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A home for science – exploratory ethnographic fieldwork in Ny-Ålesund (Home for Science )

This exploratory project arises from discussions with scientists, administrators and technicians working in Ny-Ålesund, during and after the applicant’s field visit in August 2013, and around the NySMAC meeting, October 2013, where project outlines were presented, and after which NPI invited the applicant. The project’s aim is to assess, together

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Project date

Starts
2014-03-01

Ends
2019-12-31

Project status

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Project type

  • field work
  • theoretical
  • arctic field grant (afg)

Discipline

  • cryosphere
  • social sciences

Project Keywords

  • human dimensions / attitudes,preferences,behavior / social behavior
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Fieldwork information

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Summary

This exploratory project arises from discussions with scientists, administrators and technicians working in Ny-Ålesund, during and after the applicant’s field visit in August 2013, and around the NySMAC meeting, October 2013, where project outlines were presented, and after which NPI invited the applicant. The project’s aim is to assess, together with interested scientists from NPI, Kingsbay and other Ny-Ålesund institutions, opportunities for social anthropological research (utilising ethnographic methodology) in Ny-Ålesund, its feasibility and acceptability, and potential usefulness in terms of anthropological findings and the facilitation of natural scientific research. This will be done by conducting limited, carefully controlled ethnographic research, with the triple purpose of (1) creating dialogue between natural and social sciences, (2) producing valid, publishable anthropological findings, and (3) developing ideas for further social science research in Ny-Ålesund and elsewhere on Svalbard. To do so, the project will pursue, in collaboration with interested scientists, one or several specific, narrowly focused research questions concerned with the broader relationship between scientific work and its place: how science affects a place, and how the characteristics of a place shape science and scientists. This theme is a well-developed interest in the anthropology and history of science. At the same time, studying the specific situation of science in a particular field site has the potential to contribute to improved scientific work itself by enhancing the understanding of structures and processes. Among possible themes proposed at the NySMAC meeting are: (1) different ways of understanding, valuing and engaging nature in fieldwork, (2) the role of history and traces of the (scientific and industrial) past in scientific work, (3) understandings, practices and values attached to community around this scientific field station, or (4) the role of the nation and ‘internationality’ in this particular scientific community. These and related subjects will be discussed with colleagues from NPI, Kingsbay and other interested institutions, and the project focused according to their input. In view of the small scale and sensitivity of the natural, social and scientific environment in Ny-Ålesund, anthropological research there must adapt and modify its usual methods, premised upon long-term presence in a field site and close engagements with its inhabitants. Instead of such long and potentially intrusive fieldwork, the proposed project will rely upon much shorter ethnographic ventures, closely coordinated with the involved institutions, and discussed with potential informants before the beginning of actual fieldwork. While the project thus will be based on interviews, conversations and participation in activities – like any anthropological study – these will not be entirely open-ended, spontaneous and ad-hoc (as in conventional long-term ethnographic fieldwork), but to a large extent controlled by the involved scientists and technicians and proceeding in continuous discussion with them. Since, in this project, both the researcher and the researched are scientists of different disciplinary training, such dialogical and symmetrical approach is most appropriate. That is, it will move back and forth between the anthropologist and the natural scientists, who through regular presentations of preliminary findings and circulation of draft texts will be given opportunities to discuss and shape process and outcomes. In terms of outcomes, this project will lead to one or two peer-reviewed articles in international journals, conference presentations, informal presentations and discussions within the Ny-Ålesund research setting, and, hopefully, shared ideas and plans for future research.

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