1: Introduction

Authors: and

This chapter explores what a criminology of islands might look like and offer. It describes the historical example of the mutiny and horrific execution-style murders of approximately 125 babies, children, women, and men on the Houtman Abrolhos chain of islands (Indian Ocean) in 1629, following the wreck of the Dutch East Company ship, Batavia. The example provides a means to introduce key concepts that reappear throughout the book, including by exploring how the isolation and remoteness of the Houtman Abrolhos islands may have played a role in the dramatic and brutal subversion of existing social order that resulted in the violent murders that ensued. The chapter closes by setting out how islands are defined in the context of the book, and by introducing the concepts of place, space, ‘islandness’, and what we refer to as the politics of place and belonging; a conceptual lens that we return to and extend upon in later chapters.

I

On 2 October 1629, seven men were hanged in the Houtman Abrolhos, a chain of 122 tiny islands and associated coral reefs, situated in the Indian Ocean, 60 km west of what is today the town of Geraldton in Western Australia. The executed were among the first inhabitants of the barren and windswept island chain. They were also the first people to be executed under European law in what would be known as New Holland, and then Australia, for mutiny and the horrific execution-style murders of approximately 125 babies, children, women, and men on the islands where they had been marooned for almost four months following the wreck of the Dutch East Company ship Batavia. Historians have likened Beacon Island (labelled by the Dutch ‘Batavia’s Graveyard’), the main site of the atrocities, to a modern-day concentration camp where the mutineers had experimented with various methods of killing (Sturma, 2002). Following these executions, which had been preceded by torture and the amputation of limbs, two other European mutineers, convicted of lesser crimes, were marooned on the Australian mainland. These men were never seen again, being the first of many Europeans to seemingly vanish in the vast depths of the island continent. They were also the first known European inhabitants of Australia.

The story of the Batavia had been something of a sensation in its day, only to be subsequently forgotten. With the unearthing of human remains from shallow graves by archaeological digs on the islands during the 1960s, interest was revived. Historians examined the Dutch archives to find a rich body of materials dating from the period, including diaries, ecclesiastical pamphlets, and polemics, which can be variously likened to pre-modern criminologies or 17th-century true crime tales. Like other famous wrecks of the period, Batavia proved a versatile source for writings, from the sober to sensational. As with other dystopian narratives, much of the writing then, as with more recent analyses, asks how such social disintegration and crimes could be possible, with answers often reflecting on the character and psychology of the mutineers’ leader. To date, the mutiny has been the subject of academic conjecture, several popular histories, documentaries, plays, poems, and even a three-act opera (Titlestad, 2013). Remains of the ship and victims of the massacre are housed at the Shipwreck Galleries in Fremantle, forming its main attraction.1

The continued interest seems justified, given that Batavia was something of a ‘Titanic’ of its day. Not unlike the Titanic, the Batavia was the flagship of one of the most powerful maritime companies in the world at the time and sank on her maiden voyage, carrying a diverse cross section of European society, travelling to the Dutch East Indies. The story also offered seemingly stylized heroes and villains, including a character whose evil seemed then, as now, unfathomable and whose nature and motives have been subject to enduring conjecture. Not the least, the story was one of horror that provides a counter narrative to the settler colonial myth of the peaceful arrival of the British convict fleets on the Eastern Coast of Australia from 1788. In brief, the story is outlined below, with much of what follows drawn from historian Mike Dash’s excellent (2002) account of the tragedy.

II

The Batavia struck a coral reef at night and proceeded to break up, with 40 of the 341 passengers drowning in the writhing waters and dangerous corals that surrounded the ship and separated it from nearby islands. Those passengers and crew that managed to reach Beacon Island soon found themselves facing starvation and dehydration in a hostile environment. Some men remained for several days on board the disintegrating wreck until it broke up, pillaging the ship’s stocks and belongings of the wealthier crew until the final destruction of the ship after several days. Those who had reached Beacon Island soon discovered it bereft of water and for five days suffered the extreme effects of dehydration and exposure, a further number of wreck survivors perishing, before the tides brought limited water and stores ashore from the wreck.

Meanwhile, the ship’s commander, Francisco Pelsaert, along with 48 of its most senior sailors, including the captain, took a longboat to search for water on the Australian mainland. Having failed to find landfall after several days, they made the fateful decision to abandon the castaways and try to reach the Dutch East Indies, some 900 miles from the wreck. They departed hastily without notice, fearing that to return to Beacon Island would risk taking on more survivors, which would swamp the already overloaded longboat.

Pelsaert’s second in command, Jeronimus Cornelisz, a former apothecary and alleged heretic who had been formulating a mutiny prior to the wreck, took charge of the remaining survivors and, at first, appeared to be acting in their best interests by sending some of the most capable men to nearby islands to search for water. Some of these men were variously executed or marooned on islands in the Houtman Abrolhos chain. All the while Cornelisz recruited a party of mutineers, secured all available weapons for these men, and set about murdering wreck survivors to reduce strains on the limited resources left on the island, with the aim of reducing the island’s population to about 45 people. He had also hatched a plan that should Pelsaert return with a rescue ship, a small number of remaining mutineers would forcefully seize the vessel and embark in piracy, before eventually establishing a new kingdom based on the proceeds of their crimes.

Murders were at first carried out as executions under the authority of an island council resided over by Cornelisz, and under the pretext of some crime having been committed, such as theft of rations or conspiracy to mutiny. But this quickly gave way to autocratic sentences ordered in an increasingly casual and arbitrary fashion (Dash, 2002, p 172). Corneliez soon abandoned any pretence to piety and become autocrat of the island, espousing a new code of Libertine philosophies and heretical beliefs, including the idea of a Devil and Hell being nothing more than fables (Dash, 2002, p 166). He also denounced his former status as ‘under-merchant’ for the new status of ‘Captain-general’ of the islands.

The increasingly random and unprovoked nature of atrocities on Beacon Island has largely been blamed on Cornelisz’ ‘burning need for novelty and stimulation’ (Dash, 2002, p 138). Similarly, among the other mutineers, daily routines held limited appeal for those who had come to enjoy the power of taking life, so that these men became well-practised killers whose murdering sprees were carefully planned and became trivial events to quash boredom (Dash, 2002, p 142). Indeed, ‘in the end he [Cornelisz] and his men were slaughtering for mere entertainment’ (Dash, 2002, pp 172, 180). Men who appeared reluctant mutineers were cajoled or forced to take part in killings to prove their loyalty to the new regime, soon becoming enthusiastic accomplices. Members of the inner circle proved themselves worthy through the individual butchering of between 12 and 20 people. Initial drownings soon gave way to gratuitous stabbings and throat cutting, and victims were murdered with axes, daggers, pikes, cutlasses, and morning stars before being buried in shallow graves, sometimes pre-prepared for groups (Dash, 2002, p 142). The murders of the Batavia’s survivors began with the weakest members of the group, which included those who were enfeebled and ill. Cornelisz was presented as adept at manipulating and recruiting others to engage in such acts and, although he had attempted to use his skills as an apothecary to unsuccessfully murder a baby (comatized and subsequently killed by an accomplice), he himself only ordered the savagery. It was said he took pleasure not in conducting the murders himself, but in corrupting others, especially young people, to do so (Dash, 2002, p 138; Titlestad, 2013). Of the 20 women who had survived the wreck, those who were pregnant or too old to interest the mutineers were killed and the seven remaining reduced to the status of sex slaves to be shared among the mutineers, while Cornelisz reserved the reputedly most desirable passenger for his personal abuse (Dash, 2002, p 169).

The only man left on the island who could challenge the authority of Cornelisz was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, who was lured from his tent so that his wife and five of his children could be massacred. One daughter was spared in order to become a ‘wife’ (sex slave) of one of the mutineers while the minister was reduced to a state akin to slavery and mocked by the mutineers. As such, one of few authorities left on the island that could constrain the men was neutralized (Dash, 2002, p 167).

A small group of approximately 20 soldiers, led by a loyalist named Webbe Hayes, who had been marooned in the early days of the wreck had managed to find water on one of the islands and survive from the myriad birdlife and fishing available. They had learnt of the murders from others fleeing Beacon Island. They built a crude limestone fortress, made makeshift weapons, and engaged in skirmishes with the mutineers who had become determined to eliminate them before a rescue party should arrive. As fate would have it, these men were engaged in a final desperate battle with the mutineers as a rescue ship approached the islands. A race to the rescue ship ensued with the loyalists managing to narrowly beat the mutineers and alert Pelsaert and the rescuers to their plans. After a short struggle, the mutineers were overpowered and captured. Of the fate of those mutineers not mentioned above, a further five were hanged on their trial in the Dutch East Indies and several were subject to extreme corporal punishments. Cornelisz proved himself resistant to confession and to the very end refused to admit to or take responsibility for his actions, several times retracting his confessions. Having had both hands severed with a crude chisel, he was likely barely conscious from loss of blood when he was taken to the gallows.

III

In 2019 the Houtman Abrolhos Islands were declared a national park by the Western Australian government. Sometimes described as the ‘Galapagos Islands of the Indian Ocean’, the Houtman Abrolhos are home to much biodiversity, including two local species of mammals, and are one of the world’s most important seabird breeding sites. Nonetheless, they remain, as they were in Cornelisz’ day, largely uninhabited and off-limits as a conservation habitat, the exception being seasonal fisherman. Day trips to the islands for fishing, bird watching, snorkelling, and diving are widely promoted (Muncipal Dept. of Tourism in the West, 2021).

The islands are also, perhaps unsurprisingly, a site for ‘dark tourism’, not only owing to the Batavia, but also to 19 lesser-known wrecks around the archipelago, including the wreck of the Zeewijk (1727), which was also notable for two boys having been convicted of sodomy and marooned on separate islands in the chain. Not surprisingly, few human remnants or constructions remain on the islands from these early incursions, the one notable exception being the first known European structure built in Australia – the limestone fort that the Batavia loyalists built to defend themselves from the mutineers.

IV

As previously noted, many attempts have been made to interpret the events of 1629. Whatever the cause of the events, interpretations often tell much about the interpreter and their respective cultural milieu. The earliest modern account of the events presented Cornelisz as charismatic, yet pathological and suffering from paranoia and other delusions: a charlatan capable of persuading men that wealth and new freedoms could be theirs should they follow him. Many interpretations tend to draw sharp distinctions between the evil of Cornelisz and the leader of the loyalists, Hayes, who was promoted and became a hero following the events. A statue of Hayes stands on the mainland in the town of Geraldton. The simplicity of such accounts lends dramatic effect to a tale of enduring appeal. Cornelisz represents an archetypal villain and Other, but one whose obvious flaws make him someone who can be at once understood in his humanity; and therein lies the horror. He embodies aspects of the worst elements of the modern world that would find wider expression in later historic atrocities. At any rate, accounts have tended to psychologize and individualize the events to the detriment of space and place.

Dash (2002) reinforces these conclusions and goes so far as to draw on the modern diagnostic tool DSM-IV to argue that Cornelisz was a verifiable psychopath. Yet, his account also offers sociological observations that the most loyal of the mutineers enjoyed a special status on the islands, which allowed them to feast on the limited ships stores rather than hunt and scavenge for food and rainwater. They had better clothes, larger tents, and freedom of movement on and between islands that was denied to loyalists. Notably, these men who had been of lower social status in their European homelands, had for the first time in their lives enjoyed freedom from the social constraints that had governed them. As we will iterate in the following pages, the realities of distance, isolation, and boundedness present possibilities for resistance to dominant regimes, along with supporting the power that such regimes hold. This is true to the extent that one social order was replaced by another; indeed, one that could be characterized as ‘carnivalesque’, but nonetheless ‘order’ was not absent from the lives of the mutineers. For example, in the confinements of his island kingdom, mutineers were actively encouraged by Cornelisz to blaspheme and swear. They were also absolved from the requirement to attend religious services, rejecting the rules of an order that until then had constrained them. Nonetheless, oaths of loyalty and trust were made by the mutineers to Cornelisz, to each other, and to what was essentially the new order of the island (Dash, 2002, pp 131–67). In this way, the mutineers can be compared to modern criminal groups such as mafia and gangs. Neither the mutineers nor the mafia exist in a social or moral void.

Further, what shocked the early modern mind (blasphemy and heresy) is not what shocks or draws contemporary attention to the events of 1629, this being the extreme brutality of the violent crimes and that they were carried out collectively and systematically. But such actions are recognizable when we consider the islands as a colonial landscape and the mutineers as colonizers. To understand the brutality, one must understand the powers associated with the colonial enterprise in addition to the social orders of 17th-century Europe.

Interestingly, Titlestad (2013) draws on the ‘political theology’ of Carl Schmidt to argue that in asserting a state of emergency in his island kingdom, Cornelisz had assumed the sovereign powers which drew on the monarchy that the Dutch Republic had replaced, observing that dictatorships, not unlike psyches, are rooted in time and place. The mutineers also mimicked the autonomous and often violent and coercive powers of the Dutch East India Company, which they served (Parthesius, 2010). Cornelisz thus exercised a realpolitik that in a commissary dictatorship drew a sharp distinction between friends and enemies (in this case consumers of scarce resources and potential threats to power).

Titlestad (2013) observes that one of the more interesting of the myriad of political, psychological, and theological interpretations of the event is in Arabella Edge’s The Company (2000). This presents Cornelisz’ perspective and likens him to the Marquis de Sade. The difference is that, while Sade ‘could only dream of a citadel where he could enact all his fantasies’, the Abrolhos archipelago allowed Cornelisz, for a time, ‘to reign supreme’. Once again, it is space and place that makes possible otherwise unrealizable fantasies/crimes. Following from this, the islands arguably represented a human laboratory comparable to the manufactured environments of the modern Milgram Experiment (1963) or Stanford Prison Experiment (1971). Milgram, interested in the psychology of genocide, required diverse participants in his study to obey an authority figure and perform acts conflicting with their ethics and beliefs. Although its method has since been questioned, the Stanford Prison Experiment argued that the insularity and confinement of a prison, as opposed to personality traits, facilitated abusive behaviours.

All the hypotheses regarding the events of 1629 focus on the actors but largely fail to account for the stages in which the dramatic events were set, these being the closed confines of ship and the bounded territories of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands. In this way, the role of geography – so integral to the creation of the drama surrounding the narrative – is absent from the analysis of the crimes. The ship and the islands blur into one to the extent that both might be regarded as akin in some respects to what Goffman (1961, p 15) referred to as ‘total institutions’: locales that are all encompassing, eroding barriers between different spheres of life (sleep, leisure, work), to provide ‘something of a world’ while barring ‘social intercourse with the outside’. What makes the events of 1629 so disturbing is not so much that the islands came to be devoid of social order, but that an order that we are still familiar with today, including one informed by both humanism and Judaeo-Christianity, could be so spectacularly subverted and replaced by another order that similarly drew on those traditions.

Cornelisz’ island kingdom is clearly a dystopia, representing an enduring narrative of islands as sites of horror or strange and Other places. There are plenty of examples, historical and fictional, that might be drawn upon to illustrate the way in which islands – bounded, often small, and isolated – generate crime and criminal cultures. To take one example, although he was unlikely to be at all familiar with the Batavia story, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) chillingly makes murderous castaways of modern British grammar school boys. As we return to throughout this book, such accounts are balanced against an alternate imagery of islands as a utopian ‘paradise’ or ‘idyll’. And, indeed, today what was once known as ‘Batavia’s Graveyard’ is renowned as a site of vitality for its biodiversity and is reimagined, as it could never have been for a castaway, as an enclave of beauty and leisure.

For Baldacchino (2012) island geographies lend themselves to near absolute human domination. They can exist as personal property and be treated according to personal whims. For example, nearly a century after the wreck of Batavia and marooning of the mutineers, Defoe would have his castaway, Robinson Crusoe (1719), survey the island on which he was isolated with a kind of megalomania: ‘with a secret kind of pleasure to think that this was all my own, that I was king and lord of all this country’ (Defoe, 1719, p 99). In one sense, Crusoe is a rugged survivalist tale, but it is also one of imperialist greed resulting in conquest, slavery, robbery, and murder (Baldacchino, 2012, p 105). Small islands also present as extreme sites in the colonial project, providing laboratories and models for exploitation and domination. McCusker and Soares (2011, p xi) explain:

The Western gaze, rooted in what Bill Ashcroft describes as the ‘imperial passion for perspective,’ frequently imagined the island as an inferior, marginal or easily dominated space, as an obvious site for subjugation and organization by the colonizer. Thus the island was a natural colony for the European, not just, as Rod Edmond and Vanessa Smith note, ‘because of the desire to possess what is paradisal or utopian, but because islands, unlike continents, look like property.’ Their supposed vulnerability and isolation, and their (imagined) small geographic scale, meant that islands were both arche-typal and prototypical sites of the colonial experience. Historically, the island was considered as an ideal locale, or even a laboratory, in which to materialize the colonial will, free from undesirable alien influences emanating from the outside.

In the most extreme manifestations of the colonial project, islands offered a particularly complete model of domination and exploitation, exemplified in the plantations of the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, whose histories of genocide and slavery testify to the supreme acquisitiveness of the Western gaze. At the height of imperialism during the 19th century, The Coral Island, one in a long line of Robinsannades, as with the trope, does little to hide visions of racist imperial conquest: ‘We’ve got an island all to ourselves. We’ll take possession in the name of the king; we’ll go and enter the service of its black inhabitants. Of course we’ll rise, naturally, to the top of affairs. White men always do in savage countries’ (Ballantyne, 1858/1867, pp 27–8 cited in Baldacchino, 2012, p 105). As Baldacchino (2012, p 105) points out, though, islands are also sites of complexity and contradiction:

With their beguiling simple geography, small islands invite us to consider them as comprehensible and manageable totalities. … Islands help to unleash and encourage the indulging of atavistic desires for power and control, encouraging humans (usually men) to think that their island world is an enticing tabula rasa; for all seasons and for all tastes. Which is why, then, anything goes. This sounds like a recipe for a natural collapse into patriarchal authoritarianism. And yet, if one reads the specific political science literature, this extols small, often island, jurisdictions as paragons of democratic behaviour.

Indeed, little over a hundred years before the Batavia tragedy, Thomas Moore had presented the ideal political commonwealth as the Island of Utopia, its bounded and exclusive geography making it an ideal site for a political experiment (Baldacchino, 2012). And so it is that islands are places of the imagination and, as we show in this book, sites of both idyllization and horror. As we build on in the chapter that follows, the island-idyll is a symbolic place into which various meanings of islandness are condensed. Idyllization is produced by mainlanders, as well as by islanders themselves, and sources nostalgic yearnings for an imagined community remembered as purer, simpler, natural, and stable. It can provide an escape from city and/or mainland life and the problems considered to manifest it, leading to a sense of belonging. In the idyll, the island presents as a space of bucolic tranquillity and communion with nature – an authentic place of retreat from the mainland (Bell, 2006, p 152). Idyllization and horror inform the social construction of crime and, with it, fear of crime.

Drawing on Durkheim’s work, Erikson (1962) presented deviant forms of behaviour as a valuable resource in the community, providing clarity to the extant social order. He had earlier commented on this process in terms of ‘boundary maintenance’, highlighting the social production of deviance rather than its causes (Erikson, 1962). The denser social networks which social disorganization theorists have described in some small-scale societies are only achieved through a clear articulation of social order and social disorder, with much social activity operating to highlight what resides within and outside the boundaries of ‘communities’. While small communities tend to have a strong sense of identity, defined through geography, the problem exists: who is defined as belonging to the community in terms of residing in it and contributing to its prosperity? For example, racial and ethnic discrimination have been reported to be common in many small-scale societies (Coorey, 1990; Cunneen, 1992).

V

The social networks and symbolic landscapes of islands are not produced in a social or geo-political vacuum, free of historic and current power relations or the social figurations such relations produce. Moreover, they have material effects. Organization, as presented in terms of tightly integrated and/or well-resourced social groups, allows for clear articulations of disorganization and inferiority, often defined in terms of criminality. Such articulations can inform a group’s integrity, with ideology defining the normative boundaries of a group. This is the case in small-scale societies, which although often being resource poor, regularly have what is termed ‘social capital’, which exists and is mobilized through tight-knit social networks. The politics of who belongs in such societies may define Otherness in terms of internal or external threats to ‘the (imagined) community’ (Anderson, 1991). So it is that in a remote or small-scale society, the Other may be a particular social group or ‘drifter’ or other ‘stranger’ passing through a town, or even the ‘town drunk’ who embodies a certain disorganization that threatens the whole.

Other places can also exist as threats to local cohesion. This may be, in the case of a rural town, the metropolis, or in the case of an island, the mainland. Scholars have recognized this definitional capacity in terms of islands with reference to what we have referred to as ‘islandness’, especially how a sense of belonging is informed by feelings of being in place. Not only is group membership important to belonging, but ‘ownership’ of place is equally important. Memmott et al (2006, p 41) observe that people are dependent upon place for social identity and places are also dependent on people for their identity. It should also be added that discourses of belonging write the contributions of some people into the landscape and others out. Antonisch (2010, p 650) observes that the politics of belonging has a side that claims belonging and a side that grants it. Communal bonding shapes the scale of the crime threat and informs a socially constructed criminogenic order in which some crimes are marked as extreme threats to the social order and others are dismissed or ignored. In this way, talk about crime is always about more than just ‘crime’.

VI

Norbert Elias’ figurational sociology can be helpful in understanding how ‘problems’ are socially constructed and strategically deployed in small-scale settings. In particular Elias’ account of established–outsider relations, developed through a classic community study with Scotson in the late 1950s, is especially informative. What is valuable about the study is the way in which the authors examined a ‘community’ without marked ethnic or class differences: a place akin to many islands, with their relatively ‘flat’ social structure. Winston Parva (pseudonym) in the late 1950s, was a suburban settlement on the outer fringes of an industrial city located in the Midlands of England. Elias and Scotson (1994) document a social cleavage between the older and newer residents who had been relocated there after the war. The older or ‘established’ residents of Winston Parva presented as a cohesive and tightly integrated group, while the newer residents, or ‘outsiders’, were less cohesive and subject to stigmatization from the established group. Typically, the newer or ‘outsider’ group were presented as lacking in civilized standards, especially those pertaining to bodily integrity and control. For example, they were blamed for various forms of social disorder in the community and characterized as dirty, uncouth, and violent. A good deal of what ‘villagers’ habitually said about Estate families was vastly exaggerated or untrue (Elias & Scotson, 1994, p 101).

To explain the social dynamics of this place, Elias avoids traditional explanations of stigmatization and discrimination associated with forms of stratification such as educational, occupational, religious, ethnic, and class differences. Indeed, social exclusion and stigmatization can exist independent of any of these variables. Both social groupings in Winston Parva were working class and exhibited similar socio-cultural characteristics. The only significant difference evident between the groups was merely the social oldness and cohesion or organization of the established group, while the newcomers had lacked the time to build up social cohesion and, subsequently, lacked common identification and shared practices. In this way, Elias and Scotson (1994) examine a group’s ability to organize itself as an important power differential. They argue that an established group tends to attribute to outsider groups the ‘bad’ characteristics of that group’s ‘worst’ section — its perceived ‘anomic’ minority. Blemishes perceived in some members of the group were transferred to all members of the group. In contrast, the self-image of the ‘nomic’ group is based on perceived attributes of a minority of its members (Elias & Scotson, 1994, p xix). The more unequal the balance of power is between groups, the more distorted is the image of outsiders produced by the establishment group (Mennell, 1992, p 138). Established groups not only treat others as inferior, but also make them feel inferior, which can have a paralysing effect on groups with a lower power ratio (Elias & Scotson, 1994, p xxiv). Stigmatization impinges on self-image, being that of an outsider, resulting in a demoralization (Elias & Scotson, 1994, pp xxiii–xxiv). Notably, praise, blame, and gossip are important elements in such relations. Gossip, for example, provides a means by which people can demonstrate ‘their fervent adherence to their own group norms by expressing their shock and horror at the behaviour of those who don’t conform. The high organisation of social networks among established groups facilities the flow of gossip and also reinforces integration of the group’ (Elias & Scotson, 1994, p 89).

An account of established–outsider relations may be helpful in understanding how social problems are defined and maintained over periods of time. It may also account for the complex dynamics of power relations in small-scale settings. It draws attention to the intimacy and density of socio-spatial relationships that characterize many small-scale societies, including islands. Elias’ work is especially illuminating with regard to bounded and small-scale societies where notions of length of residence and age of families have been shown to affect social dynamics, being important indicators of status and authority (Wild, 1974). It is also useful in understanding colonial and neo-colonial practices, such as how Indigenous groups come to be defined as outsiders in their own lands and have been repeatedly characterized as an uncivilized and even parasitic presence in the landscape from which they have been displaced, being excluded from social, political, and economic life of communities (Whyte, 2018). One mark of this incivility is a perceived capacity for violence. It also explains how processes of colonization, which involve the displacement and disruption of social networks, are vital in maintaining hegemonies. Countering such imagery may be difficult and certainly requires high levels of organizational capacity, which an eradication or erosion of culture denies. In relation to this, crime is also thought to be the product of a lack of shared values and beliefs and inability to solve common problems. We can look at social problems in small-scale societies, such as islands, in terms of claim-making activities which are always a form of interaction between social groups. Most of the time groups that have more membership, money, greater discipline, and better organization will be more effective in having their claims realized (Spector & Kitsuse, 1973, 1977).

VII

According to The Island Studies Reader, approximately 600 million people (10 per cent of the world’s population) live on islands (Baldacchino, 2007), though this is contingent on how ‘island’ is defined. Definitions tend to span characteristics of both space (that is, geographical features) and place (that is, cultural and social features). In English, the word island is derived from Anglo-Saxon tradition, rather than Classical cultures, and tends to refer to spatial qualities – essentially denoting a land mass surrounded by water. English includes several distinct words to describe water-bound land masses, perhaps signifying the early importance of the construct to trading and colonizing islanders. For the Vikings, land surrounded by water was not, however, an island unless it was only navigable by a boat with a rudder in place. This might contrast landlocked societies where islands have held relatively less significance, and where few words exist that denote the kind of insularity that is often considered a place-based characteristic of islands (Royle & Brinklow, 2018).

Biologists tend to define ‘small’, isolated bodies surrounded by water as islands, though often not clearly defining what is meant by ‘small’ (Jedrusik, 2011, p 202). Thus, although in terms of their spatial characteristics islands may be simply defined as relatively confined terrestrial systems, bounded by sea, this is potentially too broad. Papua New Guinea, Borneo, and Madagascar might, for instance, be considered islands by this definition, but they are also large land masses (>500,000 km2). Under Jedrusik’s (2011, p 202) classification, however, islands are considered to be smaller than 10,000 km2, while a continent is in excess of 50,000 km2. Thus, the large floating land masses of Papua New Guinea, Borneo, and Madagascar do not qualify as islands according to Jedrusik (2011). Using Jedrusik’s (2011) definition, we can nevertheless identify several hundreds of thousands of islands worldwide, with only 18 of these having a surface area greater than 10,000 km2. And yet, islands show much cultural, geographic, social, political, and economic diversity; it is often debated whether they have anything in common, besides being surrounded by water.

Contemporary island nations are often comprised of diverse cultural and linguistic groups, frequently formed by colonial geographies. They are what Anderson (1991) might call ‘imagined communities’, whereby national cultures are, as with elsewhere in the world, represented in objects such as flags, anthems, dress, institutions, and languages (Connell, 2003). There may also be significant diversity within islands, and/or across island archipelagos. Melanesia, for example, is home to 20 per cent of the world’s languages, while the Melanesian Solomon Islands, which are made up of nearly 1,000 smaller islands spread across nine groups, are home to 70 different languages (Dinnen & McLeod, 2009). Thus, notwithstanding Jedrusik’s (2011) spatial criterion, the way in which islands are understood varies widely according to cultural and temporal settings. The place-based characteristics of islands are also relative. Australia’s comparative isolation often sees it presented as an island, regardless of its size and continental status. And for those living on the Australian island state of Tasmania (located off South-East Australia), Australia is the ‘mainland’. Similarly, for the Ulster Nationalists, Great Britain is referred to by the politically potent term ‘mainland’. While for the British, Europe is the ‘continent’. In William Shakespeare’s Richard II, for example, John of Gaunt cites the imaginative and physical geographies of the ‘British’ Isles: ‘This fortress built by Nature for herself, against infection and the hand of war, this happy breed of men, this little world; this precious stone set in the silver seas, which serves it in the office of a wall, or as a moat defensive to a house’ (Shakespeare, cited in Dodds & Royle, 2003).

Overall, it might be said that islands possess unique geological, geographical, and cultural histories owing to their limited population, isolation, and resource scarcity (Dodds & Royle, 2003, p 487). Indeed, island isolation leads to their being imagined as complete worlds secured by natural boundaries, with seclusion and remoteness often considered to be central features (Jedrusik, 2011, p 202). In fact, the word island resembles terms for isolation in many European languages, but isolation here has as much to do with geographic distance as it does with the place-based nature of the communities and cultures living within island geographies. It is also the case that both geographic and cultural isolation can ebb and flow, being challenged for example in periods of rapid globalization (Jedrusik, 2011, p 202). Indeed, islands and islandness are complex, changing, and paradoxical (Thomas, 2007).

‘Islandness’, a concept popularized in island studies, is a term that has proven difficult to define. Conkling (2007, p 192) cites qualities of islandness as independence, loyalty, a strong sense of honour, handiness (polydextorous and multi-faceted competence), earthy common sense, fragility, opinionated machismo, tolerance of eccentricity, fragile discretion, highly individualized expressions of spirituality and superstition, a complex oral tradition, and canny literacy and intelligence. These are very broad and mostly positive, seeing islands as places of social capital and underwriting a darker side to island experience.

The idea is that being bounded or surrounded by water contributes to a psychological and sociological sense of boundedness and belonging and of difference and sameness, inclusion and exclusion in what has been termed ‘the island effect’ or articulation by compression. Being bound geographically reinforces a shared sense of purpose and identity among islander dwellers, while also reinforcing a connection to place. Islandness can be reinforced, for instance, through stories, such as folklore and other cultural traditions (Mountz, 2015) and islands have been considered among places (seashore, valley) where people feel strong attachment, and which have persistent appeal to the imagination (Aldrich & Johnson, 2018). Islands are often exotic and imaginative places to the outside world, but for locals, islandness is frequently expressed in determination to remain on the island and live as an economically self-sustaining community, despite the sometimes-experienced effects of population and economic decline (Amoamo, 2012, p 422). Islanders share characteristics imposed by boundedness and isolation and such qualities transcend local cultures. Often islandness is felt instinctively by those local at islands but is articulated by outsiders to islands (Conkling, 2007, p 192).

Island metaphors can serve to highlight rugged individualism, but also its opposite (Hay, 2006). Islands can create feelings of safety and community, but they can also be places that are stifling and confined from which people seek to escape from ‘community’. Islandness could, for instance, be used interchangeably with insularity. However, one advantage of the term is that it is value-neutral, not having negative or positive connotations that terms such as insularity do (Hay, 2006). For small islands in particular, all that exists can be seen and regulated, giving them a panoptic quality that can lend itself to secrecy and exploitation, depending on who is doing the ‘looking’ and with what intent. In this sense, ‘Visibility is a trap’ (Foucault, 1977, p 200), and islands are thereby often viewed in myriad utopian and dystopian translations as natural and social laboratories (Connell, 2003, p 555). This raises debate as to whether islands are best characterized by vulnerability, resilience (Hay, 2006), or as we return to throughout this book, perhaps both. Indeed, tropes of islandness, which we argue are experienced not as binaries, but on a continuum, include: tradition/modernity, dependency/autonomy, roots/routes, globalization/particularity, and vulnerability/resilience (Aldrich & Johnson, 2018).

These functional thresholds for determining an island are not merely historical artefacts or curiosities. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (Part VIII, Article 121) does allow exclusive economic zones to be awarded where places are incapable of sustaining human habitation or economic life on their own (Royle & Brinklow, 2018). Meanwhile, island studies, or ‘nissology’ (McCall, 1994; Baldacchino, 2004), has also invested much energy into defining the term ‘island’, as well as different island ‘types’. There are Indigenous and colonized islands, resource rich and resource poor, continental and oceanic islands, and urbanized and wild islands (Hay, 2006). There is also debate over whether the physical hard edges of islands should be considered their boundaries. In many instances, the beachscape might be conceived of as a liminal space of islandness; a border that is ever shifting and changing in response to the movement of surrounding waterways and seas (Breidenbach et al, 2020). Indeed, a key focus of nissology has been to ask: what is the essence of islands and how are they different from other geographical and social formations? Are islands only water-bound places or should we develop a more elastic understanding of the term, free of physical boundaries? Is earth itself to be conceptualized as an island, for example (Fletcher, 2011, pp 20–1)? Analogous definitional concerns have troubled rural criminology, despite demographers having developed very concise definitions of the ‘rural’ specific to national contexts. Thus, in seeking to draw together nissology and criminology, we engage with these (and other) definitional questions throughout this book. We also, however, start below with some rough parameters for how we engage with the concept of islands from herein.

In the chapters that follow, we view islands as typically being non-urban and peripheral or isolated settings. Their borders are often ‘natural’, as opposed to being socially generated through politics or struggle (Hay, 2006, pp 21–2). Conceptually, we think of islands as being centrally characterized by three integral and often interlocking elements: (1) isolation/separateness; (2) small scale (though we do not always adhere fervently to Jedrusik’s [2011] relatively rigid spatial criterion of islands as being <10,000km2); and (3) some notion of security/protection. They are seemingly complete worlds secured by natural boundaries (Connell, 2003, p 555), with their ‘natural’ security often being reinforced/multiplied and/or eroded as socio-political uses of islands change over time and across space.

Our preference here is to think of islands in terms of both space and place. This enables us to look beyond objective geographic markers to consider other contextual factors, including how identity is socially constructed within these settings and how this might also link to constructions of deviance and crime. Ethnographic research has been used to illustrate, for example, how ‘belonging’ can be powerfully associated with islands, being rooted in a sense of community, and common heritage. It is also apposite to note that inhabitants of the Turks and Caicos Islands and of the British Virgin Islands were traditionally called ‘Belongers’, while the Japanese word for island, shima, can also mean ‘community’ (Royle & Brinklow, 2018). Thus, islandness also denotes particular imaginings of social cohesion; perhaps the insularity of even a large ‘island’ with a large population survives and is demonstrated in the majority vote for Brexit in the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union (EU) (Royle & Brinklow, 2018). Even though, as we note above, technology, transport, and globalization constantly challenge understandings of island isolation and independence, a sense of connectedness is nevertheless a crucial aspect of the island experience and water may not always be seen as a barrier to its realization. For instance, Tongan scholar and writer Epeli Hau‘ofa wrote about the Pacific Ocean traditionally serving as a road, binding Pacific peoples together (Royle & Brinklow, 2018). In this view, therefore, the Ocean is interpreted as the uniting feature of Pacific Island communities, as opposed to a geographic marker of separation and isolation (as water is typically conceptualized in island studies – as in moats, for instance).

VIII

In the following chapters, we grapple with these (and other) definitional and interpretive complexities to examine how the place and space of islands can inform criminological thinking. This is not an administrative endeavour to make various arms of criminal justice systems either on islands or elsewhere function better. Nor is the driving question whether islands simply have more or less crime than other locations (though this does, at times, find its way into our discussion). Instead, we are interested in how crime and deviance are defined in island settings, which crimes are policed and visible as well as which crimes are not, who defines crime, and who is/is not subject to regulation. We are also interested in the ways that island settings, as well as features of islandness, have been mobilized socio-politically to govern and discipline deviant Others, including under (settler) colonialism. Vitally, all of these questions are informed by what we refer to here as the politics of place and belonging.

While the physical and demographic diversity of islands must be appreciated, we argue – and seek to show in this book – that there is a need to understand crime in islands as places of exclusion (detention centres, prisons), production (agriculture, industry), and consumption (tourism, retirement sites). Accordingly, the book is organized into key themes that enable us to delve into and more deeply explore how the space- and place-based characteristics of islands can inform criminological theorizing across these areas. In the chapter immediately following (Chapter 2), we spend some time setting out a place for island criminologies within the broader context of Southern and decolonizing criminologies. This chapter serves as something of a ‘literature review’, though we do not claim to be systematic or comprehensive in our presentation of relevant literature, choosing, rather, samples representative of the type of criminological research that has been conducted to date around islands. Drawing on spatial and place-based criminologies, we discuss the promise that island criminologies hold, in terms of similarly pursuing a shift away from what has been an almost exclusive focus in criminology on the metropole, and towards a deeper understanding of criminology at the so-called ‘peripheries’.

In the next chapter (Chapter 3), we more deeply explore isolation as a defining characteristic of islands, charting how this feature of islandness has informed the treatment of polluted and criminal bodies across time and space, with the techniques of ‘islanding’ deployed by health and penal institutions often becoming interwoven and sometimes appearing as indistinguishable from one another.

In Chapter 4, we turn our focus towards islands as sites of invasion, considering how islanding can also be deployed as a form of erasure within a larger (settler) colonial toolkit of surveillance, normalization, and domination. In doing so, we extend our theorizing of island spaces to include islands situated on terra firma and bounded by the natural barrier of the desert. This enables us to develop a more elastic understanding of island as an imaginary that can affect different types of spaces and places.

In Chapter 5 we examine the issue of integration in relation to policing in the Pacific, where most research on policing islands has been conducted. We argue that small-scale and remote societies are more likely to develop a ‘localistic’, as opposed to ‘legalistic’, approach to policing. What little theoretical work has been done on policing in small places has highlighted the issue of integration and how it might both enable and limit the task of policing. We examine this issue with respect to the problem of gendered violence in island societies.

Much of the research literature on social capital assumes a consensus perspective that aligns ‘the common good’ with mainstream or official functions. However, just as social capital and dense social networks have been theorized in criminology as being crime protective, they can also be crime productive when the norms adopted by networks are criminogenic. In Chapter 6 we further develop aspects of the analysis in the previous chapter to examine how integration may also breed a kind of insularity. While insularity may not be crime productive per se, it may indeed enable conditions where certain crimes can remain hidden and be left unaddressed. We examine a series of sexual crimes committed on the very remote Pitcairn Island in the Pacific to better understand the normative nature of crime and responses to crime.

We return to notions of island exploitation in Chapter 7, critically discussing how islands have also been frequent backdrops to extractive industry, often rooted in (neo-)colonialism, that has repeatedly resulted in irreparable damage to island spaces and places. Drawing on perspectives from green criminology, we ask questions about how islandness has enabled criminal destruction of land and peoples to go relatively unchecked and unseen. This, we argue, raises significant questions about social justice for island communities into the future, particularly as the threat of climate change looms large over island spaces and places, rendering many islands as sites that are now dealing with an imminent threat of disappearance as sea levels rise.

While we take some initial steps towards charting island criminologies here, we also intend this book as an invitation to others to take more seriously the role of islands and island imaginaries in understandings of deviance and crime. Indeed, islands encapsulate and draw together myriad features of socio-political life in ways that are unique and have historical as well as contemporary relevance – particularly as we continue to grapple with the increasing precarity and uncertainty that are enduring features of the current Age of Anthropocene. Thinking through islandness in this context raises significant questions about past and future social justice, safety, and security; at their most auspicious, islands may indeed present a much-needed microcosmic window into the future, and of the shape of things to come, by revealing past and sometimes hidden or forgotten places and spaces.

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