Saving Svalbard?Contested value, conservation practices and everyday life in the high Arctic

Type

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Thesis sponsors
  • Economic and Social Research Council
Award date2016
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Abstract

This thesis examines the relationships between human societies, the material landscape and nonhuman life in the archipelago of Svalbard. The investigation draws inspiration from posthuman, neomaterialist geographies and political ecology. Frameworks, processes and practices of value are traced through conservation initiatives and everyday actions and ideas around protecting Svalbard’s environment. Practical, political and ethical questions underscore this work: what can and should be ‘saved’; how and for whom are we trying to save species, landscapes, and artefacts? If saving is possible, is it the ‘right’ thing to do? Svalbard, as a place undergoing climatic change, economic and social transitions in a physically and politically fragile environment, provides a setting where such questions are particularly pertinent.
This thesis develops a theoretical approach to value, which demonstrates that when value is treated as contingent practice and process, as verb rather than noun, it can be a useful analytical tool for uncovering complex, multi-scalar processes, such as conservation practice. I advance this methodologically to combine a value-as-practice approach with feminist care ethics, assemblage thinking and the notion of a ‘humble’ research practice. This humble research practice brings together recent thinking around situated knowledges, participatory and posthuman geographies.
Through documentary research, extensive site-based interviews and ethnographic empirical material, I uncover what is valued as natural and cultural heritage in Svalbard and how value is practiced. I chart how political, economic and cultural frameworks shape, circulate and manipulate value through categorisation and legitimation processes. Everyday practices of care and the dynamic life and ‘thingyness’ of Svalbard challenge value frameworks which seek to measure and fix value. I contend that future ecologies and conservation strategies need to more fully take into account the value(s) of human and more-than-human life in Svalbard and beyond.