Glance at a map of Norway and you see hundreds of islands. Yet Norwegians rarely consider island communities to be especially important.
People from Tromsø tell me that they do not consider their city to be an island. Those from Harstad do not understand me when I ask about them being islanders.
Nonetheless, Svalbard and Lofoten market themselves to tourists as idyllic archipelagos. Research that I did on Vega and Smøla highlighted these communities' island nature.
Why such differences? Do all islands and islanders differ from the mainland and mainlanders? Is 'islandness' really a meaningful characteristic?
Such questions were dissected last week at the Islands of the World conference on the Caribbean island of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). I was the only participant from Norway. Others travelled from countries including Australia, Canada, and Sweden. Islanders studying themselves included presenters from Taiwan, Puerto Rico, and Bornholm.
The conference sessions were wonderfully diverse, opening up our minds and imaginations to all facets of island societies and environments. Sustainable development on Madeira was covered alongside satellite imagery analysis from Martinique.
The topic of one Masters dissertation was the women divers of Jeju island, South Korea. Another explored the indigenous response to climate change on Prince Edward Island, Canada. One plenary presented the efforts to construct an eco-friendly mansion on a BVI island owned by Richard Branson.
Organisers of the conference ensured that we did not remain roped to the presentation rooms. After the lectures about it, we took a ferry tour past Branson's isle to a reception at a resort promoting sustainable tourism.
Back on Tortola, we wandered through the Governor's heritage house to the beats of steel drums. A Cultural Showcase closed the conference, featuring local delicacies, dancers, and crafts.
It sounds like paradise! It was often claimed to be. But no location can be perfect, not even in the Caribbean. BVI, and the other islands represented, share challenges with many Norwegian islands: poorer services, higher cost of living, marginalisation by mainlanders, and outmigration.
To live on an island, you must accept the difficulties with all the advantages.
Dr. Ilan Kelman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo (CICERO).
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