Klaus Dodds has been awarded a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust. His project is titled: A new North? The making and re-making of a global Arctic
Here’s a summary of what Klaus intends to do:
Approximately ten years ago, global media headlines were filled with stories that there was a ‘new scramble for the Arctic’. A Russian flag had been gently deposited on the bottom of the central Arctic Ocean and some commentators were warning that this was a ‘sign’ that Russia might be preparing to lay claim to a vast area of the seabed. Canadian observers seemed to have been caught unawares by the incident and the then Harper government worked hard to reassure its citizens that Canada was confident of its sovereignty in the North.
Framing the flag-planting incident as emblematic of a ‘scramble’ clearly raises historic parallels with past scrambles such as 19th century Africa and colonial empires competing for territory, resources and control of peoples. The 21st century Arctic is a vast different place but any talk of ‘scrambles’ raises troubling questions about the land and resource rights of indigenous and northern communities who have been frequently marginalized by Arctic states and ‘southern’ companies and stakeholders. Taking the longer view, it is not difficult to piece together a story of the Arctic, which is one punctuated by a series of resource scrambles led by imperial powers and commercial actors such as the Hudson’s Bay Company.
But there is another way to think about ‘scramble’ and that might focus on how on how our imaginative geographies and lived experiences of places get ‘scrambled’. What happens to the Arctic when its geophysical and environmental characteristics alter because of global warming and climatic shift? With declining sea ice thickness and distribution comes new visions of an Arctic increasingly interconnected to global flows of traffic and trade.
For millennia, indigenous peoples developed traditional knowledge of the Arctic based on a sophisticated understanding of polar seasonality, sea ice distribution, the migratory routes of animals, the limits of tundra and availability of food stores and shelter. A warming Arctic is ‘scrambling’ traditional indigenous knowledge and sea ice melting and thinning is transforming human-animal relations including subsistence hunting and fishing.
The Arctic is also being ‘scrambled’ as it become an object of global interest and investment. In the last ten years, China, South Korea, India, Singapore and Japan have invested ever more in Arctic science and developed new relationships with the so-called eight Arctic states including Norway, Iceland, and Finland. They join a phalanx of other countries and organizations who work with the Arctic states through forums such as the Arctic Council. The UK is an active polar partner and British agencies such as the NERC Arctic Office are working to leverage commercial and scientific advantage in the Arctic region.
Recently, commentators have spoken of a ‘global Arctic’ rather than a ‘circumpolar Arctic’. What is at stake when we shift our meta-geography? What does it mean to juxtapose the ‘global’ and the ‘Arctic’ together? As a geographer, I am going to investigate how the Arctic is being re-imagined as a global-region and what are the material consequences at stake ranging from China describing itself as a ‘near Arctic state’ to the long-standing struggles of indigenous peoples to secure land rights and social justice.