Environments, Economies and Contemporary Change
Chapter 2: Islands and political economies
Small island states and islands are and have been particularly disadvantaged in their efforts to achieve economic development, hence the emergence of the SIDS category. Most SISI are small and vulnerable, economically and environmentally. At the core of most debates about development are vague but long-established notions of viability, which usually conclude that small size precludes ‘genuine’ development. Indeed the discursive construction of smallness as synonymous with vulnerability is so pervasive that alternative perceptions pointing to smallness as no necessary barrier to development, and stressing the power of agency at local and national level, have been largely discounted (Lee and Smith 2010). However, rather more than remnants of agency exist in SISI. Many states are isolated and fragmented, with numerous populated islands and, in Melanesia especially (from the New Guinea islands to New Caledonia), with many distinct language and cultural groups. Prospects for economic growth are limited, especially in Polynesia, Micronesia and the eastern Caribbean (Antilles), where small states are remote from international markets. Ten island states are officially classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Some, like Nauru and Solomon Islands, have been described as failed states, in being unable to provide physical security and/or public goods and infrastructure to citizens, though that epithet is challenged (Chauvet et al. 2010). Others, like the Comoros, Fiji and the Maldives, have been characterized as having a propensity for coups. Politics is uneasy. Diverse cultures and economies, and a usually peaceful transition to independence, have posed problems for stimulating national identity and nationhood, especially in Melanesia and Micronesia.
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