Monday, July 9, 2012

Demystifying the Arctic

by Alexandra Wright and Jane Rivas

We ended our week of lectures with a lesson on Actor Network Theory and the role it plays in Arctic sovereignty. We talked about how it is not only people and organizations that influence the narratives presented regarding claimed territories, but how physical structures also demonstrate this. This is especially apparent when comparing the two mining towns, the Russian settlement Barentsburg and the Norwegian settlement Longyearbyen. The struggles over physical sovereignty are expressed by the number of people, museums, sign boards, research, and mining facilities present. These are some of the methods that we will be using when addressing climate change and the future of the Arctic in our final reports. We incorporated our previous knowledge on whaling, mining, and Arctic exploration with this new form of analytical description as a means of fully understanding the intricate relationships that existed during these events. It is the hope of our professor Dag Avango that by using this form of narrative interpretation that a more complete and transparent view of the Arctic can be gained as a means of establishing better international relations with regards to this changing region.

With this knowledge we feel better prepared to embark on our Arctic adventure! The past few weeks have definitely taught us to look beyond the external romanticized and enlightenment ideals that are often present with the interpretations that surround this region. We hope that by physically engaging with the environment and people in Svalbard we will be able to bring these concepts full circle and contribute to a modern Arctic narrative. This narrative will function as a new means of reacting to climate change and how the powers at play are affecting and using it. The multidisciplinary integration of science, history, and anthropological investigation will work to complete this. It is important that this type of approach receive further exposure so that much of the confusion surrounding this issue can be dispelled. By removing disillusionment surrounding the Arctic, a more practical plan of action can be devised in the face of the effects of climate change.

Alexandra Wright is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently studying Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences with a concentration in Human Dimensions. She is from Chicago, IL

Jane Rivas is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She is currently studying in the pre-medical field and pursuing a duel degree in Chemistry and the History of Art.  Jane is studying in Stockholm, Sweden with the Arctic Summer Program.


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