SCAR focus on. . . . Humanities

The SCAR December Newsletter included a report of the Social Sciences Action Group participation at the SCAR OSC Portland 2012
    This year’s SCAR Open Science Conference (OSC) in Portland, Oregon, marked  the first OSC for the SCAR Social Sciences Action Group (SSAG) to run its own sessions. Dedicated to transpolar social sciences, one of these sessions explored “Changing Poles: Challenges to Antarctic and Arctic Communities and Institutions” and enabled the SCAR SSAG to connect with their Arctic colleagues. A short article reflecting on this session is published in the International Arctic Social Sciences Association newsletter “ Northern Notes”(Issue 38).
      A second session run by SSAG representatives at the SCAR OSC titled “Human Connections to the Antarctic and Antarctic Values” touched on a wide range of current issues, from questions of environmental management related to value judgements to experiencing and living in Antarctica, to value motivations and perceptions. Setting the framework for this session was Sira Engelbertz’s paper on the role of values in Antarctic policy which provided a fascinating overview of value theory and the implications of values on political decision-making, especially with regard to climate change policy. Another excellent paper was then given by Gary Steel, who discussed value motivations and pro-environmental behaviour in the Ross Sea Region and their strong implications for Antarctic policy and management. On a similar note, Juan Francisco Salazar’s thought-provoking and well-received assessment of values and opinions about Antarctica held by Chilean nationals stressed the importance of understanding Antarctic values and knowledge practices for more effective decision-making. Oleksandr Kuzko then offered a quantitative approach to identifying Antarctic values and risks brought along by human activity in the Antarctic. Rohani Mohd Shah offered fascinating insights into the challenges associated with integrating the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty into Malaysian law. Finally, in a very passionate and vivid presentation, Viviana Alder discussed the role of both Antarctic science and education in the development of a more, peaceful and equitable future of global society.
        This session, which brought together social scientists from a range of different countries and disciplinary backgrounds, offered an excellent platform to learn of different approaches to researching and understanding human values, perspectives, motivations and connections with the Antarctic continent. It explored some of the many challenges faced nowadays by Antarctic policy-makers and stressed that these challenges and many of the still unanswered questions cannot be addressed by individual researchers or within individual disciplines.
          As Steven Chown  emphasised in his keynote address at the SCAR OSC, it will take the collaboration of natural, social and human scientists to meet contemporary challenges humankind faces with regard to Antarctica (and beyond). There is a huge potential within SCAR to forge a closer integration between the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities as it is already taking place in several contexts, e.g. in climate change research. On the one hand, this would entail that concepts and methods from the social and human sciences be understood and appreciated by other scientific communities and are included in Antarctic research from the outset, and not just as an add-on linked to dissemination or outreach. On the other hand, an integration of the “hard” and “soft” sciences requires that, if the social and human sciences are to be valued in 21st century Antarctic research, a new relationship is required between these two categories, namely one where the social and human sciences can also move beyond commentary and critique. This includes, for example, engaging as much with physical observation, analysis and modelling systems, as well  with literary texts, media representations, social histories and geopolitics. The social sciences and humanities have a critical role to play if we are to produce more holistic and integral understanding of the future challenges confronting Antarctica and how to act on them.