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Seats of Power and Space for Reparation: Small Island States, Disrupted Mobility, and Compensatory Landscapes of the Future

Authors: Brittany Wheeler*, Clark University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Legal Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism
Keywords: Moral Geography, Legal Geography, Environmental Migration, Reparation, Responsibility
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the broad discourse that informs the righting of the ‘human wrong’ of displacement, the structure, quantity, and directionality of compensation that may be offered to migrants is a subject of fierce debate. In the Anthropocene, these debates are exacerbated by complex threads of causality, intent, and agency, all of which affect reparative action. Island sites and their people hold complex, long-standing relationships with powerful nations and constellations of geopolitical interest, often formed around initial resource extraction or other strategic uses of island/ocean, resulting in ecological disruption and human displacement. They also figure heavily in the conceptualization of the future effects of climate change. At the confluence of repetitious past displacement and speculative futures for migration, these relationships stretch the discussion of compensation--and reparative thought more broadly--over a large swath of space and time.

This research investigates changing conceptualizations and negotiations regarding compensation, focusing on the Marshall Islands, Diego Garcia, and their relationships with the US/UK. Though these sites have differing legal arrangements, climatic conditions, and histories of compensation, they also have commonalities that make them fitting cases for gaining insight into evolving compensatory relationships. This research asks how various stakeholders have conceived of the scale, limits, and content of compensation over time, the significance of the distribution of compensation to islanders in diasporic space, and whether environmental change affects how compensation is theorized and practiced. More broadly, it asks why we compensate migrants, for how long, and to what spatial extent, and develops theory linking human-centered and environmentally-centered reparation.

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