This multidisciplinary conference critically examines the purported drawbacks and potential benefits to remoteness, isolation, and peripherality.
Remoteness, isolation, and peripherality have become lenses through which certain territories and communities are valued and assessed. These concepts have come to be regarded as markers of vulnerability, marginality, and lack of modernity.
Yet all three concepts are fundamentally relational, presume centre-periphery relationships that may not be relevant to all parties involved. Territories such as Greenland and New Caledonia may seem remote and isolated from the perspective of their distant metropolitan powers, Denmark and France, but for those living in these territories, the periphery is itself the centre. The city of Manchester in Northern England is often regarded as remote from and peripheral to the economic powerhouse of Southeast England, yet the population of Manchester’s urban area exceeds that of many European countries. Places that were once deemed remote, such as Australia, can come to be taken on their own terms, while important power centres, such as Ancient Carthage, can dwindle and ultimately be buried beneath the earth. Longyearbyen, Svalbard (site of the first REMOTE conference in 2017) appears on the map to epitomise remoteness, yet this tiny arctic town is a hub of international activity.
What do remoteness, isolation, and peripherality mean in practice? Who decides whether a place or a people in remote, isolated, or peripheral, and how do these determinations affect life in places that have acquired the label? Being labelled in this manner can sometimes give a community access to aid and support, but it can also pigeonhole a community into acting out its remoteness, can hinder efforts at embracing one’s own centrality. For Indigenous communities and minority nationalities located on or beyond the edge of a majority culture, an uncomfortable tension can develop between preserving local cultures and lifestyles on the one hand and performing in accordance with metropolitan and neocolonial expectations on the other. From China’s Great Western Development Strategy to Australian development efforts in Melanesia to attempts within Western liberal democracies to decentralise public administration by relocating government bodies out to ‘the provinces’, initiatives to address the disadvantages and inequalities resulting from peripherality and remoteness often mean increased political and economic dependence on a distant centre of power.
photo:Shutterstock / eFesenko