Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice


Aquapelagos and Island Careers: a case study of Orkney and Shetland

This week I published a paper in Shima: the International Journal of Research into Island Cultures titled “Career Decision making in Island Communities: applying the concept of the Aquapelago to the Shetland and Orkney Islands”.

Shima front cover

Front Cover of Shima: love the puffins! It reminds me of some great puffin-watching at Sumburgh Head a couple of years ago.

In this paper I take Hayward’s concept of the Aquapelago (which I have previously blogged about) and examine how useful it can be as a conceptual frame for thinking about island career pathways.

Hayward originally introduced the term ‘aquapelago’ as a way of redefining the ‘archipelago’, a term he felt had become too land-focused (focusing on the land spaces of an island group, rather than the integrated marine and land environment). His full definition of the aquapelago is:

a social unit existing in a location in which the aquatic spaces between and around a group of islands are utilised and navigated in a manner that is fundamentally interconnected with and essential to the social group’s habitation of land and their senses of identity and belonging.

(Hayward, 2012: 5)

My main argument in the paper is that the concept potentially offers a strong interpretive value when considering island careers for several reasons:

  • It refocuses and expands the concept of the island labour market so that it includes employment that may take place on and around sea spaces as well as land spaces.
  • Alongside conceptualising the labour market, it also focuses on the experiences of migration off, on and between islands. This allows for an integrated perspective on career pathways which considers migration issues alongside labour market issues.
  • It highlights the social and cultural context of island communities, and the role of space in the creation of ‘identity’. This allows for an understanding of the way the social and cultural context of islands may influence career decisions.

I then go on to discuss Orkney and Shetland using the lens of the aquapelago to pick out some themes about island career trajectories.

I would be really interested to know your thoughts on the paper!




So, here’s an interesting idea. Reading about island studies and definitions, I came across the idea of the ‘aquapelago’. This term is used by Hayward (2012) in  an article in Shima: The international Journal of Research into Island Cultures’.

In his article, Hayward notes that the term ‘archipelago’: ‘has increasingly come to define the land area of a group of islands within a sea’ (p.3). In this definition  the sea is simply the boundary that delineates the island. However, as he notes, the sea itself in terms of the sea-shore, the inner waters and more distant sea spaces, are themselves vital to the constitution of island identities. Therefore he proposes a new term ‘aquapelago’. He states: ‘I propose the latter term in order to provide an expanded concept of the territory and human experience of an intermeshed and interactive marine/land environment’ (p.5).

MV Eynhallow

MV Eynhallow: many jobs in Orkney and Shetland may actually be based in the physical space of the sea rather than on the land itself.

This idea particularly appealed to me following the paper I wrote about the role of the sea in the career paths of people in Orkney and Shetland (which I have previously blogged about). In this paper I talked about how the range of sea-based careers available in island  communities (and Orkney and Shetland in particular) may influence the choices of young people. Hayward’s concept of ‘aquapelagos’ perhaps appeals because when we talk about ‘careers in Orkney or Shetland’ we are also talking about careers that predominantly take place in the waters around Orkney or Shetland…

Hayward, P. (2012) ‘Aquapelagos and Aquapelagic Assemblages: Towards an integrated study of island societies and marine environments’ Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures vol. 6 no. 1