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FROZEN POLITICS ON A THAWING CONTINENT : A Political Ecology Approach to Understanding Science and its Relationship to Neocolonial and Capitalist Processes in Antarctica

Burbidge, Manon LU (2019) HEKM51 20191
Human Ecology
Abstract
Despite possessing a unique relationship between humankind and the environment, and its occupation of a large proportion of the planet’s surface area, Antarctica is markedly absent from literature produced within the disciplines of human and political ecology. With no states or indigenous peoples, Antarctica is instead governed by a conglomeration of states as part of the Antarctic Treaty System, which places high values upon scientific research, peace and conservation.

By connecting political ecology with neocolonial, world-systems and politically-situated science perspectives, this research addressed the question of how neocolonialism and the prospects of capital accumulation are legitimised by scientific research in Antarctica, as a... (More)
Despite possessing a unique relationship between humankind and the environment, and its occupation of a large proportion of the planet’s surface area, Antarctica is markedly absent from literature produced within the disciplines of human and political ecology. With no states or indigenous peoples, Antarctica is instead governed by a conglomeration of states as part of the Antarctic Treaty System, which places high values upon scientific research, peace and conservation.

By connecting political ecology with neocolonial, world-systems and politically-situated science perspectives, this research addressed the question of how neocolonialism and the prospects of capital accumulation are legitimised by scientific research in Antarctica, as a result of science’s privileged position in the Treaty. Three methods were applied, namely GIS, critical-political content analysis and semi-structured interviews, which were then triangulated to create an overall case study. These methods explored the intersections between Antarctic power structures, the spatial patterns of the built environment and the discourses of six national scientific programmes, complemented by insights from eight expert interviews.

This thesis constitutes an important contribution to the fields of human and political ecology, firstly by intersecting it with critical Antarctic studies, something which has not previously been attempted, but also by expanding the application of a world-systems perspective to a continent very rarely included in this field’s academia. It also highlights the importance of conducting interdisciplinary research, demonstrating the utility of applying and connecting multiple theories and methods to an individual context to draw out nuance within a case study.

Results showed that science is used to legitimise a neocolonial present on the continent, as well as acting as a facilitator for states to act upon future capital accumulation interests. It was found that the emphasis placed on scientific governance and leadership means that powerful states are able to consolidate political power through the Antarctic Treaty, reifying Western scientific knowledge hegemonies to the exclusion of developing nations. Furthermore, narratives of managerial necessity and environmental stewardship were also used as mechanisms of exclusion, creating a dichotomy between environmentally responsible states and those perceived to have resource-focussed intentions. This is despite all nations analysed being found to have resource interests, albeit to differing degrees.

The enabling of this neocolonial order and foot-holding for future resources is facilitated by a cognitive disconnect between nations’ politically motivated Antarctic programs and the self-professed neutrality of scientists, which quells potential resistance to these insidious interests on the ground. Parallels with the rapidly melting Arctic are also drawn, where resources are poised to be extracted, raising questions of whether a similar scenario will play out in the Antarctic in the future, should the Treaty dissolve under the pressures of a climate-strained world. (Less)
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author
Burbidge, Manon LU
supervisor
organization
course
HEKM51 20191
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
Antarctica, Political Ecology, Neocolonialism, Capital Accumulation
language
English
id
8983305
date added to LUP
2020-02-03 09:51:50
date last changed
2020-02-03 09:51:50
@misc{8983305,
  abstract     = {Despite possessing a unique relationship between humankind and the environment, and its occupation of a large proportion of the planet’s surface area, Antarctica is markedly absent from literature produced within the disciplines of human and political ecology. With no states or indigenous peoples, Antarctica is instead governed by a conglomeration of states as part of the Antarctic Treaty System, which places high values upon scientific research, peace and conservation. 

By connecting political ecology with neocolonial, world-systems and politically-situated science perspectives, this research addressed the question of how neocolonialism and the prospects of capital accumulation are legitimised by scientific research in Antarctica, as a result of science’s privileged position in the Treaty. Three methods were applied, namely GIS, critical-political content analysis and semi-structured interviews, which were then triangulated to create an overall case study. These methods explored the intersections between Antarctic power structures, the spatial patterns of the built environment and the discourses of six national scientific programmes, complemented by insights from eight expert interviews. 

This thesis constitutes an important contribution to the fields of human and political ecology, firstly by intersecting it with critical Antarctic studies, something which has not previously been attempted, but also by expanding the application of a world-systems perspective to a continent very rarely included in this field’s academia. It also highlights the importance of conducting interdisciplinary research, demonstrating the utility of applying and connecting multiple theories and methods to an individual context to draw out nuance within a case study. 

Results showed that science is used to legitimise a neocolonial present on the continent, as well as acting as a facilitator for states to act upon future capital accumulation interests. It was found that the emphasis placed on scientific governance and leadership means that powerful states are able to consolidate political power through the Antarctic Treaty, reifying Western scientific knowledge hegemonies to the exclusion of developing nations. Furthermore, narratives of managerial necessity and environmental stewardship were also used as mechanisms of exclusion, creating a dichotomy between environmentally responsible states and those perceived to have resource-focussed intentions. This is despite all nations analysed being found to have resource interests, albeit to differing degrees. 

The enabling of this neocolonial order and foot-holding for future resources is facilitated by a cognitive disconnect between nations’ politically motivated Antarctic programs and the self-professed neutrality of scientists, which quells potential resistance to these insidious interests on the ground. Parallels with the rapidly melting Arctic are also drawn, where resources are poised to be extracted, raising questions of whether a similar scenario will play out in the Antarctic in the future, should the Treaty dissolve under the pressures of a climate-strained world.},
  author       = {Burbidge, Manon},
  keyword      = {Antarctica,Political Ecology,Neocolonialism,Capital Accumulation},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {FROZEN POLITICS ON A THAWING CONTINENT : A Political Ecology Approach to Understanding Science and its Relationship to Neocolonial and Capitalist Processes in Antarctica},
  year         = {2019},
}