Okategoriserade Introduction Special Section Life in the Archipelago The Baltic Sea Region Archipelagos and Islands: Conditions and challenges

This special issue deals with a number of questions related to the livelihoods of people, economic conditions, challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs located on the archipelagos and islands of the Baltic Sea Region (BSR). While some local conditions, problems, and challenges are shared by all rural, remote, and peripheral areas, the BRS archipelagos and islands have their own unique characteristics.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2019:2 pp 35-37
Published on balticworlds.com on June 18, 2019

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Content Special section: Life in the Archipelago


The Baltic Sea Region Archipelagos and Islands. Conditions and challenges, Nadir Kinossian & Paulina Rytkönen

peer-reviewed articles

Continued use of ecosystems: Challenges for fishing and farming communities, Håkan Tunón, Marie Kvarnström, Joakim Boström and, Anna-Karin Utbult Almkvist 

New research agenda. Agents of change in peripheral regions, Nadir Kinossian 

A comparative study of entrepreneurial responses and local development on three islands: Facing business challenges with the Stockholm Archipelago as a context, Paulina Rytkönen, Tommy Larsson-Segerlind, Gustaf Onn, Lars Degerstedt, and Mauri Kaipainen 


Shit-pits and the archaeology of a lost economy, Johan Hegardt 

Entrepreneurship in the Stockholm Archipelago. A historical perspective, Christian Widholm 


3 islands – 3 entrepreneurs. Jacks-of-all-trades keep the Stockholm Archipelago alive, Susanna Lidström 

The Archipelago Business Development project gave new insights, Annemari Andrésen 

App speeds up anchoring on busy islands. The students’ perspective, Ninna Mörner 


Today, the Baltic Sea is an internal sea in the European Union characterized by diverse geographies of its coastal areas, islands, and many archipelagos, located near the Finnish West coast and the Swedish East coast. Historically, the Baltic Sea has played an important role in the development of shipping and trade between East and West, South and North of the region. The islands and archipelagoes of the Baltic Sea region (hereafter called BSR) have at times offered a safe harbor for ships, but also a space whereby people, goods, skills, knowledge, cultures, religions and political interests have met. In addition to maritime transports and trade some of the traditional economic activities in the BSR islands and archipelagos were agriculture and fishing. As the countries and societies around the BSR have been transformed by industrialization and modernization, the foundations for local livelihoods and businesses have changed. During the 20th century, pollution and eutrophication have become major factors changing ecosystems and livelihoods in the region. Today, the number of fishermen and farmers left in the BSR have become decimated and tourism has become one of the key economic activities.

This special issue deals with a number of questions related to the livelihoods of people, economic conditions, challenges and opportunities for SME’s located on the archipelagoes and islands of the BSR. While some local conditions, problems, and challenges are shared by all rural, remote, and peripheral areas, the BRS archipelagos and islands have their own unique characteristics.

Archipelagos and island studies

Most of the studies on archipelagos and islands highlight their unique geographical features such as location and landscape. A recurring theme in these studies is how various geographical features, economic and social conditions separately or in combination create challenges for the population and stimulate the search for creative solutions for such challenges.The debates often highlight the effects of a limited size of the local market for goods and services, limited amounts of natural resources and a narrow resource base, costly exports and imports (as transportation costs  are higher to and from islands), economic vulnerability to the fluctuations of the world market prices, higher risks of natural disasters, and small labor pools  with limited availability of skilled labor or highly educated specialists. Thus, for islanders, emigration often becomes a solution for the mentioned challenges contributing to the existing economic problems.Although there is a growing body of literature on islands, our knowledge about archipelagos, especially on varying conditions and issues concerning a conglomerate of islands — that can seem to be quite similar at a first glance but that in practice can be very different — is still quite limited.

Moreover, although the BSR as a region is frequently highlighted in the academic discussion in connection with such topics as geopolitics and security, governance, maritime questions, environmental challenges, economy and growth, territorial and social cohesion, and much more, the archipelagos and islands of the BSR have seldom been in the focus of researchers’ attention.

The BSR and the European Union

There is a common understanding, at least at the European level, that the BSR is one of the most dynamic regions in Europe. Especially its maritime economy consisting of offshore energy production, (cruise) tourism and aquaculture are by the European Union labelled as “a role model” for the entire union. Nevertheless, this bright picture is not always positive. Concerns have been raised about various economic challenges faced by inhabitants and business owners in the BSR. Some of these concerns are depopulation, seasonality of economic activities, lack of local opportunities for higher education, deficient (transport) infrastructure and risks for local economies due to the vulnerable status of the Baltic Sea. Overall, the archipelagos and most of the islands in the BSR are considered to be lagging regions. The development of ICT solutions is considered to be one of the most important opportunities for archipelagos and islands in the BSR, but finding people with the right skills who can and want to work on the archipelagos and islands has become an obstacle for local businesses.

Undoubtedly, most of the population in the European Union live in urbanized areas, and only a fraction of the BSR 80 million inhabitants  live on the islands and archipelagos. Consequently, a lion’s share of the regional development initiatives and policies outlined and implemented by the European Union concerning rural and peripheral areas have an urban perspective, with results being in favor of urban areas and most of the conclusions reached by decision makers are based on urban phenomena and urban based businesses in the countries around the BSR.

Some of the prioritized areas in the development policy for the BSR are energy production and transportation of energy, smoother solutions for infrastructure, economic integration, tourism (by strengthening the macro region, i.e. main lands and cities), and a number of environmental concerns including limiting the use of hazardous substances and promoting the bio economy, to which the blue economy is expected to make a considerable contribution with production of energy (for example wind mill parks), production of food (wild and cultivated fish) and recreational services for city dwellers. But the perspective of from below, of the inhabitants and business owners in archipelagoes and islands have to a large extent been left out in the decision processes. This will be further discussed in this issue in the articles of Tunón et al. (page 40) as well as Rytkönen et al. (page 74).

Institutional aspects and governance

Formal and informal institutions as well as governance models and their qualitiesare essential to promote or curb socio-environmental and economic development. The BSR is highly institutionalized through the presence of a large number of intergovernmental, transnational, national and local authorities and their legislations and practices, as well as through the presence of a large number of non-governmental organizations. The number of laws, agreements, development agendas with a wide range of purposes lead to institutional ambiguity, not only in the questions concerning the common “marine” or environmental issues.

Institutional ambiguity is aggravated by the lack of shared definition of what an archipelago is in the official documents of the European Union. Rural, remote, lagging and peripheral regions in the EU are most often defined as “predominantly rural and low-income regions” and are described in relation to income level, industrial structure, demographic characteristics, distance to urban centers, infrastructure and educational level. But the remoteness and peripherality of archipelagos and islands is worsened by their geographical features while income levels may or may not be low.Thus peripherality in an archipelago or an island might sometimes be different to how peripherality is normally defined in other contexts. Moreover, as these challenges are not included in public definitions of archipelagos and islands (with the exception of large islands), policies promoting rural development are likely to be inefficient for addressing challenges in archipelagos and islands.

Innovations and economic growth

In spite of all challenges there are a number of success stories in the archipelagos and islands of the BSR. Some examples are:

  • Increased socio-environmental and economic sustainability in fisheries and fish elaboration in the elaboration of vendance, Coregonusalbula where in contrast to before the entire fish is utilized in stead of just the caviar and creation of value added by combining fisheries, food elaboration and tourism
  • Local development by developing local culinary practices and products in the island of  Bornholm
  • Development of new tourism seasons and business models in Utö (Stockholm Archipelago).


There are of course many other examples. But all success stories show that it is possible to innovate and promote local economic development. Innovations, entrepreneurship and economic growth at local level are seen as key features to promote social cohesion and welfare in the BSR.

A common denominator of success seems to be collective action from below, institutional settings that create spaces for growth and development oriented local authorities. Analyzing these examples in order to generalize and come up with place-specific development policies is a challenging task for researchers and policy-makers.

Multiple geographies and peripherality

A growing research area that recently gained new momentum is concerned with multiple geographies of development, polarization, and peripheralization at various levels. This discussion raises further questions connected to the consequences of economic and socio-spatial integration in the European Union, as well as its limitations — an issue that is relevant for understanding how to promote integration, but ultimately how to address fundamental issues of the political legitimacy and long-term future of the European Union.

The main perspective in this discussion seems to be geographic, but departing from the complexity and multi-faceted dimensions in this topic, it is possible to conclude that such a discussion will deepen and benefit from input from various disciplines. In this case, island studies, entrepreneurship, environmental and natural resource governance at local level, history (in its widest sense) and peripherality are all perspectives that can contribute a better understanding of the causes and outcomes of peripherality. We also believe that  focusing attention on archipelagos and islands can bring new dimensions into this discussion, not because of the geographical isolation of archipelagos and islands, but because they are part of and connected with their local, regional, national and global contexts.

It is our hope that this special issue will inspire to more studies in this direction. ≈


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