‘Snapshots from the Arctic Field’ was a
one-day workshop held in May and organised by two PhD students Ingrid and
Johanna from Durham University. The theme of the workshop was ‘Experiences and
reflections from postgraduate and early-career research in and on the Arctic’
and sought to explore interactions between local people and external
researchers. Although my own fieldwork has never involved contact with local
people (Longyearbyen’s recent population is not representative of the wider
Arctic), I was curious to attend and listen to a different side of fieldwork:
from a social science perspective.

A key theme that came through was that of
identity and that our own past shapes the way we view the world. We all enter
the Arctic with pre-conceived ideas of what we will find there. Whether one introduces
oneself as from university X or country Y may illicit very different responses, especially if one of those countries was a colonial power. Language also shapes how we think and this can lead to problems when conducting
interviews in a second or even a third language. The Dene in the Sahtu region
of NW territories have no word for ‘knowledge’ for example: but their culture
is rich in storytelling.

Another theme was the tensions between
academia, government policy and local people. Science is political. Often this involves differing
perceptions of ‘resource’ and ‘wildlife’ e.g. whales. An example given was the
Baker Lake mine road in Nunavut where there were issues with who would maintain
the road, caribou and environmental impact assessments. In the end the road was
built but is not called a road and the locals are not allowed to use a car on
it: only quad bikes and snowmobiles. Related to this theme was the issue of
maintaining distance when going into small communities. What happens if you
witness violence or see something criminal happen: should you intervene?

A map is a snapshot of time and space and
modern maps which look very precise may be giving an illusion of permanency
which does not in fact exist: coastlines and settlements are changing. It was
suggested that it may be better to roughen up maps so that it is more obvious
they are not the ‘final’ depiction. The landscape and resulting map may look
empty but is in fact full of connections and people moving.

I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop and listening
to all the speakers. There were a lot of thought-provoking themes and has made
me reflect more on my own research. As my research takes place in uninhabited
areas it can be harder to communicate results to local people, or at least people
living in similar areas. To paraphrase: science communication does not stop
with the publication of a paper.