Newsflash! Finally, the thesis is in, awaiting viva examination and I have recovered enough from the process to start talking about it again.
Yesterday, I found the perfect opportunity to do so – I was lucky enough to visit the BAS (British Antarctic Survey). The fact that it was hosting an interdisciplinary, social science focussed workshop on ’The Future of Polar Governance: Knowledge, Laws, Regimes and Resources’ is in itself reason to celebrate. I think collectively we put on a good show too. There is a lot of ground for further discussion between, not only the natural and social sciences but across disciplinary boundaries in the social sciences and humanities, as well as beyond the academy into policy and diplomatic avenues. Conversations were lively between scholars of the law, geographers, economists, biologists, political scientists, parliamentary advisers and many more.
After managing to (at last) write and then edit my thesis down to roughly 97000 words, trying to choose just 1500 of them to tell a coherent and interesting story to this audience was a good challenging return to thinking about my research. I chose to focus on stakeholder decision making processes, the science-policy interface and the importance of values in environmental management in Svalbard. I was surprised to find a number of meeting points with fellow attendees.
Starting big, Jane Rumble, Head of Polar Regions for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, set the context of British involvement in the poles and Britain’s historic and present interests there. Dr Chandrika Nath of POST presented on the parliament’s workings and how scientific evidence can find ways to reach policy making bodies and advisors and was hence very interested to hear how this process works elsewhere, such as in Svalbard. It was fascinating to hear from those working in the Antarctic, particularly in terms of how protected areas have developed and work at a practical and policy level.
It was great to hear Dr Roger Norum’s key note- setting Svalbard’s tourism scene within a wider context of the modern ‘prosumer’ – in the age of social media, travellers not only consume travel literature, destinations and reviews, but also produce their own versions. This raises interesting questions as to how more traditional knowledge producers deal with informal knowledge and how they communicate their own work.
It also made my job easier in that the Svalbard scene was already set for me to delve into the workings and controversies behind some of environmental protection policies there. Later on Dr Justiina Dahl made a strong case for taking a step away from assuming current political trajectories will continue and addressing larger normative questions, those where we get to the route of our values and aims in the arctic and Antarctic. Asking not how, if or when oil exploration will extend into the artic regions for instance, but if it should and what this means for wider human aspirations and imaginaries. Or more directly, for the research questions and problems we choose to tackle an how we go about that. Of course, this speaks loudly to my own interests in paying value and values more attention.
Whilst I managed to forget to blow the disciplinary trumpet for Geography, luckily Professor Klaus Dodds was there to make up for it, providing a wonderful alliterative summary of the day: a meeting of four persistently important issues in the polar regions: sovereignty, science, stewardship and security. He also suggested that we ought not to forget non/ more than human actors in the arctic and the materiality of the area as well as paying attention to the emotive and affective politics and care that the polar regions can evoke in human actors. All this was music to this geographers ears of course as these are all issues I ended up grappling with in my work and will hopefully get around to writing about again soon!
Thanks to all the organisers, speakers and interested audience for a stimulating day.