I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA) in a French-oriented household where critical thinking, politics, gourmet cuisine and performing arts were part of daily life. My high school years were spent in the US, Morocco and Norway. I started University at UAF in Fairbanks, Alaska and then moved to UW Madison in Wisconsin where I had the opportunity to spend 3 years doing fieldwork in Nepal, first as an undergrad and then as a Masters student.
After completing the Masters, I worked for 7 years in television as a graphic artist. I then completed an MBA in Luxury Brand Management and worked as a specialised consultant in Paris. These experiences in a wide range of sectors and cultures, combined with my ongoing interest in issues of identity, have helped me develop a range of skills to apply to my lens-based research in Cultural Studies at KU Leuven.
My PhD project, called ‘Identity in Change’, focuses on the impacts of climate change on the community of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. I am particularly interested in issues of local identity and how it is perceived both from within the community, and that which is projected onto it from outside. My fieldwork periods vary but in general I am in Longyearbyen approximately 6 months of each year where I can be found in the Arctic Technology Department at UNIS.
Climatic changes in the Arctic are of increasingly dramatic proportions and these rapidly evolving challenges are affecting life both within and beyond the region’s boundaries. In addition to impacting local and global ecosystems, retreating sea ice has raised geopolitical questions of access to resources and potential future use. Svalbard, under Norwegian sovereignty, is open to nationals of all signatory nations who wish to live or work there because of its special territorial status. This situation makes the region of particular interest both because of the diverse population(s) living and working on Svalbard and because of the various perceptions of its geographical and geopolitical significance in internal and external discourses.
The project, entitled ’Identity in Change’, uses multiple methodologies and frameworks (referred to in the project as ‘lenses’) to examine located subjectivities as expressed in the many partial perspectives that constitute the community of Longyearbyen and in the varied imaginaries projected onto it from outside the community. The project looks at issues of local identity, sustainability, policy, media representation and the geographical and geopolitical significance of the territory within the context of a changing climate. Specific lenses currently include: ethnographic research in Longyearbyen, the representation of Svalbard in the media, the Svalbard Treaty and policy issues, the tourist gaze/tourism, cultural heritage, art and scientific research/science studies.
In addition to working on my PhD, I am a founding member of the Svalbard Social Science Initiative (SSSI https://www.svalbardsocialscience.com/), and a board member of APECS (Association of Polar Early Career Scientists) Belgium.
For updates on my research, please visit (https://researchinsvalbard.no/project/8752).
Photo taken by Elizabeth Bourne and provided by Dina Brode-Roger