Philipp Schorch & Frank Heidemann

Thinking through islandness

Island gigantism, or insular gigantism, is understood as a biological process through which the size of an animal species isolated on an island increases drastically in comparison to its mainland relatives. Insular dwarfism is the opposite process of large animals evolving a decreased body size when their population is limited to a small environment, primarily islands. Both manifestations embody the impact of animal life on an island upon the animal itself. What biology considers as an evolutionary mechanism, free of interpretation, we treat as creative-intellectual human engagements. We are interested in the dialectic relationship between islands and islanders and the resulting forms and ways of island life, a condition that we consider as ‘islandness’. We propose ‘islandness’ as a lens through which to zoom in on, and think through, ‘insular’ settings beyond the geographical category of an ‘island’, such as mountainous regions, oases, and urban enclosures. What different conceptualizations of ‘islandness’ can we discern in different parts of the world? How do these conceptualizations frame experiences of time and space, and shape human perceptions, cultural practices as well as relationships to, and interactions with, other-than-human entities? In what ways do ‘insular’ sensibilities configure ways of being and moving in historical and contemporary contexts?

In order to find answers to these and other questions, we will host two workshops. The first took place on 23–24 April 2021, in person and via zoom, and invited participants to take up the notion of ‘islandness’ to approach their respective field site, pose questions and offer relevant literature. The second workshop will take place a year later, in May 2022, and asks participants to present the facets of ‘islandness’ discovered in their field settings. The outcome will be a special journal issue or edited volume to be published in 2024.


Raúl Acosta (LMU Munich), Anna Antonova (LMU Munich), Ruhi Deol (LMU Munich), Stefan Dorondel (‘Francisc I. Rainer’ Anthropology Institute of the Romanian Academy), Eveline Dürr (LMU Munich), Frank Heidemann (LMU Munich), Eva-Maria Knoll (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften), Frank Korom (Boston University), Diego Muñoz (LMU Munich), Galen Murton (James Madison University), Sarah Nimführ (Kunstuniversität Linz), Alessandro Rippa (LMU Munich), Thoiba Saeedh (LMU Munich), Philipp Schorch (LMU Munich), Hilke Thode-Arora (Museum Fünf Kontinente), Boris Wille (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg), Gordon Winder (LMU Munich)

Article Image: Islandness and connectivity go together. Islandness and connectivity go together.
Article Image: Photos taken in the Maldives in February 2020 by Frank Heidemann. Photos taken in the Maldives in February 2020 by Frank Heidemann.