Svalbard Futures

Svalbard Futures: Value and Adaptation in the Anthropocene

“The only thing that is constant is change”


The idea of the Anthropocene is based around the significant changes to planetary systems that human activity is linked to. Change forces us to think about what direction we should take, how we can transition and adapt to shifting conditions in our communities. Climatic change, political change, economic change, technological change, changes in how and what we value in our environment are all important. The original doctoral research, ‘Saving Svalbard’, explored these questions, concentrating on value and decision making within conservation and environmental protection in Svalbard. I also collected data about how what future communities and life in Svalbard might be like. The Svalbard Futures project develops this work. It has three main goals:

  1. To help more people benefit from the ‘Saving Svalbard’ research through increasing its impact and reach.
  2. To update and develop research on societal change in Svalbard.
  3. To develop my experience and skills as an early career academic.

Why Svalbard and value?

Svalbard is an “edge-of-the-world” hot spot for environmental change, political discourse, tourism, resource extraction and scientific research. As more eyes turn to the Arctic, Svalbard is a key hub of the modern Arctic that embodies many questions facing the region as a whole.

My doctoral research revealed that community groups in Svalbard value common aspects of society here. The wilderness and the arctic landscape and climate, arctic cultural heritage, and the multi-cultural society are all important. However, how best to measure, protect, manage, and develop these values within a rapidly changing socio-natural environment is less settled.

What matters most? What should be prioritised? How should such decisions be made, by whom and using what kind of knowledge? How do emotions and sense of place factor in these decisions? My research revealed tensions surrounding these issues. Such questions are all linked to valuation processes and practices, so thinking through value can help understand what and why tensions arise and how they might be overcome.

This project aims to extend these findings by exploring the most recent developments, including avalanches and home evacuations in Longyearbyen and the closure of the largest coal mine, from residents’ and key stakeholders’ perspectives. It also hopes to increase understanding of how the present day situation has emerged. How questions of sustaining communities in Svalbard have been addressed in the past can offer important insights to the present day situation.

Economic and Social Research CouncilThis project is funded by the ESRC, through the Wales Doctoral Partnership, as part of their postdoctoral fellowship programme.