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Islands and the rise of correlational epistemology in the Anthropocene: Rethinking the trope of the 'canary in the coalmine'

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Jonathan Pugh



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Once on the periphery of international debate, today small islands are seen by many as key to unlocking new ways of thinking about climate change and developing new practices of adaptation in the epoch of the Anthropocene. These approaches differ starkly from modernist, linear, causal frameworks that construct islands as vulnerable objects that require ‘saving’ or ‘protecting’. Instead, islands become instruments of productive knowledge, laboratories for investigation and learning, fundamental to an alternative, correlational, epistemology. In analysing these approaches, we take the prolific trope of islands as the ‘canaries in the coalmine’ in order to draw out the ontological implications of instrumentalising islands as ‘correlational machines’ in the Anthropocene. We raise fundamental problems with this literal instrumentalisation of islands and islanders, drawing out how these logics reduce island life to merely sensing and attuning to the co-relational entanglements of the Anthropocene, rather than offering higher normative aspirations for political change.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Chandler D, Pugh J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Island Studies Journal

Year: 2021

Volume: 16

Issue: 1

Pages: 209-228

Online publication date: 01/06/2020

Acceptance date: 01/01/2020

Date deposited: 11/08/2020

ISSN (electronic): 1715-2593

Publisher: Institute of Island Studies, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada.


DOI: 10.24043/isj.119


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