The town of Longyearbyen in the high Arctic is the world's northernmost settlement. Here, climate change is happening fast. It is clearly seen and sensed by the locals; with higher temperatures, more rain and permafrost thaw. At the same time, the town is shifting from state-controlled coal production to tourism, research and development, rapidly globalising, with numerous languages spoken, cruise ships sounding the horn in the harbour and planes landing and taking off.
Zdenka Sokolickova lived here between 2019 and 2021, and her research in the community uncovered a story about the conflict between sustainability and the driving forces of politics and economy in the rich global North. A small town of 2,400 inhabitants at 78 degrees latitude north on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, Longyearbyen provided a unique view into the unmistakable relationship between global capitalism and climate change.
The Paradox of Svalbard looks at both local and global trends to access a deep understanding of the effects of tourism, immigration, labour and many other elements on the trajectory of climate crisis, and whether anything can be done to reverse them.
Foreword by Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Introducing the Fieldwalk: Field, Companions and Path
Part I: Fluid Environments
1. Fairy Tales of Change
2. Once Upon a Time - So What? Why and How Changing Environments Matter
3. The Viscosity of the Climate Change Discourse
Part II: Extractive Economies
4. The Art of Taking Out: From Extracting Coal to Extracting Knowledge and Memories
5. Big Powers and Little People: Scaling Economic Change
6. Sustainability with a Footnote: Leaving out Justice
Part III: Disempowered Communities
7. The Trouble with Local Community
8. In the Neighbourhood
9. 'Make Longyearbyen Norwegian again': Denying Superdiversity
Conclusion: The Paradox of Svalbard
Afterword by Hilde Henningsen
Zdenka Sokolíčková is a researcher at the University of Hradec Králové, Czechia, and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Her research in Longyearbyen was hosted by the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo, Norway.
Thomas Hylland Eriksen is a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo and former President of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA). He is the author of numerous classics of anthropology, including Small Places, Large Issues, Ethnicity and Nationalism and What is Anthropology?
"In a rich and deeply textured account of the human communities that call Svalbard "home", Zdenka Sokolíčková demonstrates how the logic of extraction intersects awkwardly with community, environment, geopolitics and sustainability. If Svalbard is a paradox then it will demand explicit recognition of the competing interests, pressures and wishes that make the archipelago and its communities such intriguing places to live, work and study."
– Klaus Dodds, Professor of Geopolitics Royal Holloway University of London
"Lucidly captures the dilemmas of maintaining community in the world's northernmost settlement, where climate change is particularly evident. Through fine-grained ethnography, this weaves together questions of belonging, labor, and inequality with the paradoxes of 'green growth'- initiatives and geopolitics. Highly recommended!"
– Cecilie Vindal Ødegaard, Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen
"Sokolíčková profoundly and poetically reveals Svalbard as a site of concentrated uncertainty: simultaneously microcosm and periphery, container for a range of peculiarly 21st century meanings, and home to a community unique in the world."
– Adam Grydehøj, Editor-in-Chief of Island Studies Journal
"More than a tourist destination, Svalbard is a hotspot of geopolitics, climate change, transient migration and social inequalities. Engaging, rich and nuanced, this book gives voice to people whose stories are rarely told, and exposes the deep dilemmas facing this Arctic archipelago. This book is a must for anyone with an interest in Svalbard, and the challenges of a melting world. Ethnography at its best."
– Marianne E. Lien. Professor, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo
"'A rich introduction to Svalbard across temporalities, where the past is as present as the future. While located on the rim of the world, Sokolíčková makes a strong case for why Svalbard offers insight into many and entangled 'burning' issues of modernity. A skilled storyteller, she tells us something important about our world [...] balancing on paradoxes that are perhaps not as unique to Svalbard, as Svalbard makes them apparent."
– Annette Löf, Senior Research Fellow, Stockholm Environment Institute