This time I was ready! Last year I arrived the day before midsummer. Surprised and happy I was not finding it THAT cold in Svalbard, I headed down to the midsummer bonfire party on the beach in a normal set of layers. I retreated at 9pm. I have now learnt never to underestimate the chilling power of standing fairly still in cold wind! This time I made it through to midnight, thanks to wearing all the jumpers (literally). ...
It's started. The big cruise ships have arrived in Longyearbyen, bringing more visitors than the normal population here in one go, for a few hours. Yesterday there were over 3000 plus hundreds of crew, today over 2000 plus 800 crew. Everyone seems to know when they will arrive and how many people are coming. This is an entirely different type of tourism and tourist to those choosing to stay overnight here and engage in some daytrips and activities (which is still ongoing). It's quite exciting to see how a whole new set of logistics are set into action. Now I see why there are so many buses around town, usually not in use. It is interesting to observe the flows of people, what is being photographed and observed, how the local businesses react (one or two more stuffed polar bears have appeared on the streets, a few ad hoc stalls popped up...), what temporary services and labour markets evolve to cope with these numbers of people.... in other words, how value is constructed and flows differently.
'Pyramiden has captured a part of my heart - so many secrets, stories, such beauty... Diolch yn fawr!' Samantha Saville, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK.
The guest book at The Tulip Hotel, Pyramiden, in which I attempted to sum up the impossible, has entries from 1987 up to 2000 (I guess some tourists found it after the settlement closed in 1998) and then resumes again in 2014.
Last year I visited the town as part of the fieldtrip visit to Petunia bay and discussed a key text on Pyramiden. For this trip, spending a couple of nights at the hotel and wandering the streets, hills and through the buildings of this Soviet-time settlement,sometimes alone, has been another quite magical experience. Perhaps that its history is so recent, yet seems so distant and another world away from the one I was growing up in is what makes it so very intriguing. That you can glimpse the different layers of development, inhabitants and activities in the peeling layers of the disintegrating structures and their contents at every turn had my imagination firing on overdrive.
We log in via the visitors book, pass the security guy, don hard hats with the Statsbygg logo (the state construction arm of the Norwegian government) and file into the dank corridor (which must be the bit outside the mountain) and through the second metal door that has been unlocked for us. We descend as we walk down the rounded tunnel, which feels like a pedestrianised version of road tunnels which go through mountains. Melt water steadily runs down the sides of the corrugations....
Messiness is something that most of us are brought up to avoid, and certainly as a quality not particularly revered. At some point I realised that, for the most part, I am a 'messy' kind of person: messy room/office/desk; messy thoughts/ideas/approaches; messy hair.... Whilst I enjoy a good clean up of all these things occasionally, at some point I've come to accept that fighting it constantly will be exhausting and counter-productive.
So, when I read John Law's 'After Method: Mess in social science research' , it was not revolutionary, to me research has never really been about 'non-mess'/ strict, linear, objective methods, and I can thank some forward thinking lecturers, teachers and colleagues for their patience/ encouragement for that, but it was an important reminder which also nudged me towards being open to a broader range of research encounters. I readily adopted his notion of 'gathering' bundles of relations: coherent and incoherent in a 'methods assemblage'. Though perhaps this was becoming a convenient excuse for messy thinking, I was perplexed that all the complicated thoughts and 'head mess', when straightened out and tidied up, boiled down to a simple list of the normal: interviews, focus groups, field diary. Of course, such 'simple' sounding methods hide far more complicated processes, logistics, subjectivities, values, decisions; but I have also been trying to cultivate a more observant and open attitude to the other, less formal, research encounters and my own role in all of this 'data collection' I am doing.
Where am I going with this? Well, today I feel like some form of synchroncity stepped into the research arena and resurrected an element of the project I had almost put to bed. On the flip side there have been times when shear bad timing or luck has prevented research encounters. This led me to wonder whether others had written about luck, chance, spontineity and research before (I didn't turn much up there, but I am sure something is out there). I did come across this excellent paper from Billo and Hiemstra  on, guess what, messiness and PhD fieldwork! For any PhD students out there (or researchers in general), I urge you to read it. Very useful advice and is a really positive example of how far things have come since Law's call, in terms of being more open, honest and reflexive about the processes of research: from planning, through fieldwork and afterwards. Both Billo and Hiemstra were faced with difficult challenges in 'the field' which meant a reassessment of carefully made plans. They expand on the notion of flexibility, embodiment and reflexivity in research based on those experiences. Music to my ears!
Realistically, I may be comfortable with mess, flexibility, reflexivity, subjectivity etc etc, but it doesn't stop me worrying about whether the choices I am making, all the time, are the 'right' ones, for the PhD, for the research participants, for Svalbard, for the world, for my 'career'.... but rest assured I am at least thinking about it!
 Law, J. (2004) After Method: mess in social science research, London: Routledge.
 Billo, E. & Hiemstra, N. (2013) 'Mediating messiness: expanding ideas of flexibility, reflexivity, and embodiment in fieldwork', Gender, Place & and Culture, 20(3), pp.313–328. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0966369X.2012.674929#.U5ioW3b4Lwo
Happy Birthday Longyearbyen, 108 today! Today is Longyearbyen Day, which has been celebrated since it's centenary in 2006. To mark the day there were a few historical things going on, which I attempted to join in with. Longyearbyen has certainly seen a lot of changes in it's relatively short lifetime (a quick version from the Cruise Handbook is here!). The Museum had a free entry day, so that was a good opportunity to re-visit: I definitely spotted different things in there today than I did on my last (very long) trip there a year ago. I also joined a history tour of some of old Longyear City, conducted in nippy weather and completely in Norwegian. I managed to piece my own version of the story together by recognising dates and keywords, but I definitely missed all the jokes! We ended with more history at the church, but in warmth, with waffles, and some nice singing (ahhhh) - Svalbard has its very own hymn!
Bit of an extended post today since I have skipped a couple....
Staying here in Longyearbyen for any length of time, people start to become concerned that you manage to find your way out of town and experience some of 'the nature' here. Though Longyearbyen has just about everything one needs, after a few weeks, a kind of 'cabin fever' can take over, knowing what a small urban area you are confined to compared to the vast expanse 'out there'. Getting out into the wilds is now made more difficult by the lack of snow and ice around to get about by snow-scooter and skis (that's key value of ice and snow number 1 of this blog post!) One way around this is ingenius use of quad bikes that dog teams can pull, giving them essential exercise and fun during the summer and being pretty fun to tag along with (lucky me got a lift from an acquaintence who needed another pair of hands to deal with some extra dogs!). There is still snow on the glaciers though, and it was that snow and the process of it melting that I set out to help investigate yesterday with a fellow PhD student, Krystyna Koziol. Not only was it a great day out of town in some glorious weather, but I also got some more first hand experience of what field science in Svalbard can be like, which has sparked some interesting reflections.
Despite all the preparations necessary for the fieldwork to happen in the first place, there are still a lot of factors that can leave data collection hanging in the balance: weather conditions, equipment failure, snow not behaving itself, field assistant availability...We had some interesting moments on Foxfonna glacier yesterday, with some quick thinking solutions from Krystyna saving the day of sampling. I hadn't thought too much about what the actual data collection might involve, but I was probably thinking more high-tech than plastic sledges and rope equipment transport, digging snow pits, good old-fashioned note taking and the all-important plastic food/ sample bags to transport them back to base. What was clear though that the most essential ingredients to collect the best quality data are persistance, motivation and committment to the project. Perhaps these are not so dissimilar to characteristics needed on this 'side' of the discipline, just with very different ramifications! It seemed a lot more obvious out on this kind of fieldwork, that you only get one shot to collect this particular thing - another day the conditions might be different, and more broadly, the trip itself has so much planning and resources involved to make it happen that the whole thing is not going to happen again. This leads me to reflect that though there might not always be such finality with a more human geography based approach, each story I listen to is told in a very specific context, one that is not repeatable and with all kinds of 'external' factors in the background, which perhaps I need to hold in mind...
I also learnt quite a bit about different types of snow and ice and how to observe them, and what snow can tell us about (value number 2) interesting stuff. Thanks Krystyna for a thought-provoking and fun day's hard work in the snow!
I have a proper update in process, but in the meantime, I thought I would share some of the sounds of yesterday up on Foxfonna glacier....but my trusty phone that has been a very reliable tool so far in all my audio recordings didn't pick it up. It was too much to ask perhaps, given we had to stand absolutely still to hear it ourselves. So I'm stuck with words again! It was a little un-nerving from my perspective as a glacier-newbie to hear running water coming from a significant body of snow/ice/rock not far away and hearing the odd small tumble of snow and general gentle 'puffs' of it shifting about. The shapes and sounds the wind and snow make are mesmerising sometimes and certainly awe-inspiring! [Fear not we were being careful in all the right ways, avalanche beacons strapped on and keeping our distance...]
It's been all go this week with interviews, so much so, there wasn't even time for a blog post yesterday. I think that's a good excuse for a double photographic bill today. This week art, photography and relationship to the landscape and species of Svalbard has featured quite strongly in discussions so far. Today the weather really played up to it as well, such beautiful sunshine and light, birds everywhere...on my run earlier (always the fair-weather runner!) there were some particularly photogenic-looking reindeer in the mud shores of the fjord. One of the few things I have learnt about Svalbard reindeer so far though is despite their little legs, they move on and out of sight pretty quickly!
Today the internet and mobile network was out for a few hours. It doesn't sound drastic, and it wasn't. Not really. It did stop me in my tracks for a while though. This phenomenon is becoming more and more rare and it's amazing how much we rely on staying connected. I was going to check that email before I did this, I needed to call some people to arrange interviews, no and nope. I'll research this... oh yeah, no. I wonder if this is everywhere? I'll just check on... oh yeah, no. I could of course rely on old-fashioned calling round someone's office/ house and that's what I did. Reading a book, another good option. It was a momentary glimpse into what life must have been like in Longyearbyen when there was no outside communication at all and how those living out in the remote huts around Svalbard today isolate themselves. It must be a peaceful life, but I don't think I would be up for those levels of loneliness for prolonged periods!
Today I met someone who just picked up an email I sent months ago when I was looking for somewhere to stay in Svalbard. We are, hopefully, going to help each other out on our respective research projects, and it's going to be great :) These are the kind of things that often get left out of our research proposals, methodologies, write-ups, articles. Unless everyone else out there doing research are some kinds of research-bots following a strict plan, and I don't think that's the case, then there are a lot of these kind of chance encounters that happen along the way. It's certainly not the first time in this project that one of my pleas to the ether have led to good things. So, when I spent another day sending out many more of them, it was an excellent reminder not to stop doing it! I read an really inspiring article yesterday about stories which get left untold from research  and I hope I can bring some of these kinds of encounters into my writing in some way when it comes to it....
 Smith, A.-M. (2014) 'Old Fieldwork, New Ethnography Taking the Stories Out of the Bag', Qualitative Inquiry, 20(5), pp.699–708. http://qix.sagepub.com/content/20/5/699
In other news, the sun has come out again at last - hooray mountains are back in sight!
I've had a day focussed on tourism today, one way or another. It's actually 'low season' at the moment, between the busy snow-scooter, skiing - filled March and April and the summer season proper, although there are still visitors about here and there. So, like the tourist operators and service providers, I have been gearing up for the next round coming in...There are actually quite good statistics on what kind of people come from where for Svalbard, but not so much qualitative information on why they come and what they take away from their visit. So I am going to attempt to get a bit of an insight into value in Svalbard from this perspective as well, and am part-way to setting up a survey system. In fact, the most observant of you will perhaps notice there is a link to it at the top of this very website as well as the posters and forms I'm slowly getting around the town with. I say attempt as I really don't know what kind of response, if any, I will get from this approach, but sometimes research is about it being worth a try, right?
This evening I was very much looking forward to going to a cultural show from the people of Barentsburg visiting Longyearbyen, but due to one of my classic dispraxia-type blunders, I managed to miss it entirely (why do evening activities start so early here?!). Very trying, but ultimate failure. So instead, I ended up reading some more about tourism, which was actually quite well-timed, as some of the chapters were calling very strongly for more research into Arctic tourism...
Another week of extremely interesting conversations, but photography-wise, I've been lacking in inspiration on what to share. It has been grey, cloudy and mizzly these last few days. The mountain tops have dissappeared from view under cloud and I remember now this is very much like how it was when I arrived almost a year ago. It wasn't until about day 4 that i knew there were mountains right in front of me at all!
I am continually fascinated by the ever-changing ice/snow/water scapes though. It struck me today that though town is not a completely silent place at all (quite a bit of road traffic, and previously scooter traffic), it was pretty quiet when it was colder and more icy. The snow seemed to muffle noises, but now the sound of running water is all around. Out exploring last week, if we sat still for a while we could hear soft cascades of mushy snow shifting about.
So, I thought I'd share a bit of the soundscape up here: a small meltwater stream between Haugen and Nybyen, featuring a passing van, snow-buntings and my footsteps in the gravel at the side of the road...
(For anyone not of the right age and taste in music to get the Skunk Anansie reference, this blog title needs screaming loudly and with passion!)
As mentioned last week, Environmental Protection is a big talking point in Svalbard, as is the future of coal mining here. The 'paradox' between the two, is perhaps no different to other nations calling for more international action on climate change which have not maxed out on national efforts. However, in Svalbard these factors are drawn together in stark relief visually: coal - black - bad; ice/snow - white - good (especially when not melting!). Coal mining and scientific research (especially into climate science) makes up two of the three main 'pillars' of activity here (the third being tourism), so throw in a long cultural history and attachment to mining here, energy challenges, the issue of reinforcing sovreignty rights and the desire to be an environmental flag ship, and we have a very interesting melting pot which is not as simple as it might at first appear.
Today a 3 day conference that the research base and Norwegian Ministries had organised to stimulate internation action on climate change in Ny Alesund drew to a close. After her visit to Svalbard, the UN Executive Secretary on climate change, Christiana Figeures came out of that meeting with a message to Norway and Svalbard - stop mining coal, it doesn't fit with the climate research goals and image, though from her statement she clearly understands the challenges such a move would bring, insisting on needing to pull out in a responsible, fair and planned way that could set a good example.
From my perspective, this is all about value, values and how these input into the future strategies for Svalbard. If Norway is going to continue to push hard for positive environmental action, perhaps it will no longer be able to do so without re-evaluating how it's environmental 'flagship' is run both on and offshore (I might return to Grenpeace action off the coast another time!)...
Out goes the snow, in come the birds! It seems more and more geese, ducks, gulls and other varieties arrive daily at the moment. I am not much of a bird watcher, but wildlife here seems especially interesting, partly because it is different from home, but also because although it is relatively sparse in comparison, there is a lot more of it than one might expect from an 'arctic desert' environment. I wake up to bird song from what I think is the 'snow bunting', the only song bird of Svalbard. It really is amazing how much has changed over the last two weeks: gone are the snow-packed scooter tracks and ice-laded paths in town, replaced in part by tundra and meltwater - ideal for ducks and geese it seems! So a great discovery today, it's not only a handful of researchers, students and tourists that make the journey from West Wales to Svalbard ...