Svalbard life can seem a little bit bubble like at times, remote and a little world with quirks all of its own, but the bubble has a permeable surface for sure. There is a lot of talk about Svalbard being a future and indeed present hub of the Arctic, usually from a logistics point of view, but not exclusively. Over the last weeks I have witnessed some of this in a variety of ways. Near the beginning of the trip I remember someone finding the idea of a social science department at UNIS a bit silly as there aren’t many people up here, what is there to study that you can’t study elsewhere?
Well, the human activity that is here is significant enough and interesting in its own right (see here), but perhaps what gives it aunique quality is the pace of change and transience and the constant flow of people. Not just tourists from all over, but visiting politicians, researchers, students, media… I haven’t been able to keep up with all the things going on: just in this short time period there have been a number of conferences, political meetings and visits, film crews, seminars, cross disciplinary teams and so on that have been through, including some from my own university. Within just a week and a half (of not trying especially hard) I have interviewed, had dinner, drank tea or something stronger or chatted with people from at least 15 different countries (Russia, Brazil, Ukraine, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, USA, Hong Kong, UK, Poland, Czech Rebublic, France, Finland, Germany). For a human geographer, that’s interesting trust me.
The mobilities and ex-pat communities around Svalbard is extremely fascinating as is the on-going development of tourism in both Longyearbyen and the Russian settlements of Barentsburg and Pyramiden. So I was really glad to meet some fellow social science / humanities researchers last week who are working on these topics in Svalbard as well with different theoretical and methodological approaches. It was great to exchange stories with Albina Pashkevich who is working on the Mistra Arctic Futures project and Roger Norum from the Arctic Encounters research team. What would have been greater would have been to meet, collaborate and co-operate through UNIS, maybe there is room for another department up here….