In Conversation with Hannah Close: World as Archipelago, Thinking & Kinning with Islands

Activism & Leadership, Story-Telling & Narrative

In Conversation With Hannah Close: World as Archipelago, Thinking & Kinning With Islands

Article with Hannah Close, Tammy Gan on Thursday 15th December 2022

In this winding, non-linear, continent-crossing conversation with advaya, Hannah Close discusses archipelagic thinking, what islands can teach us about belonging, identity, community, borders, thresholds and more, connection-in-separation, osmosis and globalisation, and other thoughts that went into the curation of the upcoming online course, KINSHIP: World as Archipelago.


This is a lightly edited transcript of a recorded conversation with Hannah Close, curator and host of advaya’s upcoming course KINSHIP: find out more and register for the multi-teacher, six-week course starting 31st January 2023, here

Featured image: via NASA

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Hi, everyone!

Welcome to anyone who’s watching and listening to this conversation. This is a pre-recorded conversation between advaya—myself, Tammy and Hannah Close, who is the host and curator of KINSHIP, our upcoming course in 2023, a continuation of the same course, but a different theme, that happened in 2022, also called KINSHIP, which some of you might be familiar with.

Today, we’re just going to be unpacking a few of the themes and the core questions and topics that are key to the new KINSHIP course. And hopefully, through this conversation, you have a better sense of what the course is going to be an inquiry into, what you can expect if you want to participate in the course.

In case anyone who has stumbled upon this and doesn’t know what KINSHIP is: KINSHIP is a six week live online course that will be starting on the 31st of January 2023. It is hosted by advaya and curated by Hannah. And we will be talking about the course today, but in short, the course is themed around the metaphor, world as archipelago, that we will be exploring in this conversation, and [the course] is curated by Hannah. And I’ll read Hannah’s bio, briefly. Hannah is a writer and photographer. She’s a curator, the lead curator at advaya. You might be familiar with her, if you’ve attended any of our courses before, especially KINSHIP from earlier this year, and our ongoing course Ecology of Love with Dr. Andreas Weber. And she is currently studying Engaged Ecology at Schumacher College and is currently making a very relevant documentary called Islandness in the Anthropocene, which you will tell us a bit about, I’m sure. But yeah, I’m really excited to have this conversation, and to be picking apart a lot of themes of the course.

HANNAH CLOSE: I’m just really excited, happy to go straight into the questions.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Amazing. Okay, so we will get started with all the questions. The first one is, can you introduce the metaphor “world as archipelago”, and what it means, [and] specifically why you chose this metaphor, and whose work this phrase riffs off of, and what bodies of work it engages with, academically, theoretically, practically, and maybe share some of the philosophers and thinkers and people that you’ve been inspired by when putting this course together?

HANNAH CLOSE: Sure. So the “world is archipelago” metaphor is something that has been influenced by various scholars and artists, who I’ll mention shortly, but just to unpack the metaphor itself. There have been loads of different metaphors used to try and describe the inherent unity of human civilisation across the planet. And they’ve all been quite well-meaning, but they haven’t quite covered various different bases that I think are really important to cover, when it comes to looking at the ways in which we are interconnected.

So the “world is archipelago” metaphor, for me at least, is a way of seeing our interconnected nature in a different, more complex and more nuanced way, than other metaphors might allow us to see.#

So for example, the I think it was lifeboat Earth, or liferaft Earth, spaceship Earth, and “global village”, are some really common metaphors used in the social change world to illustrate our interconnectedness, but those metaphors kind of situate us outside of the ecosystem still, especially the lifeboat and the spaceship are kind of… you know, we’re inside these fragile vessels on top of the Earth, we’re not embedded within the Earth, on the land. Whereas the “world is archipelago” metaphor situates us on the ground, basically. So I thought it would be an interesting metaphor to explore, [because] it helps us understand the ways in which connections are also separations, which I can elaborate a bit on later, but it’s unlike the global village metaphor, which unifies us in one space—which is, of course, like a well-intentioned thing, and it’s a lovely, neighbourly feeling, to be in a global village—[but] it doesn’t acknowledge our separations, and I think in the world of ecology and social change, I feel like there’s an aversion to the possibility of separation.

But as you know, from my work with Andreas [Weber] as well, I’m actually advocating for the view that our separations are also our connections, we just need to better understand and appreciate how and why. In the case of the world is archipelago metaphor, what separates us is the ocean. But as you know, the ocean is a connecting force as well, so there are so many layers and nuances to this to unpack. And it’s really open for interpretation. What’s different about this year’s KINSHIP course, compared to last year’s, is that I’ve invited the teachers to respond to the metaphor as broadly, and as creatively, and as wildly, as they want to, it’s really a creative prompt rather than a, this is how the world is. So that’s the rationale behind using that metaphor.

And in terms of where it comes from, and who I’ve been influenced by, gosh, there are so many people. So behind this, there is my own experience of islandness, which is very limited. And also, I’ve been reading the Tongan and Fijian anthropologist Epeli Hauʻofa, who has this great quote, which is, I can’t remember it verbatim, but it was Polynesians saw their world as a sea of islands, which I thought was beautiful. I’ve also been influenced by the French Caribbean philosopher, Édouard Glissant—and I know you’ve been reading Poetics of Relation as well. It’s really hard, but it’s so beautiful. And Glissant advocated for what he called archipelagic thinking, and he also used this incredible metaphor in Poetics of Relation of if an island is like a root, like a singular root, then we need to learn how to be a rhizome. So like an archipelago of roots, and I think this is such an incredible, beautiful metaphor. And the root and the rhizome have so many parallels with the world as archipelago metaphor as well.

I’ve been influenced by so many people. Kamau Brathwaite, he’s the Barbadian poet, who coined the term tidalectics, which for me is kind of what it says on the tin, but I feel like it might be confusing for some people, and I’m still learning what it is on a deeper level. But if the Western dominant mode of thinking is dialectics, which is like an oppositional, debating way of generating knowledge, in relation, tidalectics, like the tides, is much more flowing and receptive. And sometimes it’s connected to land, and then other times, it’s in the fluidity and wateriness of the ocean. So it’s this really beautiful way of reimagining relation, and relationship, and ways of relating, that take on a both/and perspective rather than a rigid, singular, linear, hyper-rational perspective.

[There are] various other influences. I recently read this incredible book by island scholars, Jonathan Pugh, David Chandler called Anthropocene Islands: Entangled Worlds, which was utterly incredible. Donna Haraway, of course, is always in the list of influences. Andres Weber, David Whyte. So many.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: There’s a lot to unpack in that. Thank you for putting that all out. I don’t know [exactly from] where to hang on to that. But I think the big thing for me is—and we’ll get into this a little bit later when we talk about separations and kinship in about last year’s course—reminding people that while the, like you said, global village metaphor has such a well-meaning intention behind it, the homogenising and flattening approach that it takes leads to the issue of polarisation, and the way that speaking about separation and difference has become sort of, taboo. And people don’t really know how to approach it in a way that’s like, “correct”—there suddenly is a “right” way and “wrong” way to approach difference, instead of a real, authentic acknowledgement that we are different, and we are, like you said, connected in our separations. So I wanted to say that first.

And, also to speak to that last point about tidalectics. Actually, that’s the first time I’ve heard it explained, because I’ve only been reading about it. I haven’t had time to go and dig into tidalectics. But that makes a lot of sense. So the idea of, I guess, understanding and relating in ways that allow for change and being in flux, rather than it being a binary approach. So tidalectics seems to offer a very good way to sum up and describe like how advaya approaches, or how we want people to be thinking—not that we want to tell people how to think, but—trying to find ways, vocabularies, to describe the way that we want people to be relating to each other and producing knowledge and re-creating it. We never really are creating knowledge. So re-creating knowledge, and having those conversations.

I wanted to just to wrap on that question, [and] invite you to talk about your research into Islandness, and to your documentary, which I know it’s all influencing each other, but wondering how your research interest comes into this course, or how that feeds into that?

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah, it’s a good question, because for someone not understanding or just encountering this morass of islands for the first time, it might just look like a lot of island obsessions, which is partially true, because islands are fascinating. But there’s also a logical and intuitive reason for me, why islands, islandness, and all of the real and metaphorical issues that spill out of them, are important right now, and particularly relevant to the topic of kinship, and just relevant overall to the various crises that we face, that are all meeting at a confluence. And everything I’ve learned and encountered over the past two or three years, especially through studying Engaged Ecology at Schumacher College, has led me to islands, as real, embodied, grounded, physical places, in which all of my inquiries about relationship over the past few years have found ground.

And I mean, that’s not new. Islands have always been an obsession in anthropology and ecology. And there are some really thorny issues around this as well. But they’ve been at the centre of the Western imagination forever. There’s an official term for it, which is just islomania, to highlight this obsession with it. But yeah, the confluence is that, well with the documentary, it stems from a research question. So originally, it was my master’s thesis inquiry, and it stems from a research question, which was:

How, if at all, do islands, island ways, islandness, island life, islanders, whatever term you want to use, amplify relational entanglements? And what does this mean? And in which ways, and what can this teach us?#

So my own experience of islands is, as I said, limited, but every time I have experienced, and technically, I live on the British Isles, but I don’t consider myself an islander, so there’s so many interesting questions around what is an island, but we can get to that later. The confluence basically comes around… islands and relational entanglements. And because islands are more, not all of the time, but more explicitly contained the mainlands. Lots of interesting things arise out of this. The way communities are formed is different. So just speaking personally, from my experience of the Hebridean islands in Scotland, which is what I’m basing the documentary on: communities are bound to place, the physical place, they’re not just bound by conceptual abstractions. They’re not just bound ideologies. They’re not just bound by culture, either. If there’s a storm, or something like this, people really depend on each other. And so, interdependence is explicit. It’s not just a nice idea that’s spoken about. You have to learn to get along with people that you don’t necessarily like.

Donna Haraway has this great word, oddkin. She uses oddkin to describe… you’ve got godkin, which are your blood family, and then you’ve got oddkin which aren’t, but that also extends out to people you don’t like, and I feel islanders are not perfect magical beings either, they don’t necessarily have the answer, it’s not about romanticising them, but they are put into positions that provoke relationships with a totally different kind to mainlanders. This is a really long, sprawling answer to your question.

The whole inquiry just opens up so much, because it’s not just about islands, right? It’s about all of the things that islands can provoke about identity, belonging, community, indigeneity, all of the very obvious stuff about climate collapse, rising sea levels, resource depletion, marine ecosystem damage.#

So much stuff to grapple with.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Yeah. And I think it’s personally an interesting inquiry for me too, as someone who’s technically also brought up on an island, but probably arguably one of the islands in the world—for context Singapore, in case anyone else doesn’t know, and I don’t expect anyone to know—a tiny little island doesn’t really count as an, I don’t think it really counts, island, because it’s been built in such a way that if you were, if anyone has ever travelled to Singapore, it’s very not island-like, it doesn’t feel like an island at all, especially if you’re travelling within the region, Southeast Asia—everything else feels more “island-y”, which is also something to be questioned. But I think that also just opens up a whole series of questions, right, because I come from and have been raised on an island, that is in a region of islands, but it’s also built and thus I relate very differently, with other people who I share place with, and our relation as a nation-state to other nations within this island region is a very tricky relationship. So to say that I think the inquiry into islands is so rich also because there are so many layers.

So many different cultural, social, geological forces, political forces, that interplay in this inquiry. And every island, understandably, and every collection of islands, is different. And every relationship between islands is different. [Ultimately] it’s a difficult one for me to talk about also, because I feel unqualified as a person who, even though I come from an island I feel unqualified to talk about it; and I think that comes back to the issue of how we’ve been taught to, or, socialised to talking about difference, and talking about power and relations, between each other.

HANNAH CLOSE: Same! As I said, right now I’m on, I’m in, the British Isles. Technically the UK is some kind of archipelago, because you’ve got Ireland, and you’ve got various outlying islands as well. And after Brexit, suddenly, this nation became aware of itself as an island in a way that it hadn’t before. And there are so many interesting and relevant and thorny geopolitical issues that come out of this, because since since the UK left Europe, it’s completely changed everything. It’s changed everything. And talking about what is an island… It’s such a debated issue. There are over, I think it’s 900,000 official islands in the world, but there are millions of actual islands, and we’re talking rocks in the sea to technically the largest island, officially, is Greenland. But I have friends in Australia, who consider Australia to be an island,—officially it’s a continent. So it was the first thing I tried to understand, when I set out on this research. It sounded like a stupid question. What is an island?

And I speak to islanders and they can’t quite define it either. And so it’s really nebulous. John Gillis calls them liminal spaces and liminal geography. I think this is fascinating, because islands are also disappearing. Does that mean they don’t exist? As soon as they go underneath the surface of the ocean, they’re also appearing. Volcanic eruptions are creating new islands. So it’s utterly fascinating. And given how many islands are in the world, they’re not peripheral, faraway places that only exist in have tropical locations for fun holidays. This is absolutely not the case. They make up an incredibly large amount of the world’s landmass population and cultural production…

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Actually, I think this might be a good opportunity to skip ahead to, and we’ll come back to the kinship question, but I think it makes more sense to just skip ahead to the question on islands, specifically, since we’re already talking about kind of the fascination with and I would, I guess, we would say fetishisation of islands, romanticisation of islands, especially with climate change discourse becoming more and more mainstream, which is a good and bad thing, I guess, [though] overall it has to be a good thing. But the way it’s coming into the mainstream, as the focus on islands will show, the way it comes into the mainstream is important to recognise [and pick apart] also.

And so with the climate crisis, and I guess as a context, but not necessarily to focus on it. But more to say that, islanders’ perspectives are becoming more and more relevant, I think, within the last few decades, the perspectives of islands and islanders themselves have been more centred, but also at the same time, as you know, and have researched about, are constantly being left out, still, and that’s what happens when I guess you tokenise islanders, which is a real problem. Could you speak to all of these thorny parts? And talk to us about, why this inquiry? Why host it? And, why you, I guess?

HANNAH CLOSE: One thing again, I guess, just to reiterate, is that I’m not, [and] I don’t want to claim to speak on behalf of islanders, which is why it’s so exciting that the faculty of the course is made up of so many islanders, from all across the world. We’ve got people from Greenland, the Philippines. Fiji, we’ve got the Hebrides, it’s such an exciting array of voices coming into the fold, so I’m really excited about that. And on the climate mainstreaming conversation, how islands have come in and out of our consciousness, culturally, collectively, it’s a really interesting one, because on the one hand, they get featured heavily, but in a very romanticised way. Like, oh, wow, these are some faraway, mystical places that must be protected. And then the other strand of that perspective is, it sets up this rescuer dynamic, which can become very colonial, very extractive, very quickly, and doesn’t take into account the level of resilience that islands all across the world display.

Because while they are some of the first places in the world to be affected by climate change, obvious things as well, like sea level rise is a particularly difficult one… on the other hand, they are profoundly resilient in the face of this, because of the strength of their community, because of the connection to the land, and various other things. So it seems to be a challenge of navigating this, sort of not coming in, either as mainlanders or as Western countries and saying, we’ll rescue you. Because islanders used to be painted as savages as well, and that’s still kind of haunting the Western imaginary around islands too, I mean, especially with things like Robinson Crusoe, which is profoundly racist, there’s loads of texts and things that deepen this image of islands as fragile and full of people who don’t know what they’re doing, basically, and [that] they “need” the Western troop to come in with Christianity and so on, to “redeem” them. So there’s that.

And then you’ve got the lens of anthropology and of climate scientists basically saying that yes, there is something interesting and unique about islands especially in the Anthropocene, what is that? And so much interesting scholarship and art and cultural production have come out of the interactions between these, for want of a better word, outsiders and the islanders and the islands themselves, but at the same time, again, this extractive behaviour, goes on where people go to islands, take what they want, do their research, exploit the people, and then leave. And this is why it’s really important to understand…

Islands are fantastic metaphors, but they’re also real places with real people.#

Two of the popular metaphors that are used for islands at the moment, in relation to climate change, and other sorts of ongoing issues are the, canary in the coal mine, that what happens on islands signals what’s going to happen to the rest of the world. And then there’s also another one, that islands are a microcosm of the macrocosm: so a similar sort of thing, that if we pay attention to islands now, we can see the unfolding effects of climate change, and other things, that we can prepare ahead of time, but again, this can very easily turn into a view of islands as an allegorical warning sign, and not much else.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Can I just say, it’s also just very weirdly sacrificial, and for what reason? Also just not people using islands and islanders as a case study, and as a moral lesson for the rest of the world, that’s more privileged to not experience climate change and its worst effects… Yeah, very strange, and colonial behaviour going on.

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah. While it is the case that a lot of what happens on islands will eventually make its way to the mainlands, it’s also [that] there are issues that are unique to islands, and unique to islands only, that need to be addressed. In a culture of individualism, it’s not in mainlanders’ economic interests to help islands on particularly unglamorous issues like fuel poverty, and also, cultural erosion: the way in which islanders’ cultures are being slowly eroded by neocolonial influence, which is still ongoing, and the influence of capitalism.

Which raises another really interesting issue of, maybe we won’t go into it, but just to raise it, but islands are inherently… There’s an inherent osmosis and intersplicing of cultures when it comes to islands, because they often rely on the ocean, and sailing to get from island to island, which is how cultures become exchanged, and how they evolve and develop and influence each other, which can be an incredible, ecologically aligned, beautiful process of growth and co-learning and collaboration. And then it can very quickly turn into the erosion of cultures. Like if a culture loses too much of its integrity, too much of its roots, especially if a culture starts to lose its language and mythology, through the influence of other cultures, then it becomes really problematic.

So the challenge is, how do we maintain our mobility and our relations across borders, without just homogenising everything and flattening everything?#

I mean, it’s a big question.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Yeah, and I think this is where it gets into an age-old debate. It is kind of a question that’s been asked a lot. And I’m also thinking just because we’ve been reading Glissant and his whole thing [is] about how he approaches globalisation and that root and relation identity, I think, are very key to this particular question. And I’m sure we’ll get into it when when we have the teachers also share about their experiences, and participants will get the chance to ask about those questions, about cultural erosion, and how not necessarily to help, but to just also amplify the situation.

I think sometimes people have this, and this is sidetracking a little bit, tendency to want to help and save islanders, which you also talked about, but sometimes it’s just really about listening and amplifying. Especially because so many of these like island issues, like you said, can be very specific to where they’re from and the people that they affect. And so we don’t necessarily have to listen with an intention of doing anything. Particularly because that wanting to do something is sometimes also just more harmful.

I think maybe it’s a good opportunity to jump back to the question about kinship, which is the course title. I think we, advaya, have been talking about this quite frequently, about why we use the word kinship, rather than relationship, rather than community, and rather than, or in conjunction with, togetherness? And I wondered if you could share that with people who have never come across the term before, and why it’s an important way to reframe how we think about relationships, and also how to approach it in a way that doesn’t just find a new buzzword and overuse it, like we’ve done with community.

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah. And collaboration and embodiment. I mean, there’s so many of these, right? So, I mean, I don’t have, same with the question, what is an island? What is kinship? I don’t have, nor do I claim to have the definition of it, it means so many different things to so many different people…

My personal experience of it was from the environmental humanities, ecology, world where it’s very en vogue at the moment, especially in anthropology, and it’s extending beyond that. But my basic understanding of it is that it’s a system of relationships, and the word system can sound maybe a bit mechanistic or methodical, so that’s open for interpretation, but from a Western frame, the word kinship seems to mean two things: one, the very obvious meaning of your bloodline, your genealogy, your lineage, who are your family, what Haraway would call godkin. And then you have the second understanding, which is how Indigenous people, how Indigenous societies arrange their networks, according to these kinship relationships, and not just within the human community, but also within the more than human community. So from a Western frame, those are the two dominant understandings of the word.

But again, referring back to Haraway, I really love this idea of oddkin, I love this idea that…

Kinship is not neatly contained in a box, and that we have to learn to expand these conventional definitions of kinship, so that we include people that we might not necessarily like, so that we include the more than human.#

It’s quite a broad one, and it’s quite hard to sort of pin down, and it’s not meant to be pinned down, I suppose, and it’s certainly not something that we can point out. We can’t buy it. Many people do try to buy their way into relationships in Western capitalism, but it’s something to me, that seems to operate in the spaces in between, it’s not like you can point at a person and say that person has kinship, it’s really the kind of magic, the yoke that brings people together.

And also, differentiating kinship from relationship. So relationship… I could say I have a relationship with the chair I’m sitting on right now, that’s technically speaking, a relationship. I don’t feel like I have kinship with the chair. Or maybe I do, it supports me, it gives me comfort, that’s good. I’m not sure what I’m giving back to the chair. But kinship is a particular form of relationship that is explicitly reciprocal, it’s bound in a logic of exchange. It’s not just extractive, because so many relationships are extractive, and so many people will be familiar with this. So I think that’s what differentiates kinship from relationship in particular. I’m still learning.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: That was a good attempt at summarising the ideas behind using the word, kinship. And I think, just to also plug that there are a bunch of little clips of the past KINSHIP course, for anyone who wants to go into that. Specifically, I’m thinking of, we had a session with Tim Ingold, I think, when he talked about—if people are interested in how kinship converses with the idea of ancestry and lineage, that sort of thing. And, of course, [the clips also went into] exploring the different ways of kinship and kinning, and the practice of it.

HANNAH CLOSE: Gavin Van Horn talks a lot about kinning, as well, and I’m thinking of Sophie Strand, too. A new metaphor just came into my head actually while you were speaking about kinship, which was… so the word ecology itself has also become, is becoming more and more popular recently. And it used to mean scientific, biology. And that means something completely different. To me, it means a system of living relationships. And the root, the etymology of the word ecology comes from the Greek oikos, which means home. So if I were to hazard a guess at a definition for kinship, again, this is just an intellectual exercise; if ecology means home, and is the system of living relationships, kinship is like the foundation of that home. It’s like the very basis, the very infrastructure of that home. And then if you think about the difference between a house and a home, what makes a house a home, versus what makes a relationship and what makes kinship. I feel like there’s a couple of parallels that can be drawn between those two things. And, something that Gavin also speaks about a lot is that kinship is a verb. It’s a practice. It’s not an object. It’s not just a concept. It’s a way of doing things. It’s a way of being.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Yeah, and I don’t know if this is somewhat related, but just now Tyson Yunkaporta’s talk just popped into my head, it was a very slap in the face reminder that kinship is not a process, or practice that we can afford to be romanticising in the way that we’ve romanticised community. And I think the idea of kinship is also special, because it talks, in the same way that we are trying to approach the way we think about islands, [about] connections and separations, right? Like difference and sameness, and trying to have a nuanced approach to relationship, in a way that’s not always going to be good and beautiful and romantic. It’s sometimes also difficult, but that’s what kinship is about. It’s negotiating, when it is difficult, when it is tricky. And when it gets to that point, that’s where the inquiry and the practice of it becomes actually useful, and decolonial, also, right?

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah, totally. And it’s really important just to reiterate that last year’s KINSHIP course was very broad, it was very much about opening up lots of doors and exploring kinship in general, whereas this year’s KINSHIP course is still very much about those core themes we were exploring last year, but this time, we’re grounding it in a real place with real people, we’re reducing the number of doors that were opening and trying to go deeper and to make it make sense in the context of these very real places. These questions around kinship are just bubbling out constantly at the moment. So it feels like a really fertile ground from which to ask these questions about kinship and relationship and what it really means on a deeper level.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Andreas [Weber], specifically, has written quite theoretically, but it does help us narrow things down a little bit [from before], about our relationships, and this is, again, pulling on the same thread that we’ve been trying to pull, I think, with this conversation. He writes that our relationships, when they succeed, are a constant celebration of this connection-in-separation. Connection-in-separation is hyphenated into one word. So I wanted to ask you, from your perspective, what it means to you? And specifically with this course, talking about islands, inevitably, the question of borders come up, and you mentioned that there are real and imagined borders… [So] how can this separation, thinking about borders, be enlivening?

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah. I mean, it’s a really interesting question, or set of questions, and it’s really difficult, because there are so many contradictions and paradoxes, in this, that can very quickly become intellectually abstract and challenging. But paradox is something we have to grapple with, and get better at grappling with as a species. And I feel that, particularly with the islands example, so using a real world example, the ocean separates us. So right now, you and I, you’re in Singapore, I’m in the UK. I’m like, okay, how do I get to Tammy? I’m not gonna swim. I’m not gonna swim to the Singapore, say if all of the flights were grounded, there were no ships or whatever, and I was trying to figure out how to traverse this physical chasm between us.

It would feel very separated, on the one hand, but then we’re also connected. If I go and put my hand in the ocean—I’m very fortunate enough to live very nearby—At some point, that ocean is going to touch the shore of your place. And then we’re also on the computer right now, speaking to each other. So we’re separated, but we’re also connected. There are so many ways in which we are separated and connected. I don’t know if that example makes sense. I don’t want to get too philosophical about it, but in order for a relationship to form, there needs to be two or more agents in that relationship to make it happen, and then you get a third entity out of it. I’m not going to make an attempt at saying what that is.

But islands really invite us to play with this metaphor, because they are full of shorelines and thresholds, and points of osmosis, which can be considered at the same time, points of separation, physical lines in the landscape, and points of connection as well.#

I’m trying to think of another example of how I can be both connected and separated to somewhere that feels far away. One example is, if I throw away plastic into the ocean, and it ends up on a beach on the other side of the world, my influence, completely unknown to me, is having an impact on this place that I feel separated from, really far away; the rubbish that I have discarded is now killing marine life, on the other side of the world, for example. It’s not a very wholesome example, but it’s a way in which something that I think I’m separating from, intellectually, conceptually, because it feels so abstract, I’m actually completely connected to.

This is why it’s important for mainlanders to recognise that what they’re doing on mainlands is having an impact on islands. It’s not this vast ocean space, that is this giant void, faceless void. It’s not just a space that’s separating us, it’s like a connecting glue, rather than a separating chasm, depending on how you look at it. I don’t know if that helps explain that a little bit. It’s quite complex.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Like a lot of things that we discuss, I think just because it’s complex, doesn’t mean it’s not grounded. I think people often assume that complex ideas are necessarily ungrounded ideas. These are very, I think, real, material ideas. And specifically just thinking about the plastic one, which is somewhat, sometimes, an overused example, that I think people don’t actually think about anymore. Like it’s one of those things, even though it’s crazy how embedded plastic is in everything, it’s become almost in the background, because it’s spoken about so much. I think it’s interesting… I’m thinking specifically about this one person, Heather Davis, who talks about plastics and the materiality of it, I think the study of materiality is a really interesting space to go into if you want to geek out about this, thinking about things being embedded in other things, and finding kinship, thinking about kinship in those ways, in very material ways.

And plastic is a very useful metaphor material to think with. Also because you then entangle with the world of fossil fuels and Heather talks about petro-time. So lots of things in that very rich space to think about. I don’t want to get too distracted by that idea. But yeah, as you say, I think it’s all very real. And I’m now also thinking about whales, because one of the teachers on our course is going to be sharing about whales… but just thinking about, thinking with, whales as a animal, in which a lot of our deposits are accumulated in, and then come back to us in a very circular way.

HANNAH CLOSE: It’s really interesting. So many thoughts and feelings are popping into my head about this. Just thinking about the way in which things travel to places that they aren’t supposed to be, and navigating this tension between rootedness and adriftness, and I think of a whale, and I think of how far, thousands of miles, that a whale will travel, or any kind of marine creature that might have a piece of plastic that has attached itself to them, and they will we will carry that with them across the globe, and that creature might end up dying and that piece of plastic will end up somewhere kind of alien.

And I remember the experience of being in Mexico, a long time ago, and walking along this otherwise paradise-like beach, and just seeing brands, not from that country, labels on bottles and things, that were from the UK or somewhere—I know this brand doesn’t exist in this country, and it’s just this weird feeling of, this is not the kind of osmosis that we want. This is not the kind of mobility that we want. And just that feeling of connection to place. And I wrote something on Instagram recently, from the same trip in Mexico, on how my humanness can relate to palm trees, but my cultural imaginary can’t, because the palm tree doesn’t make as much sense to me personally as say, an oak tree. And again, this isn’t a very linear point, but it’s just grappling with this…

What belongs where, what feels at home where, what can travel where, who gets to decide? And how does it make sense? And who does it make sense to?#

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: This is not at all a linear conversation. I don’t think it’s supposed to be anyway. And I think it’s best when it’s non-linear. To hold on to that thought of, it’s a good question to ask, I think, it might even be a good core question, like, what is the kind of osmosis that we want to see? I think that’s a big question that the course will probably get into. And to go back to the second random question that I have, which is a quote that you, and the writer that you’ve been talking about, John Gillis, who writes that we can—I use the word use, but now I regret it—use islands as “thresholds to other worlds and new lives”. And so, in this context, as we’ve been thinking with a lot of different things in this conversation, I wanted to ask you, what can thinking with islands offer us? And why, in a very real, and maybe also, if you want to share, personal way, should we engage in, and be present with this inquiry right now, with islands?

HANNAH CLOSE: I don’t know if I can somehow link that to your first question. So, why islands? What can they offer us? Also, what can we give back? What can they help us understand? And then your first question, about what kind of osmosis do we want? I’m trying to loop that back, because I think that what islands can offer us is a way in which to ask that question, what kind of osmosis do we want? And I don’t even know if osmosis is the right word. I don’t know if that’s a word that many people understand. But what intersplicing, what kind of cultural ecological cross-pollination interacting and ultimately relating, is healthy, and that we do want to encourage?

And this question raises an interesting point about globalisation, because I have this vague memory of globalisation, initially being this narrative of interconnectedness, and yay, we’re all unified, and this is great, yay, globalisation means a good thing, right? This is the kind of osmosis that we want. And now it’s like, no, globalisation is a fracturing force. It’s not a connecting force, despite what the initial mythology around it might have been. And so it’s a question of, how do we remain mobile? How do we continue to travel, to exchange, to combine cultural practices, in ways that benefit not only both communities and both cultures, but particularly the one that is hosting the other culture? How do we make sure that when we are on that particular land, engaging with that particular community, that we are not there just to seek answers?

And islands in particular, and I’m guilty of this myself, attract seekers, they attract people looking for answers, looking for community, looking for belonging, all of these things that we’re grappling with in the course. And then the question is, well, what can we give back? And again, nuanced issue, because that can also very quickly turn into a performance of altruism, and I am the saviour coming in to give you aid, and I’m bringing you gifts, and look at me, I’m so good, kind of thing. So the kind of osmosis, I think, we need to encourage and actually, it’s funny, you mentioned Tyson Yunkaporta, because I remember something from his talk last year.

He said, you won’t find the answers in Indigenous communities, but you’ll find the answers in dialogue with Indigenous communities.#

And I think that’s such a key point.

I don’t believe in the answers, but whatever we’re looking for, or the way towards flourishing, let’s say, will be in dialogue with islands, in dialogue with Indigenous communities, and communities that aren’t Indigenous, in dialogue in a way that has the spirit of tidalectics, not Western dialectics, at its core, and having conversations, rather than following a method into relation, but just having that, like the tides, give and take, in the dialogue that you’re having, with these people and with these places. So yeah, and then to draw that to the second question, if I can: what can we learn from islands?

Islands can inspire us, and they can provoke us, and they can prod us into questioning things around borders, what that means, around thresholds, around things like cultural authenticity, indigeneity. There are so many, there are too many things to list. I mean, I obviously have a very personal connection to this topic, just because of what I personally have received when traveling to islands. [They have] given me so much meaning and has affected me so much, obviously, because I’m now only talking about islands all the time. I feel like islands have given me ground for what has for a long time remained an abstract thing, like kinship, like belonging, like community, like cultural rootedness. I don’t know if that answers your question in any way.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: No I think it answered it in different ways. And there are many more entry points to this course than I initially thought. And it seems like a much more, I mean, I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I feel like now—and maybe also for me, because I haven’t thought about it as much—[after we’ve] unpacked it a little bit, I feel more like it’s an accessible inquiry. It feels there are many different touchpoints. Because there are so many different spaces that we’re interacting with, like materiality, globalisation, identity, borders.

Specifically I think about the idea of borders… it is a very touchy, political topic right now also because of the way that people are being displaced, willingly and unwillingly. And I’m going to try and phrase it in a way that makes sense, it might not sound correct, but I will try and make sense of it. I think thinking about borders in the very geopolitical way and in the way that the news would report it, and the way that political commentators talk about borders, and how the crises around borders are being spoken about, is a very unsustainable—and not to overuse the word but—colonial way of thinking about borders and identities, and solving and healing crises. And all of this is to say that I think thinking with islands will hopefully open up a way to, at least for me, think about borders, real borders and imagined borders, in a way that’s not wrapped up in their very problematic approach. I think that’s also part of the reason why I find it hard to engage in that discourse. So thinking with islands, I think, is a very useful framework to approach this.

And also, I think the topic of diasporas and diasporic identities is always a very prominent question. And it’s a question that I think a lot of younger people also think about a lot. I think thinking about the generational approaches to islands is also interesting, like how the way we think about islands has changed over time—that’s something I’m sure we’ll do in the course.

HANNAH CLOSE: On the borders thing, islands’ borders are so explicit, unlike mainland borders, because they’re literally surrounded. Their perimeter is determined by the ocean, which is not an ideological, geopolitical, at least in the first instance, force. It is a wild, elemental, powerful, it can kill you really quickly force. That border is very explicit. And then on the other hand, you’ve got the fact that islands are inherently connected to and mobile, and in conversation with other islands, and so you’ve got this very real reminder of the border, and then this invitation to travel across it. And then on mainlands, borders are much more nebulous in some ways, and not in others. But, the geography, the topography of a place is not just a biological, physical phenomena, it’s very much a geopolitical one as well, and vice versa. So that connection between culture and place becomes even more explicit.

And then you mentioned diaspora, which is another core topic that’s going to be discussed in the course, as well. One of the big influences actually, that I didn’t mention earlier, was Paul Gilroy, who pioneered the whole school of thought around the Black Atlantic and Creolisation, and how a new diasporic civilisation emerged during the period of slavery, between British, Caribbean, French and other cultures, that is now a standalone culture, in and of itself. And I find that again, it all comes back to metaphors, ultimately, the metaphor of diaspora is like a spore, like a mushroom spore that just spreads itself out far and wide, and it raises so many interesting questions around, where do people truly belong? And what does indigeneity really mean? Does it mean, you’ve stayed in the same place forever, and you’ve built that intimacy with it? Or does it mean something else?

Some of my Jewish friends will talk about that their rootedness is in their wandering, as in they’re moving from place to place, what Glissant would call that errantry, which completely challenges the idea of belonging, and belonging in place and being indigenous to place. What are you indigenous to? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a place. So I find this endlessly fascinating. And again it’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and tension to navigate. One of the core questions in my life, and that I keep asking in KINSHIP is…

How can we belong in fragments?#

Because in the West, there’s this idea that belonging has to be whole and pure, and somehow complete, for it to be valid. But when most of the world is, I mean, this is a bit of a shot in the dark, but most of the world is diasporic, to some extent—you meet people that have been living in a community… they can trace their family back a couple of hundred years, and then you find out that they travelled and they came from there…

Promiscuous is the wrong word, but human civilisation has promiscuously travelled all across the globe, for the whole of history. Obviously, that very quickly can collapse into colonialism. But there are other ways that we can maintain this moving from place to place without bulldozing other cultures. So it’s just again, how do we have both of these things? How do we navigate this? How do we stay rooted? And adrift in our rootedness? And rooted in our adriftness? Does that makes sense?

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Yeah. And I think that’s a good place to invite you to share about, because now I’m just thinking, you basically almost just said Leny’s session title, so inviting you to share about a few of the sessions or a few of the teachers that you’re specifically interested or excited about—not to pick favorites, but to also give people a sense of what they can expect, and the different places that we will be exploring and mapping together [during the course].

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah, so, as you’ll see from the website, not all of the talk descriptions are in yet, but that’s quite exciting because, as I said earlier, unlike last year’s KINSHIP course, where it was a very structured journey, from A to B, this year I’ve invited the speakers to be prompted by this metaphor, and so where we’ll be going with them will be very much a mystery, which is really exciting, and it will be really generative. And we’ve got twelve teachers this year, from islands all over the world. Craig is from Guam, Iain lives in Skye, Leny’s in the Philippines, David was originally from Ireland, we’ve got Maureen from Fiji, Alastair’s in the Hebrides, as well. It’s so exciting. So, the goal is to get away, with the curation of this lineup as well, from this singular idea of islandness, that might happen if we just had one type of person, from one island talking about it, and to instead really speak to this diversity and multiplicity of islandness, by having lots of different speakers, who are bringing incredibly diverse perspectives.

So for example, David Gange, who I recently added to the lineup, his perspective [is] based out of kayaking the coastlines of England, which is a really unique perspective on islandness. It’s a way of engaging from the outside, [and], I’m personally fascinated with sailing as well, I find it really interesting to encounter the land, from not the land. And then you’ve got Craig, who’s coming in with the experience of the poetic and making sense of it through that way. There’s just so many different approaches and expertise coming from our speakers this year. So, really exciting.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: And I just wanted to say also Himali, speaking from the perspective of an artist and having been to the poles—that’s crazy.

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah. It’s really exciting to have a mix of academics and artists and writers and scholars, and also people that are on the ground, involved in grassroots activism as well, and really enacting real change in their communities. So it’s an unlikely motley crew. When I look at everybody who we’ve gathered together… When would we ever see, when would we ever get to experience all of these voices in the same room? And that feels really exciting. It feels really generative. I think the connections we’ll be able to make, and the narrative we’ll be able to weave through the sessions will hopefully cause us to think differently, and have a different perspective. And I have no idea what to expect, even though I’ve curated the thing, I’m like, what’s gonna happen? That’s the joy of it. That’s what’s generative.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Yeah, and before we wrap up, I also want to ask if you wanted to share about the mapping, the exercises that you’re thinking of engaging the participants in. I wonder if you have any thoughts on how that’s going to happen, what your intention is going into that…

HANNAH CLOSE: So I have an intention, but I don’t know how it’s gonna be executed yet. This idea of counter-mapping. Counter-mapping is a way in which Indigenous communities reclaim the understanding of their land away from this concept of state territory and state ownership, by essentially creating maps, through their perspective, and not through the perspective of control and economics, and so on. So I’m curious about how people will interpret this theme, and if there’s a way that we could collectively create new maps that are based on relational pathways, instead of, you know, the standard maps we see, particularly coming out of Western culture, that situate usually England right at the centre, which is just…

The map, the world map that most people are familiar with, is geographically wrong.#

But it’s just taken as verbatim, and it also doesn’t convey much about the reality of what we’re seeing. And it’s also important to mention that the map is not the territory, of course, and a map can be used as an oppressive, logical, hyper-rational tool for containment and categorisation. And on the flipside of that, it can also be quite a liberating tool, a way for people to make sense of their place, a way for people to make sense of their connection to others and other places and people. So I’m just curious to experiment with the idea of mapping, whether that’s physically drawing maps, or just having a conversation about it. But yeah, it’s in its embryonic form at the moment. So if anybody knows any counter-cartographers, come and say hello.

TAMMY [ADVAYA]: Amazing. Okay, and I think that’s such a great way to wrap. Thank you, Hannah, for making time to answer all my questions, and for putting together this course, very excited to see how it all comes together especially as the first course of the new year, I think it’s very exciting. After everyone has settled into the new year, we start on the 31st of January, which seems far away now, but I think it’ll just come right around right after New Year. So tickets are on sale now on the website If you go to kinshipcourse, without the dash, you will go to the old website. So go to the new one with the dash. And we will be selling tickets right up to the beginning of the course. If anyone wants to join past the first session, you can always join, our sessions are recorded, and you’ll have access to the recordings, the materials once you join. There are always concession prices as well as bursaries, that are still open until [20th January]. So to say if anyone requires financial support, to apply for the bursaries. Other than that, yeah, can’t wait for people to join. Hannah, do have any final words? I’ll leave it to you.

HANNAH CLOSE: Just want to say thank you Tammy, for having such a great conversation with me. Yeah, I’m just really excited. And it’s a bit of a mystery to me still, but I’m curious to see where we all end up at the end of this. Based on last year’s experience, it just grew of its own accord into what it wanted to be, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what this wants to be. So yeah, exciting times!

Hannah Close #

Hannah is a curator, writer, and photographer. She is a curator for Advaya, and is studying Engaged Ecology at Schumacher College. She formerly founded the Experimental Thought Co, a thought community that hosted events on culture change, during which time she curated the Human Nature series. Hannah enjoys hiking and spending time with the ocean. More via

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Tammy Gan #

Tammy Gan is the Head of Content and Storytelling at Advaya.

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