Iceland, a volcano rock in mid Atlantic just below the polar circle with active volcanos and almost no growth season at all; how can man thrive at such a place?

I am amazed over the fact that despite the extremely harsh conditions the society seems to be well organized and well maintained. I could go into this with a political point of view but I deliberately want to avoid that. Maybe that is a mistake but then it can be a topic of forthcoming reflections. Instead, what constitutes being an islander? Are there any similarities between islanders in general? Here in Sweden we have many small communities spread along the coastline in the archipelago. They are rest from a time when the fishing and agriculture was the base for survival and income. The sea was the natural choice for transportation and societies grew around the transport routes and where fishing and sheltered harbors coincided.

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I reckon that we, to a pretty large extent, are spoiled compared with our ancestors living just a couple of generations ago. In the age of abundance we no longer are that dependent of each other that we used to be. Especially in the urban community people are more or less self-sustain and to some extent lost in a large efficient and anonymizing system. We still depend on one and each other but we don’t need to know our neighbor any more. The social system takes care of us and the culture have changed from seeking contact to avoid it. The urban citizen takes her responsibility in the society by going to work, paying tax and obeying the law and in the same time maybe has lost what still can be seen at islanders; the personal caring for the person next door.

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At an island one is more exposed not only to the powers of weather and conditions of the sea, the support-frame the urban citizen can trust in isn’t as strong in those locations. This might make islanders more dependent on each other than the urban citizen might be. The personal care for third person is a vital function for small coastal communities in the islands where one can’t put as much trust in any outsider to come with assistance.

From what I have seen an islander’s first identity is to be an islander and nothing else. Work, hockey team or voluntary engagement is maybe not even second or third but fourth identity.


Can it be that Icelanders have a lot in common with other islanders in general and one of the explanations in why Iceland is doing so well can be found in their general identity as islanders? Then it becomes a question of culture, a collective responsibility for the wealth of the people in the community. I think this touch upon Rochlins thoughts about the importance of agency, collective responsibility, when it comes to create safety within systems. But to create safety one need to have a defined goal and the goal itself might be just agency witch might be embodied in, and the essence of being an islander.

/Fredrik Forsman


2 responses to “Icelanders

  • Jens Samuelsson

    Please explain ” to create safety one need to have a defined goal and the goal itself might be just agency witch might be embodied in, and the essence of being an islander.”

    Do you mean the goal is to be an islander, and the way to be an islander is to recognize a social responsibility?

  • fforsman

    Hi Jens,

    thank you very much for your contribution!

    I am not sure that being an islander is to be looked upon as a goal of it selves. I prefer to see it, to be an islander, as an identity than encapsulates the necessity of interdependence.

    On the other hand one might argue that this kind of reasoning ends up in an infinitive loop. What is the goal and what is the identity, maybe they merge together and become one.

    Being an islander means to me that my own wellbeing is depending of my fellow islanders wellbeing. There is an intrinsic motivation to help and assist others that is more tangible then in many other parts of the society because the interdependence blurs or erodes the border between my wellbeing and others. From a system point of view my own and others wellbeing is the same. In groups that faces challenges and adverse conditions this kind of behavior surfaces and can be observed. If we should look upon team performance in high risk activities as Search and Rescue for example, I think that there are lessons here to be learned that can help those teams succeed.

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