As a parting gesture and small payback for all the help people in Svalbard have given me with my research, I thought it might be fun/interesting/fair to subject myself to the same questions I have been asking. As with all the interviews I have undertaken, I start with the general questions I ask everyone. I usually then move on to some more specific, context dependant ones – so, I’ll do a couple of answers to common questions, then leave it open for you to ask whatever you want! Enjoy…
I’ve been here two months now and I spent 3 weeks here last summer as well. I certainly have only seen a fraction of this place and only in summer time. No, it’s definitely not home, but I am certainly beginning to feel like it could be if I wanted it to be and I have felt very welcome here.
What did you first come to do?
I came here first and foremost for research as part of my PhD. There isn’t really anything I have done here that hasn’t contributed to that, given the broad nature of the research!
What attracted you to Svalbard?
When I saw the PhD advertised and looked up Svalbard (I had to check it was where I thought it was and that it wasn’t just the land of amoured bears in Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights!) and realised there is a fascinating mix of activities going on here, all connected in one way or another to valuing ‘natural resources’. I got very interested and intrigued by how they all come together, and academically by how the concept of value could be used to analyse this. I then had to ask myself some big questions: do I really want to do a PhD? Do I really want to go to the Arctic (I’m pretty well-known for being a hot-weather kind of person!)? In the end I decided I was ready for the challenge on both counts.
What are the important aspects of living in Svalbard that you value? That others value?
Hmm, I don’t think I am experienced enough to answer this properly yet. I know a lot of people in Longyearbyen place a great value on the small, close community with lots of social and cultural activities going on. Of course a huge element for a lot of people is ‘the nature’, the ‘wilderness’, the landscape and easy access to it. On the occasions I have been out of town, it has been pretty mind-blowing.
What kinds of activities do you get involved with here, what do you do in your spare time?
Spare time?! A lot of the time when I am not out interviewing, I am developing more contacts and arranging more research activities, reading and blogging about my research. I’ve had time for a few trips out as well, which will also inform my research. I’ve had fun doing all of it though so I can’t complain. I like to go for the odd run around town and meet up with friends when I can too, and I joined the Fotoklubb, which has been fun. Now I’m looking forward to catching up with my acro-yoga sunshine buddies and noise-making mates (Cor Gobaith and fledgling fake band, Organic Apocalypse) back home now :), and everyone else of course…
Are there any particular challenges or issues to living in Svalbard for you?
Prices! It really is expensive to live here without getting a Norwegian wage. I’ve also struggled a little being a temporary student here outside the remit of UNIS activities – finding somewhere to live and meaning rifles and other safety equipment needs to be rented. I have been cooped up in town for a large amount of time – but this was also helpful so I couldn’t get too distracted from the research and I have found some creative ways to get out and about.
Are there any local issues you are following or care about?
Yes, several. I am particularly interested in the future developments in terms of energy, growth, environmental protection and the ways in which such decisions are made, the effects of climate change and small-scale environmental projects like Brutikken and Polar Permaculture…but this is all part of the research as well. I can’t really separate out my cares and interests neatly.
Are there any changes you would like to see in the future (policies, behaviours…?)
Of course, but I feel I am not really in a position to demand them since I am leaving! I suspect my write ups will hint towards some directions though.
Do you think your life in Svalbard matches with your life values generally?
This has been a bit of an artificial, temporary existence for me where I am focussed soley on work: which I emphasise, has been really good fun. However, the most important person to me is missing and I am usually much more social, active and make myself have more leisure time. If I were to be here longer, then maybe but I might find it more difficult to live as a ‘greenie’ here more than elsewhere! I can certainly connect with the importance of getting outside, connecting with the surroundings and making social connections though.
What does the idea of nature mean to you?
This is a big one. My thoughts about this are all entangled with the many theories and ideas I have read over the last decade or so as well as the many different kinds of landscapes and environments I have experienced on my travels (both virtual and real). You will often see that I use the term ‘nature’ tentatively as I don’t see this as a simple category which can be defined, and to acknowledge that humans are a part of ‘nature’, not separate, is fundamental to my position I think. That we destroy our own habitat so readily, with such short-sightedness, and have even less regard for other living beings is a longstanding dissappointment to me. I don’t really believe in the existence of a completely untouched nature, or pristine wilderness. The airbourne pollution and climate effects of emissions know no boundaries. However, I can see that to be able to experience a landscape devoid of obvious human interference is a very special, humbling and therapeutic privilige and one which is available in Svalbard.
Why did you choose to research Svalbard and what is the value of this research?
Though tensions between resource extraction, science and tourism exist in many many places, the idea of investigating these tensions where climate change ‘happens first’ and in communities who have these three activities as their only main activities was very interesting to me. The unique political situation afforded by the Svalbard Treaty was also a factor as well as the fact that most research looking at nature-culture relations in the Arctic is focussed on indiginous societies, unlike Svalbard. As to the value of the research, well it will depend on what the writing process brings out. The process of asking questions, being here and being interested in the human geography of Svalbard may have had some minor effects in itself, or at least gotten people thinking perhaps. More broadly, I hope my work can broaden public knowledge about social life in Svalbard, but also further understandings of how we deal with such tensions and potentially how the processes of valuation in Svalbard and beyond could be improved upon.
Will you come back to Svalbard?
The short answer is maybe. At the moment, my research plan and funding does not include another trip. Life after PhD is a huge unknown. I feel like I have unfinished business with Svalbard though and being here in dark season and winter/spring would be a huge insight. I’d also love to explore more of the place…so we’ll see!
How do you imagine Svalbard in the future (10 year time and 100 years time)?
I have heard so many different answers to this question that I’m not sure I have my own opinion anymore! Maybe I’ll go for what I see as an ideal combination. In 10 years time I hope that the coal mining will be just about coming to an end and other activities are ready to take the main stage: so port logistics, eco-tourism, research and education, maybe something else?? I would love to see the vision of Longyearbyen, or even the whole of Svalbard as a net zero-emission place realised. I think this is possible, carbon capture and storage, some solar energy, perhaps a waste to energy plant…it would be great to see ambitious action towards this at least accompanied with strong political intent and investment. Always the optimist…
So, any questions?