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Comparative Archipelagoes

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Organizer: Chih-Chien Hsieh

Co-Organizer: Faith Smith

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The recent disciplinary formations of island and archipelago studies revolve around an epistemological shifting. In his 1994 essay “Our Sea of Islands,” Tongan and Fijian anthropologist Epeli Hau’ofa makes a distinction between viewing the Pacific as “islands in a far sea” and “a sea of islands.” The first way of seeing the Pacific as “islands in a far sea” is the product of colonial modernity that reduces islands to “dry surfaces in a vast ocean far from the centers of power.” It mediates the island space through an imperial grammar that stresses the “smallness and remoteness of the islands.” The second proposition, however, situates the ocean at the center and invites us to put islands into a more “holistic perspective in which things are seen in the totality of their relationships.”

Taking Hau’ofa’s formulation as our point of departure, this ACLA seminar invites proposals for papers that explore the possibilities of this epistemological reorientation across different maritime and archipelagic contexts (from the Oceanic to the Caribbean, transatlantic, transpacific, and others). We are also interested in papers that engage with the topological relationships of land and sea, island and continent, and island to island in an interdisciplinary approach (Stratford et al., 2011). Ultimately, the seminar aims to bring scholars working in different archipelagic contexts into conversations and consider what it means to “think with archipelago” comparatively and collaboratively (Pugh 2013; Thompson 2017).

Topics and questions for this seminar might include, but are not limited to:

—What does it mean to consider the island space as a node of connection in an archipelagic framework instead of an isolated entity?

—How does the archipelagic framework help us challenge the mistaken conflation between continent and mainland, and what does it mean to engage with the project of “decontinentalization” across different archipelagic contexts (Roberts & Stephens 2017)?

—How does the concept of the archipelagic challenge the spatial ordering of colonial modernity and create different kinds of cognitive maps for new geographical configurations?

—How does the archipelagic framework contribute to the environmental humanities and help us reimagine the ecosystems of islands, continents, and oceans in the age of the Anthropocene?

—How do literature, visual arts, or other cultural productions complicate or challenge the (neo-)colonial framing of islands and archipelagoes as a site of tourism, militarization, imperial exploitation, or other kinds of ideological constructs?

—How does the logic of archipelagic studies help us rethink the notion of “insularity” and imagine an alternative conception of sovereign and nation-state across different postcolonial contexts?

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