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Post-colonialism, geo-politics and architectural heritage in Arctic coal mining towns

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10:00 AM, Mardi 30 Août 2022 (20 minutes)

This project focuses on the unique geo-political and postcolonial situationality in two very different coal mining towns in the Arctic, Longyearben and Pyramiden. These towns serve as case studies applicable to thinking through industrial heritage, re-imagining coal mining towns and envisioning how sustainable development and preservation could occur in the North. Most notably, these Arctic mining towns represent specific variations of how architectural heritage, economic development and geo-politics have produced a particular type, and more specifically, types that now serve greater military and geo-political importance, shaped by an unfolding narrative driven by climate change. How nation states reckon with their complicity in colonialism is often a very localized issue tied to very fragile imaginaries that heritage and preservation policies fail to comprehend. In unpacking UNESCO’s expansion into the Arctic, specifically, and Svalbard and Pyramiden, specifically, I draw upon current work being done on the ground across a number of disciplines in relationship to the unique treaty-based geopolitical positionality of Svalbard as a state of exception.

"The exceptionalism of the Arctic, then may lay not only in its frigid weather, or its geophysical specificity that challenges the norms of international law, as in what, from the perspective of southern capitals, is its inaccessibility. As a space that will always remain distant (and different), the Arctic is arguably not a frontier but a colony: not a space to which distant states and their populations expand but a space that they colonize so as to benefit the metropole." (Steinberg, et. al, 65)

Who owns the Arctic will continue to be a very difficult question. This call for papers notes that aside from “studies or monographs of individual towns that populate the literature, no reference framework exists that would allow for their analysis” and calls for “their preservation as built environments as a whole.” By looking at the historical and spatial factors that link mining company towns to networks and meanings that transcend regions, countries and borders, especially in terms of urban planning and placemaking, These company towns and their adaptation within their particular contexts will be analyzed and theorized as models.


Eric Nay


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