This paper argues for a shift in the focus of island-themed scholarship away from theories of islandness toward an engagement with psychologies of island experience. The former project has become mired in intractable dilemmas. The present paper pursues two linked lines of observation. First, it is maintained that integral to any coherent notion of islandness is a psychology that simultaneously assimilates containment with remoteness and isolation (the latter not to be equated with disconnectedness). In some of its manifestations this psychology is pathological in character, conducive to despair, cultural and economic stagnation, and a xenophobic conservatism. In others it is enabling, conducive to resilience, resourcefulness, cultural dynamism and a can-do economics. It may also make islands unusually relevant, rather than unimportant backwaters, in the search for workable modes of living on a small and fraught planet. Second, it is contended that, if there is enough in the notion of islandness to justify a coherent intellectual preoccupation called 'island studies', it must have to do with the element of the sea. Isolation, remoteness, containment - none of these psychological orientations, the qualities popularly held to characterize islands, will do - because these are all characteristics of certain real and imagined continental locations, and must, therefore, be psychological qualities evoked by some more primary condition. If there is something coherent to island studies beyond its status as a branch of biogeography or a minor tributary within literary studies, it must be that to be girt by sea creates distinctive island psychologies. Nevertheless, as globalizing processes burgeon, such a psychology becomes more precarious - containment, remoteness and a sense of apartness from the great human tides inevitably recede - and this is the real threat to a coherent sense of islandness (and, hence, 'island studies').
island studies, isolation, boundaries, oceans, globalization