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Constructing industrial futures for the Arctic
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science and Technology (name changed 20120201). (Assessing Arctic Futures)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6461-7734
2012 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The circumpolar north has become increasingly important as a potential supply area for minerals, fossil energy resources and new shorter routes for international shipping. Allthough mining, oil and gas extraction are not new activities in the Arctic, the prospect of an ice free Arctic ocean may open possibilities for resource extraction in areas where such activities used to be unthinkable. Such visions of the future of the Arctic are not new however, there are several examples in the history of the Arctic of economic actors formulating visions of what the future of the region should be. The objective of this paper is to analyze the production of future visions for the Arctic by actors within large scale natural resource utilization industries historically and their influence on the economy and politics of the region. The paper will focus on actors involved in the coal mining industry in the Arctic archipelago Spitsbergen / Svalbard from 1898-present. The main research questions are: what futures visions have been produced by actors within the Spitsbergen coal mining industry and why? To what extent have these future visions gained influence in different time periods and why? How has companies and governments interacted in order to strengthen political influence and/or control over natural resources?


The paper is based on analyses of sources from two contexts in which companies outlined their visions of the future of Spitsbergen – in written documents and material objects. Companies promoted their visions of the future in the form of narratives published in company prospects, expedition reports, annual reports, articles in professional journals and in correspondence with potential allies such as government bodies. They also formulated their visions by constructing buildings and technological systems in the landscape of Spitsbergen – material representations of potential, real or unlikely futures, economic and / or political.


I will show that the Spitsbergen mining companies used their future visions in order to build actor networks. By constructing narratives about potential futures, they tried to enroll capital owners and political actors in to actor-networks strong enough to realize their visions. In a similar way, actors within politics and science included industry in their future visions in order to push their own agendas. Therefore, although the future visions of Arctic industry had many similar traits, the actors producing the visions often had quit different motives for producing them – economic visions hiding political agendas and strategic considerations. Moreover, the future visions has changed over the course of the 20th century, as result of the changing economic and political contexts on Svalbard and in Europe and the USA.


The results suggest that Arctic future visions produced by industrial companies become influential if the companies share common interests with other influential actors (governments) and if they are able to build strong networks with such actors. Moreover, they show that Arctic future visions are most often elements in strategies aimed at achieving goals outside of the Arctic. The results can be used to deepen our understanding of the mineral and energy projects that underpin contemporary Arctic futures.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Arctic, Natural Resources, Geopolitics, Svalbard, Mining, Future visions
National Category
History History of Technology Other Humanities not elsewhere specified
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-113340OAI: diva2:587712
IPY conference From knowledge to Action, Montreal, Canada, April 26, 2012
Assessing Arctic Futures : Voices, Resources and Governance
Mistra - The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research

QC 20130523

Available from: 2013-01-14 Created: 2013-01-14 Last updated: 2016-02-25Bibliographically approved

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