Building Arctic Futures:
Transport Infrastructures and Sustainable Northern Communities

ERC ADVANCED GRANT

Introduction

ABSTRACT

The “new Arctic” is attracting global attention for a variety of reasons, including geopolitics, militarisation, resource extraction, wilderness tourism, and calls for environmental protection in the face of rapid climate change. Many of these activities necessitate the construction or upgrading of transport infrastructures in this relatively remote, inaccessible and scarcely-populated part of the world. While these large-scale infrastructures are mostly sponsored by outside interests, they can have profound impacts on local residents.

We propose to focus on how residents of the Arctic, both indigenous and non-indigenous, engage with these infrastructures, and to examine the intended and unintended consequences these projects have on their lives.

Our challenge is to understand whether existing and planned transport infrastructures will support permanent human habitation and sustainable communities in the Arctic, or whether they will strengthen a trend of substituting permanent residents with “temporaries” like shift workers, tourists and military personnel. In addressing this challenge, we adopt a relational affordance perspective, which will document the material and non-material entanglements of local residents and transport infrastructures in three distinct arctic regions (Russian Arctic, North American Arctic, European Arctic).

Our approach combines ethnographic fieldwork with mapping exercises and archival research. Our project team of anthropologists and geographers will use quantitative population data to upscale to the regional level, and regional patterns will be contrasted and compared to reach conclusions on the panarctic level. We will use interactive scenarios to collect input and to develop decision options.

Our overarching research question – What is the role of transport infrastructures in sustaining arctic communities? – is of urgent relevance on both theoretical and practical levels, and by addressing it we will contribute locally informed results to critical conversations about arctic futures.

PROJECT LEAD

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Peter Schweitzer
Department of Social & Cultural Anthropology
University of Vienna

Project Administration

Mag. Johannes Kramer
johannes.kramer@univie.ac.at
+43 1 4277 49536

Integration Component

The INFRANORTH’s Integration Component

The INFRANORTH’s Integration Component (IC), which is managed by an interdisciplinary team of geographers and anthropologists, endeavours to coordinate the research effort on whatwhen and how is going to be investigated in the three study regions of the project (European, North American, and Russian Arctic). To do so, the IC sets up the main lines of comparison between the case study areas and regions. It provides common methodological guidelines so that all project members are able to work with the same research protocol that is, at the same time, flexible enough to deal with the heterogeneity of the case study areas. One key tool in this respect is an on-site field survey exploring relationships between transport infrastructure and local population. It consists of questionnaires that are distributed in situ and are jointly analysed and interpreted using statistical processing and GIS.

Study Regions

European Arctic

The European Arcticis the most heterogeneous of the three study regions and comprises territories of five states: Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. In comparison to other parts of the Arctic, the region has a relatively well-developed transport infrastructure, especially in northern Fennoscandia. Still, compared to the political centers […]

North American Arctic

INFRANORTH’s North American Arctic study region comprises Alaska, the Yukon Territory (YT), the Northwest Territories (NWT), Manitoba and Nunavut in Canada as well as cross-border connections to the Russian Arctic and the European Arctic. While Alaska’s transport infrastructure is historically well-developed, infrastructure development in Northern Canada started comparatively late, with new transport infrastructure schemes surfacing […]

Russian Arctic

This study region is defined by the extension of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), a large-scale infrastructure that encompasses a maritime passage and numerous coastal areas, communities, and seaports. The NSR has been playing the key role for Soviet Arctic explorations, urbanization, and resource extraction and still has a strong symbolic and practical meaning for […]

People

Peter Schweitzer

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Peter Schweitzer

Project INFRANORTH: Principal Investigator

Research Group Leader at the Austrian Polar Research Institute; Prof. emer. at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Peter is Professor at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna and Professor Emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is past president of the International Arctic Social Sciences Association (IASSA) and served as director of the Austrian Polar Research Institute (APRI) from 2016 to 2020.

Research Focus: Schweitzer’s theoretical interests range from kinship and identity politics to human-environmental interactions, including the social lives of infrastructure and the community effects of global climate change; his regional focus areas include the circumpolar North and the former Soviet Union. He has published widely on all of these issues.

Selected Publications (ORCID)

 

Olga Povoroznyuk

Dr. Olga Povoroznyuk, Postdoctoral Researcher

Project INFRANORTH: Research Coordinator and Researcher / Research Team Member

Austrian Polar Research Institute, IASC Initiative RATIC (Rapid Arctic Transitions due to Infrastructure and Climate Change), Association of Russian Anthropologists and Ethnologists, European Association of Social Anthropologists

Olga received her highest degree at the Russian Academy of Sciences and since 2015 is a PostDoc Researcher at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna. Her research interests include infrastructure and development, postsocialist transformations, indigeneity, ethnicity and identity, colonialism, migrations and mobility, Russia and Circumpolar North. She is an author of a book and a number of articles in peer-reviewed social science and anthropology journals.

Research Focus: She focuses on the Russian Arctic – a coastal zone with a number of settlements and sea ports established in the period of Soviet colonization and tied together by the mega-infrastructure of the Northern Sea Route. The comparison between booming and declining coastal communities shows the connection between infrastructure, resource extraction, population dynamics and development.

CoRe Project

Selected Publications (ORCID)

 

Philipp Budka

Dr. Philipp Budka

Project INFRANORTH: Research Associate (PostDoc)

Lecturer at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Vienna; Co-Convenor of the EASA Media Anthropology Network; Co-Founder of the Digital Ethnography Initiative, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Vienna; Member of the research area Visual Studies in the Social Sciences of the University of Vienna

Philipp completed his PhD at the University of Vienna with a dissertation on socio-technical change in remote First Nation communities in Canada. His research demonstrates that localizing digital infrastructures contributes to the creation of social relations and cultural empowerment.

Research Focus: In INFRANORTH’s North American Arctic Study Region, Philipp ethnographically explores local perspectives on the multiple affordances of transport (and digital) infrastructures in sustaining the community of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

External Homepage

Selected Publications (ORCID)

 

Alexis Sancho Reinoso

Alexis Sancho Reinoso, PhD

Project INFRANORTH: Researcher

Giving lectures at the MSC on Spatial Planning and Environmental Management, offered by UNIBA-Universitat de Barcelona (ESP) as well as the MSC in Smart City Planning and Management, offered by Universitat Carlemany (AND) (both in Spanish).

Alexis was born in Barcelona (Spain) and holds a PhD in Geography, Spatial Planning and Environmental Management. He works at the Dept. of Social and Cultural Anthropology since 2018. He took part of the research project CoRe (Configurations of Remoteness), being responsible for statistical and cartographic analysis as well as for the outreach portal www.lifeofbam.com.

Research Focus: Cartography and GIS: qualitative GIS, cartographic storytelling. Transportation infrastructure. Cultural landscapes. Place names. Sociolinguistics. Sustainable spatial planning & development. Urban-rural linkages. Research Areas: rural, mountain and remote areas.

External Homepage

Selected Publications (ORCID)

 

Alexandra Meyer

Alexandra Meyer, MA 

Project INFRANORTH: Affiliated researcher

Svalbard Social Science Initiative, The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), Austrioan Polar Research Institute

Alexandra is a PhD student at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, Austria, and a project collaborator in the EU project Nunataryuk: Permafrost thaw and the changing Arctic coast – Science for socioeconomic adaptation. She is board member of the Svalbard Social Science Initiative.

Research Focus: Through long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, she investigates how the town is impacted by environmental and socio-economic changes, and how people live with, experience, perceive, and respond to these changes. She also studies the practices and associated values of outdoor life and nature use on Svalbard.

Selected Publications

Ria-Maria Adams

Ria-Maria Adams, MA, PhD Candidate

Project INFRANORTH: Affiliated Researcher

Arctic Anthropology Team – Rovaniemi Arctic Centre, Austrian Polar Research Institute, EASA Applied Anthropology Network

Ria-Maria is a Ph.D. candidate at the department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Vienna. She has previously worked for the project “Live, Work or Leave? Youth – wellbeing and the viability of (post) extractive Arctic industrial cities in Finland and Russia” (University of Lapland) and currently contributes to the project ERA-Net, Horizon 2020 project “Enhancing liveability of small shrinking cities through co-creation” (Aalto University) as a guest researcher.

Research Focus: Ria-Maria´s research interests revolve around Arctic youth wellbeing, industrial northern towns and sustainable communities in Northern Finland. Since 2018, she has conducted ethnographic research in Rovaniemi, Kolari, Kemijärvi, Pyhäjoki and Puolanka.

Selected Publications (ORCID)