For once, I'm not talking about environmental regulations, though I very well could be, given the multitude of boundaries lurking on the map, but not visible in the landscape, but that's another story... No, today I stepped over a fear and re-arranged my own values in doing so. To most people it would look like an ordinary tourist trip out on a snow scooter though, and in some ways it was...
Just a short post to plug my first journal 'publication': I have written a book review for the Journal of Ecotourism of the excellent collection edited by Bram Büscher and Veronica Davidov: The Ecotourism-Nexus: Political economies and rural realities of (un)comfortable bedfellows.
The book is all about the spaces and places where ecotourism and resource extraction meet, and the challenges, connections and similarities they share. I won't say much more about it here, because you can read the full review free using this link, but I read parts of this on my way to Svalbard in the summer and it was a really good companion in terms of thinking outside the box from the outset.
I've recently returned from a short trip to Kirkenes in Northern Norway. I have quite a bit to say about the conference I was attending, but I thought I'd first share some thoughts and stories about the town and area I visited, as it was quite fascinating and was the source of lots of 'firsts' for me...
I've been following the dicussions in the local paper on the changes to the built environment in Barentsburg over the last few months. Having seen the stark contrasts between old and new last year, I could see where these debates were coming from and where the concerns and different view points on cultural heritage value, decent living conditions, and symbolic image projection met, physically on the streets of the town. I wasn't quite prepared for the level of change I saw between last year and this though. ...
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.
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...
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....
We walked out to the easterly town limits this evening. Mainly because I wanted to say 'hei' to the cute husky dogs along the way. As we arrived at the infamous polar bear sign however, two gentlemen came along and we watched as they appeared to be having great fun climbing the thing. Assuming they would want a shot of the two of them together there, I offered to take one. After a little confusion and discovery that I can understand a bit of Swedish now my Norwegian has progressed from zilch to 'bare litt' (only a little bit), they showed us they had actually been retrieving a Geocache that was inside the sign post (hopefully that's not a spoiler for any potential geo-cachers out there). In fact, they had trouble signing the log book as it was already completely full. Turns out there are several Geocaches just in Longyearbyen, and a few further afield. How interesting...
I could also say quite a lot about mobility, polar bears and how the two relate in Svalbard as well, but sometimes pictures speak louder.
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...