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...]
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!
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...
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 ...
For once, I didn't take many pictures today! Photography is, as Mia Hunt points out in a recent paper on urban photogrpahy as a research method, a way of being in, and producing versions of place . This has all kinds of benefits from being able to tell a story visually as well as, or instead of through language; by drawing attention to the material things and actions of where we are; by creating and evoking atmospheres and emotions of place...All good and interesting. It is also a performance and way of observing and experiencing place. Does the camera ever lie? Well, maybe, maybe not, but it can frame, omit, draw attention to and zoom in and be mainpulated after the event. Its use can identify someone as tourist, researcher, visitor, professional or amateur. None of these things are particularly bad per se, but occasionally it is nice to stop framing what is around you from behind the lens and take it in 360 and unencumbered. Mainly this involved soaking up some sun rays and reflecting on the past 2 weeks on this occasion.
 Hunt, M.A. (2014) 'Urban Photography/Cultural Geography: Spaces, Objects, Events', Geography Compass, 8(3), pp.151–168. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gec3.12120/abstract
Takes one to know one, so they say. In that spirit we booked ourselves on a guided walk up a glacier and into an ice cave as an exploration into tourist mode and a bit of a day off. Of course it wasn't, but it was heaps of fun in the sun! Along the way we talked history, politics, climate change, environmental protection and, erm, popular Swedish/ Norwegian TV shows... Though the concept of paying to go for a walk in the countryside is very odd in the UK, here it makes a lot more sense to follow someone who knows the good snow from the bad, the crevasses and avalanche sites and where the best bits are. This is not countryside as we know it! It's quite understandable why many are drawn to Svalbard to access this kind of stunning surroundings and winter sport activities, either as tourists or residents, especially on a really sunny day like today! Lots to think about value-wise along the way: silence vs adrenaline, legislation vs freedom, location and data (e.g. Svalsat satelitte company), landscape, local knowledge....
Quite a bit of the week's discussions have been around cultural heritage, how that is defined, protected and managed in Svalbard. Time with my trusty field assistant is running out, so we went on an excursion to go and experience some local cultural heritage...or did we? Gruve (mine) 5 was built from 1957 and extracted coal from 1959 to 1971. All artefacts on Svalbard before 1946 are protected as cultural heritage within the Environmental Protection Act, as well as other newer things that are deemed significant or interesting enough. It seems Gruve 5 is heritage enough not to be pulled down as a blight on the landscape, but it doesn't come under the governor's wing for priorty protection either (which after going through a number of official documents and web searches is as close as I can come to being sure of it's status!). We found it incredibly interesting to imagine how such a structure was built, operated and what working conditions were like there. As well as observing what was taken away for use elsewhere and what was not. Just how valuable is that experience though, and how do you compare that to others elsewhere and by other people...?
Today I have been comtemplating this question quite a lot and had some very interesting discussions around it. I can say with some certainty and without causing too much uproar, that it can mean very different things to different institutions and individuals. From a surface glance, the tensions (or not) between the three 'legs' of Svalbard: mining, tourism and research/ education look interesting enough. Beneath this there are many more issues, positions, agendas and concerns. At the heart of most of them are how we value and relate to 'nature'/ 'the wilderness', those age old troublesome words. Anyone in Svalbard feel like talking to me about this kind of thing, get in touch!
Sunday, a good time for landscape loveliness. Glorious spring weather with stunning scenary that one usually only sees on TV/ postcards. It's hard to know what to 'do' with these kind of views, sometimes it seems like some one just flew in a huge film backdrop and plonked it on the horizon!
I'm back in Svalbard (with slightly more Norwegian under my belt) for the next two months for the main fieldwork of the PhD. Most of my time is likely to be spent chasing people around for interviews and discussions, doing said interviews, transcribing them, thinking about them and generally observing the goings on here (more in this post on what kind of things I'll be talking about with them). Thinking about how best to blog all this has led to a change of tack. As much as I want to be open and public about my geographical research, I also can't go telling you about who said what after every encounter I have, and that wouldn't be great reading either as well as being very unethical etc etc. So, drumroll, I've decided that since I'll also be taking lots of photos, most of which will only be seen by me, just for practical reasons, I'm going to post one a day on here with a few quick thoughts about it.
As I am behind by a fews days already, I'll post a few today to catch up and avoid making too many difficult decisions, though choosing these from many was hard enough! I've gone for a tourism and change theme today...
So, I've written a press release, about myself, which is a weird thing to do (but for fellow researchers, it was a fun exercise in writing differently and explaining in plain language). It seems so far no one has gotten round to publishing it, so I might as well do it myself, the glories of Web 2.0! If you are reading from Svalbard, feel free to pass this on widely! I wrote it really to explain what I am going to be up to during the next couple of months of field work in Svalbard, so before it gets old hat, here it is. Bi-lingually (tusen takk Gro-Mette!)
What’s Svalbard worth?
New research investigates how value is measured and created in Svalbard.
Last month I presented a seminar on 'Putting value theory into action', in our Aberystwyth departmental seminar series 'Dialogues in Human Geography' alongside the imminently interesting Jon Brettell talking about puddles (yes, puddles!). It was a good challenge to finally bring together my thoughts on value and how to relate it to Svalbard. Presenting in front of colleagues and friends always seems more nerve-wracking than a room of strangers too, so I'm glad I made it out of the other side unscathed!
Read on if you want to hear what I said... :)
Value is one of the key theoretical concepts my PhD project is based around, given the title ‘Polarising nature-culture: An examination of value in Svalbard’. So, it’s not surprising this slippery little word occupies a lot of my thinking space/ time at the moment. It seems fairly innocent on the surface, we use the word a lot in everyday language: ‘there’s a lot of value in what you are doing there…that’s really good value for money…I value your honesty …’ etc.
Oops it has been a bit quiet on the blog lately. I've been trying to knuckle down and get some serious writing done, something I find difficult at the best of times. At the start of the month though I found the perfect excuse to get away from the office whilst working on my academic skills with the added bonus of meeting up with other geographers. 1-3rd November I went along to the Social and Cultural Geography Research Group's weekend away: Reading and Writing Social and Cultural Geography.
From 2 -9th July I joined the KTH (Stockholm Royal Institute of Technology)/ Illinois University field course: Environment and Society in a changing Arctic on their trip to Petunia Bay (we named our camp 'Avangostad' in honor of the course leader/ benevolent dictator, Dag Avango). What an incredible and magical week this was! Coming into a group of 35 Swedish and U.S students and leaders as a stranger, to join them in their field camp in a relatively remote location in Svalbard; well, it was a leap of faith from both sides…