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Arctic Visions: Technology, Architecture, and Indigenous Voices in the Discourse of Arctic Futures
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science and Technology.
2012 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Today’s discussion on the Arctic is to a large extent driven by speculations on abright future caused byclimate change leading toeconomically viable mineral prospecting in high latitudes through the opening of the Northwest Passage to shipping, increased tourism, fossil fuel extraction, and other prosperous activities --albeit countered by proposed severe impacts on environment and local cultures. Some of this ‘geographic optimism’ can be contextualized into a long tradition of optimistic visions of development of the Arctic, envisioning a bright, and often also drastically changed Arctic with modern infrastructure, large populations, and even a warmer(‘improved’) climate.The epitomes of these visions might be those of Stefansson (Our Northward Course of Empire, 1922) and Smolka (1938) but they have continued to echo over many generations, with climate change acting as the catalyst for renewed debate.In this paper I shall analyze deeper this tradition of Arctic visions. My focus will be on infrastructure, architecture, and technology as they appear mostly in written 20th century sources, i.e. features which have been little emphasized in previous research on Arctic development. A central idea in the paper is that the Arctic has been often used as an arena for testing and forecasting advanced modern technologies and building styles. This would be seen in architectural designs by e.g. Frei Otto and Ralph Erskine. Visionary thinkers and explorers such as Stefansson, Smolka, or Byrd provide in their writings many examples of ideas about a ‘livable’ Arctic which was on its way to become realized through southern colonization and the increased use of technology for acclimatization and long periods of indoor living. Arctic technology could also be used as a demonstration of advanced science and skills of a nation, as in the case of Soviet Arctic icebreakers since the 1920’s and scientific stations on ice floes since the 1930’s, later US submarines in the Cold War.A key aspect of the paper is to look for environmental concern in Arctic visions. When did such concern appear, by whom, with what arguments? Stefansson for example was hardly inhibited by concern about negative effects of bustling harbours, airports, and oilfields. Another key aspect is to look for the roles of the indigenous peoples, were there voices present in the futuristic discourse? What was the position that they would occupy in a future modernized Arctic? Clearly Social Darwinist notions of imminent extinction of the ‘lower races’ were rapidly waning in the 20th century, but even if individuals and peoples survived over the long term – what position did they receive in Southern future visions? And to what extent were their own voices heard in the construction of images of the future Arctic? In Sweden and Norway political organization of Sami between the world wars promoted Arctic visions. Were there similar indigenous Arctic visionaries in other countries?

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
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History of Technology
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-115257OAI: diva2:588390
IPY 2012 Conference; Montréal, Canada 22-27 April 2012

QC 20130910

Available from: 2013-01-15 Created: 2013-01-15 Last updated: 2013-09-10Bibliographically approved

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Arctic Visions: Technology, Architecture, and Indigenous Voices in the Discourse of Arctic Futures

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Sörlin, Sverker
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