Island Affairs

Ilan Kelman

4 February 2004

Island Affairs

Islands are isolated but inspiring, small yet fascinating. Is one lifetime ever enough to explore an island? How could the collective knowledge of islands, islanders, and island topics be made available to everyone with an interest? The answer requires borrowing a concept proposed and implemented by Michael Glantz: "affairs."

The Glantzian notion of "affairs" refers to "commercial, professional, or public business" or a "matter, concern." Rather than pigeonhole and separate fields that must interact and cross over to solve problems, he creates a think-and-do space where anyone interested in a specific topic can contribute.

Thus, Climate Affairs is a book, workshops, educational programs, and Desert Affairs is an environmental education program, an international research, education and application center. The six subdivisions in each Affairs area are Science, Impacts, Policy and Law, Politics, Economics, and Ethics and Equity. But the goal is to join them rather than separate them. Anyone with interests in climate or deserts, irrespective of their training, professional background, or job finds a forum to interact with others.

Rather than staid labels such as "issues" or "topics," "affairs" galvanizes attention and forces inquiries. Once drawn in through "Climate Affairs," meteorologists can talk to water lawyers. Once drawn in through "Desert Affairs," farmers in arid regions can talk to international development philosophers. "Affairs" ventures beyond a collection of ideas or subjections and requires all aspects to be dealt with simultaneously and equitably.

The expected expansion is more "affairs" collectives. Not only for environmental phenomena beyond climate: Volcano Affairs, Evolution Affairs, and Pollution Affairs - but also for environmental types beyond deserts: Ocean Affairs, Mountain Affairs, Forest Affairs, and Space Affairs. Island Affairs emerges naturally.

Despite the difficulties of defining "islands" or "small islands," they can be intuitively understood as a relatively small land mass surrounded by water. Dozens of countries and territories are islands, while thousands more islands dot the globe. Due to their isolation and smallness, islands tends to have unique environments, people, cultures, and challenges. The power of islands to inform non-islands often remains unrealized.

The phrase "Island Affairs" is not new. Witness the International Journal of Island Affairs and New Zealand's Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs. Understanding islands in a comprehensive context occurs in James Lewis's Island Anthology and the International Centre for Island Studies.

But the six subdivisions of Climate Affairs and Desert Affairs form the core around which workshops, programs, a center, or a book could be developed, thereby giving Island Affairs the prominence and comprehensiveness deserved. Meanwhile, the opportunity would be provided for expanding into other fields, including History, Culture, Environments, and Sociology. We must not only be inspired by islands, but we must inspire others about islands.

--Ilan Kelman
University of Cambridge, UK

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