Seaweed fields expanding deep at sea. Are they part of the island, are they part of the sea, who owns them, what are they? These fields mirror kinship relations, matrices that regulate sociality and conviviality. Departing from within, we will explore islands as thriving nerve centres of relations and circulation. In addition, we will interrogate basic conceptual and methodological assumptions of place and space, the field and the site. Local notions of ‘being’ and ‘belonging’ that generate specific conceptualizations of spaces as places are central to how islands are experienced: a complex and dynamic realm of relations that string out, instead of being a container encompassing fixed places and/or fixed movement patterns. This has consequences for how we study, describe and theorize matters of identity politics and politico-economic relations in marine and island societies. This presentation is informed by years of ethnographic research conducted amongst islanders and marine communities across North Sulawesi. Non terracentric approaches to island identity, place and movement are important to counteract the power imbalances that emerge from contemporary simplification and misrepresentation of islands, as peripheral satellite units of analysis to a land-based centre. This is also present in regional politics and policy-making in Indonesia, where islands and sea-based societies are considered marginal, or even not considered in the first place. Actual political and economic relations and interdependencies of marine and island peoples, that link places but are not confined to places, can be overshadowed in the assumptions that operate in both regional governance and policy-making. These circulations do not take place ‘in the margins’ but in a thriving mesh of movements and relations across and beyond land-sea boundaries.
This presentation is a modified version of a co-authored paper (with Dr Annet Pauwelussen), presented at the 16th Islands of the World Conference 2018 (ISISA2018), which will soon be published in the Island Studies Journal.
Elena is an environmental and linguistic anthropologist currently lecturing and researching at Leiden University’s Institute for Area Studies (Southeast Asia). She is interested in marine (island) approaches to space, place, power and identity. For the past 8 years, she has conducted ethnographic research on and around small islands in North Sulawesi (Indonesia).
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