I’m working in Jersey and Guernsey this week: two islands off the South coast of the UK. Crown Dependencies, which means aligned with, but not governed by, the UK. Part of the family, but with separate identities and a unique culture. Microcosms in some way: every government department and function is replicated, but with it’s own spin.
Jersey has around a hundred thousand people, Guernsey somewhere over sixty thousand, and each is independent from each other. So here we all are, islands aligned, yet independent and proud.
It’s like looking at different organisations: they are made up of the same departments, often doing the same jobs, in the same market, and yet they’re strangely different from each other. Culture differs, shaped partly by environment, partly by the tacit knowledge and implicit stories shared within communities.
The islands identify as separate from the UK, much as Scotland or Wales identify as separate from England. But between Jersey and Guernsey, there is competition, expressed in myriad small ways. Perhaps it’s in the nature of islands to compete?
Defined as they are by a certain isolation, there’s no doubt that the geography can impact mindset: having grown up on an island, i sense the value of shorelines, the certainty of separation and identity.
Maybe a fractal view of society: communities subdividing into progressively smaller microcosms, each replicating the dynamics of the parent, but at ever smaller scale. There’s some native sense that the challenges in smaller societies should be easier to solve, but smaller does not necessarily mean more pliable: indeed, i suspect that in smaller societies our hierarchical, tribal and repetitional niches are more deeply entrenched, not least because there’s less space to manoeuvre.
I’ve spent time in the Hebrides before, where some of the islands i’ve stayed on have a populations of thirty of forty people, microcosms of microcosms. But still stratified by defined roles, gradients of power and delineated by coastline: the liminal separation of that which is controlled from that which is wild.
Perhaps it’s in our nature to organise in communities, whether the islands are surrounded by beaches, or simply the cliff-lines in our heads.