Intemperate spaces: field practices and environmental science in the Canadian Arctic, 1955-2000 (PhD Abstract)

Peer Reviewed

Powell RC

Social and Cultural Geography 7, Issue 4, pages 677, 2006, 10.1080/14649360600825794.

The important geographical dimensions of scientific practice have recently preoccupied many scholars across the social sciences and humanities. However, there has been a concomitant tendency in much work to neglect the different epistemic and ethical circumstances of field scientists. This thesis addresses these questions through an empirical examination of the role of field practices in Canadian High Arctic environmental science, 1955–2000. This is accomplished through an ethnographic, oral historical and archival study of the Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP). The thesis is composed of two substantive sections. Part One uses archival research and oral historical interviews at sites across Canada to investigate the founding of the PCSP and attempts by PCSP scientists to adapt experimental methods to difficult environmental conditions, as well as the emotional consequences for practitioners. This affective dimension of field practices is cultivated further in Part Two, which draws from two years of participant observation as a field assistant working out of the PCSP research base at Resolute Bay, Nunavut. By recording the quotidian activities at the research base and at various field sites in the Canadian High Arctic, these sections develop the argument regarding actually observed field practices. In re-affirming the importance of a fully ethnographic sensitivity, Part Two argues for the continuing significance of peculiarly human dimensions involved in both practising and studying the field sciences, from isolation, regret and temperance to reflexivity, obligation and interpretation.
Keywords: Field science, Theories of practices, Ethnography, Oral history, Canadian Arctic, Polar Continental Shelf Project
Categories: Arctic, Social Science