My research in the Arctic, which in many ways extends my ongoing work on the ocean, examines the ways in which sovereignty is being asserted (or denied) by various actors in the region and how this is complicated by the region’s geophysical properties (including, most clearly, the presence of solid ocean [sea ice]). As the Arctic becomes an increasingly attractive zone for mineral exploitation, navigation, and military posturing, it replays many of the contradictory spatializations that have long characterized the ocean. Like the ocean, the Arctic is simultaneously a zone that invites territorialisation and one that resists it, not least because the region’s underlying materiality is both exceedingly dynamic and exceedingly indeterminate.
Since I began working on Arctic issues in 2007, my research has proceeded in four phases.
The first phase, running from 2007-2009 and funded by the International Council for Canadian Studies, focused specifically on competing constructions of the Northwest Passage among Canadian and U.S. policy makers. Key collaborators here included Rob Shields of the University of Alberta and Sandra Fabiano, then a graduate student of mine at Florida State.
The second phase, running from 2009-2013 and funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, looked more broadly at the foundation of sovereignties in territorial imaginaries of the Arctic, across the five Arctic Ocean nations. Key partners here are Hannes Gerhardt of the University of West Georgia and Jeremy Tasch of Towson University, while others who have been involved have included Rob Shields and Barret Weber, both of the University of Alberta; Elizabeth Nyman, now of the Texas A&M-Galveston; Adam Keul, now of Plymouth State University; Mauro Caraccioli, now at Virginia Tech; Michael Husebo, now of the University of Georgia; and Ron Doel, my former colleague in the Department of History at Florida State. The focus of this phase is summed up in “Unstated Assumptions Colour Arctic Sovereignty Claims”, a news story which ran on the websites of Canadian Business, E!Science News, USA Today, and other outlets in May 2009.
The third phase, Global Alternatives for an Interconnected Arctic (GAIA) ran from May 2012 through September 2013. With the assistance of a European Commission Marie Curie Action, I conducted this phase at Royal Holloway, University of London, where I worked particularly closely with Klaus Dodds in the Department of Geography. The initial plan for this phase was to examine the breadth of formal Arctic governance proposals, but as the year progressed (and Arctic governance options became more constrained) the research shifted somewhat to a series of more focused efforts at Arctic governance, from national Arctic policies to the Arctic Council to potential reinterpretations of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to recognise the specifities of a (mostly) frozen landscape. For more on the GAIA project, see the Final Report Summary on the European Commission website, as well as earlier news releases from Royal Holloway and Florida State (the Florida State news release also contains embedded video clips and a radio news story).
A side project associated with this phase involved studying the politics of the 2013 Arctic Council ministerial meaning in Kiruna, Sweden. I worked on aspects of this side-project with Klaus Dodds and also with Durham doctoral students Johanne Bruun and Ingrid Medby.
The fourth phase continues my interest in the ways in which the geophysics of northern environments impacts geopolitics. The aim here is to be both more practical — as research informs potential regulatory solutions — and more theoretically rich — as I seek to gain broader insights into the ways in which modern, Western notions of territory, property, and statehood are founded upon an idealized, stable, binary division of the world into land (territory) and water (non-territory) whose absence is particularly evident in the Arctic. For more on this work, see the website of the ICE LAW Project (the Project on Indeterminate and Changing Environments: Law, the Anthropocene, and the World) as well as articles on it in the 2015 Arctic Yearbook and on the website of the University of the Arctic. Most recently, much of my work in this area has focused on the legal designation of the sea ice edge, particularly in Canada and Norway, and I’m presently working on a number of projects in this area, mostly in collaboration with Berit Kristoffersen and Kristen Shake. Further, related work has looked into Norway’s ‘Blue Economy’ development strategy.
My interests in the Arctic link up with my research in the Caribbean through shared issues in cross-border offshore oil and gas extraction and hazard preparedness and response. I have pursued this by convening the January 2013 workshop, “From the Arctic to the Caribbean: A Workshop on Economic Opportunity, Environmental Risk, Emergency Management, and International Cooperation in the Offshore Oil and Gas Regions of North America” (poster | program | webcast), with funding from Florida State University’s College of Social Science & Public Policy, FSU’s InterAmerican Seas Research Consortium, and the Canadian Consulate in Miami. I also link with my interest in the Caribbean in several publications on the trope of Mediterraneanism, which, since the early 20th century, has been applied to both the Arctic and the Caribbean.
My Arctic-specific publications include:
- Reterritorializing Canada: Arctic ice’s liquid modernity and the re-imagining of a Canadian archipelago (with Phillip Vannini, Godfrey Baldacchino, Loraine Guay, and Stephen Royle; Island Studies Journal, 2009) | PDF (open access)
- You are (not) here: on the ambiguity of flag-planting and finger-pointing in the Arctic (Political Geography, 2010) | PDF (behind paywall)
- Contested sovereignty in a changing Arctic (with Hannes Gerhardt, Jeremy Tasch, Sandra Fabiano, & Rob Shields; Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 2010) | PDF (behind paywall)
- The Arctic model: collaborative governance in a rapidly changing region (with Hannes Gerhardt and Jeremy Tasch; Harvard International Review, 2012) | Website (open access)
- A middle route through the Northwest Passage: Resolving a controversy in the context of international law (in World Geography: Understanding a Changing World, ABC-CLIO, 2012)
- The Arctic Council after Kiruna (with Klaus Dodds; Polar Record, 2013) | PDF (behind paywall)
- Steering between Scylla and Charybdis: The Northwest Passage as Territorial Sea (Ocean Development & International Law, 2014 | PDF (behind paywall)
- Maintaining hegemony at a distance: The U.S. Arctic Region Policy Presidential Directive of 2009 (in Polar Geopolitics? Knowledge, Resources and Legal Regimes, Edward Elgar, 2014) | Website
- Mediterranean metaphors: Connections, separations, and fluidities in the ‘new mediterraneans’ of the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico (in Water Worlds: Human Geographies of the Ocean, Ashgate, 2014) | Website
- U.S. Arctic Policy: Reproducing Hegemony in a Maritime Region (in International Relations and the Arctic: Understanding Policy and Governance, Cambria, 2014) | Website
- Covering Kiruna: a natural experiment in Arctic Awareness (with Johanne M. Bruun & Ingrid A. Medby, Polar Geography, 2014) | PDF (behind paywall)
- Europe’s ‘others’ in the polar Mediterranean (Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie, 2016) | PDF (behind paywall)
- “The ice edge is lost….nature moved it”: mapping ice as state practice in the Canadian and Norwegian North (with Berit Kristoffersen, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 2017) | PDF (open access) | Companion blogpost
- (Un)frozen spaces: exploring the role of sea ice in the marine socio-legal spaces of the Bering and Beaufort Seas (with Kristen Shake, Karen Frey, & Deborah Martin, Journal of Borderland Studies, 2017) | PDF (behind paywall)
- Governing the global commons (Geography Review, 2017)
- Canadian sovereignty in the high Arctic (The Geographer [published by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society], 2017)
My NSF research team’s book, Contesting the Arctic: Politics and Imaginaries in the Circumpolar North, was published by I.B. Tauris in 2015 and has been reviewed in several venues including Foreign Affairs. Oxford University has also released an audio file of a lecture that I gave there in 2015 — titled ‘The Geography of Territory: Rethinking Space through Arctic Materialities’ — that is largely derived from the book.
Also in 2015, I was one of four section editors for the cross-platform Elsevier special-issue, The Arctic.
In addition, at Durham University, I co-teach a third-year module with glaciologist Chris Stokes on The Arctic (which includes a one-week field trip to Arctic Norway) and I am the coordinator of Durham’s participation in the University of the Arctic. I also direct the Durham Arctic Research Centre for Training and Interdisciplinary Collaboration (DurhamARCTIC), a Leverhulme Trust-funded initiative that is fully supporting fifteen doctoral students at Durham University between 2018 and 2023.
I have appeared as an Arctic policy expert in a number of forums, with major interviews with the BBC, Dagens Næringsliv, (Norway), The Guardian, The National (Abu Dhabi), NRK (Norwegian radio), Bloomberg News, and Russia Today, as well as testifying before the UK House of Lords Arctic Committee.