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Domesticating the Extreme

Community, Climate and Geopolitics in the Svalbard Archipelago

Thesis by Alexander "Sandy" Curth '16

Abstract: This thesis is an ethnographic study of the Svalbard Archipelago, an International Treaty Zone in the Arctic Ocean governed by Norway. Over seven months I collected data through participant observation and interviews to produce an analysis of the unique conditions that make human life possible in an extremely inhospitable environment.

As climate change melts the Arctic, new resources become available and land that was once of limited utility due to the harsh environment becomes critical to extractive industry and the national economies it supports. In the resulting geopolitical fervor to negotiate ownership over Arctic territory, the residents of Svalbard find themselves at the critical point in Norway's claims to the North sea and the Archipelago itself. The result is a small, icy city of 1,500 with everything from a polar bear safe zone to a research university to a Thai restaurant, all paid for by the Norwegian state to ensure a strong lasting community in the territory they wish to maintain control of. By presenting the experiences of one small community in the Arctic I hope to add perspective and contemporary context to the longstanding question of Arctic sovereignty.