The Social Reorganization of Polar Science: Responding to Cryospheric Change in the International Polar Year 2007-2008 and Beyond

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Vardy, Mark
Arctic change , International Polar Year , science and technology studies , climate change
While the natural sciences have convincingly argued for the reality of anthropogenic climate change, the social sciences have not paid sufficient attention to how knowledge of climate change becomes real through social practices. Yet investigating how climate change becomes real offers insight into the range of responses available to publics and policymakers. This dissertation addresses this gap in knowledge by studying how the sciences are being reorganized in response to cryospheric change. The social reorganization of the polar sciences that is examined in this dissertation is informed by two main factors: (1) the recognition of the implications that anthropogenic climate change has for Indigenous populations dwelling in the Arctic, and (2) the recognition that climate change impacts in the Arctic cannot be adequately understood by examining parts of the environment in isolation from each other, but rather that a more holistic consideration is required. To examine the social reorganization of the polar sciences, this dissertation draws upon science and technology studies, reflexive sociology, and poststructuralist ethics. The dissertation uses several qualitative methods, including in-depth interviews with key informants and participant-observation. The central empirical foci of the dissertation are the inclusion of the “human dimension” in the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008, the engagement with Indigenous knowledge in Canadian IPY projects, and the call to go “From Knowledge to Action” that concluded the IPY in 2012. I further examine the roles of uncertainty pertaining to rates of ice sheet melt, the positioning of stakeholders as mediators of complexity, and how the gap between knowledge and action is addressed in the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) through social-ecological systems theory. One of the main narratives this dissertation relates is the shift from reflexivity to resilience that informed the transition of Canadian science-for-policy from planning for the IPY 2007-2008 to planning for CHARS. I argue for the importance of “listening vulnerably” to human and non-human others, including the role sea ice plays as homeland for Arctic Indigenous peoples.
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