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CSS Colloquium, Peder Roberts; Science and Political Authority in the Polar Regions in the Cold War - and Beyond

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Monday 25 February 2013,  at 10:15 - 12:00



Science and Political Authority in the Polar Regions in the Cold War – and Beyond

Peder Roberts, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm, Sweden

Drawing on recent scholarship in political geography in addition to archival research, this presentation explores how the fact as well as the contents of scientific activity has strengthened the claims of particular states to authority over Arctic and Antarctic spaces. Controlling the right to perform scientific work has long been an effective means of demonstrating political authority in the Arctic. The post-1945 intensification of Norwegian and Danish Arctic science spoke to the need to maintain a pre-1939 status in addition to acquiring particular results. In the Antarctic, two functions of science that are often regarded as separate or even contradictory – to perform sovereignty through effective occupation of territory, and to demonstrate commitment to internationalism – became complementary in a geopolitical context in which the connection between political territory and sovereignty over space was being renegotiated. The Antarctic Treaty enshrined scientific activity as the prerequisite for obtaining a voice on governance while freezing sovereignty claims, effectively meaning the superpowers had created a new system rather than working through the existing political framework, as in the Arctic. The reasons for these differences are considered before some concluding reflections on whether the central role of science to the activities of the Arctic Council has brought elements of the Antarctic consensus to the north.