qu, 10 August 2018 at Quebec IGU CAG Regional Conference
This podcast interview was recorded online
Additional resources (selected publications by Solène)
Science and culture in the Kerguelen Islands: A relational approach to the spatial formation of a subantarctic archipelago. Island Studies Journal, 13(2), (2018), 129-144.
Dwelling in the tourist landscape: Embodiment and everyday life amongst the craft-artists of Bornholm. Tourist Studies, 18(1), (2018), 63-82.
Rural authenticity and agency on a cold-water island: Perspectives of contemporary craft-artists on Bornholm, Denmark. Shima – The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures, 11(1), (2017), 1-20.
Peng, G., Prince, S., & Strzelecka, M. (2020). Neolocalism and social sustainability: The case of Öland’s harvest festival, Sweden. In L.J. Ingram, S. Slocum & C.T. Cavaliere (Eds.), Neolocalism and tourism: Understanding a global movement(pp.164-184). Oxford: Goodfellow Publishers.
Clay, glass and everyday life: Craft-artists’ embodiment in the tourist landscape. In C. Palmer & H. Andrews (Eds.), Tourism and embodiment (pp.172-186), (2020), London: Routledge.