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SSF-Svalbard Science Forum

Unruly Ground: Knowing and Caring for Permafrost

Awarded: NOK 71,999

Since the 2000s, permafrost has experienced a remarkable revival, and many are invested in preventing the deterioration of this Arctic ground. But while there is an increase in research on the impacts of permafrost degradation, we know very little about the inner workings of permafrost expertise. How do certain understandings of permafrost degradation become or fail to become politically relevant? The project 'Unruly Ground' will explore precisely that. It will dig into how scientists, state officials, engineers, and ordinary citizens?or permafrost practitioners?produce knowledge about permafrost in practice. That is, how they collect data about permafrost, how they monitor its state, how they resolve uncertainties and controversies that arise in the process, and finally, how they come to agree or disagree about shared concerns and commitments regarding that ground. This project is a sociological study that combines historical and ethnographic approaches. The ethnographic approach will elicit mundane and often 'black-boxed' practices that constitute knowledge-making. I will follow permafrost scientists, state officials, and citizens across labs, monitoring sites, and discussion rooms, and attend to their negotiations over the meanings of degradation, conservation, and the future of living with(out) permafrost. Archival research, in turn, will reveal how the role of permafrost expertise has been changing across various socio-political contexts. It will demonstrate different historical attempts at making permafrost expertise into a salient social and political force. Together, these approaches will show how permafrost came to be a matter of (planetary) care for scientists and citizens alike. Contributing to such disciplines as environmental sociology and science and technology studies, this project will challenge existing social scientific ideas about (Arctic) soils by recognising them as more than invisible backgrounds for human life or hazards.

Funding scheme:

SSF-Svalbard Science Forum

Thematic Areas and Topics