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Critical reflections on governance and 'resilience' in small island contexts

Special section Background

This special section in Small States and Territories Journal seeks contributions reflecting critically on governance and 'resilience' in an island context, or with an ‘islandness’ lens, with a particular emphasis on climate, environmental and sustainability challenges.

Many small island states and subnational jurisdictions are vulnerable to climate change due to rising temperatures and sea levels, land loss and increasing extreme weather risks, and climate policy documents and national plans reference the need for resilience. Yet, definitions of ‘resilience’ vary across disciplines and depend on your cultural lens. Furthermore, climatic trends and events are just one of a set of interlinked stressors that shape the specific vulnerabilities needing to be addressed in an island community, jurisdiction or small state. Sustainable island futures will be shaped by economic, social, technological, political, geographical, environmental and climatic dynamics.

The current state of the world offers interesting insights into what it means to be resilient or build resilience in islands. Some island states are relying on the domestic sector rather than imports while borders are closed. The economic shock is being seen on some islands as an opportunity for transformation, a stimulus for doing things differently, a cause for optimism. But while some islands are coping well, others are not, demanding critical reflection on what 'resilience' means in small island contexts, and on the dynamics of building capacity in small islands.

The concept behind this special section developed from the online conference 'Researching resilience in islands', organised by Birkbeck, University of London and the University of Malta, 16-17 November 2020. This is, however, an open call for papers. Researchers who were not present at the conference are welcome to submit a paper, and presence at the conference does not guarantee acceptance for publication in the journal.

Special section aims

This special section seeks to shine a critical light on 'resilience' in island contexts, and the dynamics of governance and decision making for 'resilience', to determine whether/how being an island or archipelago makes a difference to how communities respond to stressors. Conceptual, quantitative, qualitative or mixed-method approaches are all welcome. Specific questions that contributions could explore include:

  • Critically assessing assumptions about the role of characteristics like smallness and remoteness in resilience and resilience building in small island states and territories. Does 'smallness' close the gap between politicians and those they represent, or amplify conflict between local communities and national government over climate, environmental and sustainability challenges?
  • Examining how different governance structures impact on small island states and territories’ decision making for sustainable futures. For example, does being a sovereign state equip islands to handle climate and non-climate stressors better than non-sovereign or quasi-sovereign territories?
  • Exploring how issues of land tenure, which vary dramatically across small island states and territories, impact on the kinds of solutions that are possible and preferred in areas like climate change and disaster risk reduction. For example, how do systems of private land in the Caribbean versus community land in many Pacific islands impact decisions taken?  
  • Examining how small island states and territories are conceptualising and governing for the slower onset issues around climate change, such as sea level rise and rising temperatures, compared to extreme events, such as hurricanes? How do different perceptions of climate change, running the spectrum from existential threat to no concern, arise in island contexts, and what does this mean for policy making?
  • Critically assessing how island 'data' is used in decision making relating to resilience. For example, how do small island states and territories that lack lengthy, quantitative datasets about climate impacts navigate national or international decision making structures that emphasise this type of data? How is 'data' used to build narratives about small island states and territories, whether victim or success story, and can we challenge assumptions about what data can be, working with indigenous knowledge, binary knowledge, historical archives, and more?

Further information

Authors are invited to view the journal's acceptance policy and submission guidelines.

You are welcome to discuss your proposed article with the special section editors  and  before submission.

Manuscripts to be considered for publication can be submitted by The deadline for submissions for this special section is 12 April 2021.