Languages of Emergency, Infrastructures of Response and Everyday Heroism in the Circumpolar North
Dr Olga Ulturgasheva, Department of Anthropology, University of Manchester and Dr. Barbara Bodenhorn, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge
20 May 2021
In this paper we take a series of case examples from the Siberian and Alaskan Arctic to explore what might be considered ‘critical events’ connected to environmental conditions and explore local responses to them. In doing so we examine the conjunction of different forms of expert knowledge linked to different forms of environmental technology, mental and material. From our Siberian material we shall discuss two events that involved specific rescue operations revealing the issues of communication and coordination action. We shall specifically explore what networks and forms of embodied knowledge are mobilised by local population in their attempts to organize rescue, and how technologies may fail to assist in arranging timely emergency relief and rescue.
This will include: a) an event of rescue provided by local drivers when they saved passengers stranded in the middle of the extreme cold winter night; and b) the situation when technological devices undermined human and non-human security by failing to provide proper monitoring of severe wildfires during summer of 2020. From Alaska we examine briefly, an ice calving event leaving 147 Spring whalers stranded on floating ice; we then examine the 2019 fall migration season where no whales appeared off the coast of Barrow; and finish with a look at local responses to the threat of COVID the subsequent spring.
All of these events were considered threats to the safety and well-being of the community as a whole. The languages of emergency as well as the everyday acts of heroism these emergencies called forth depended on people’s local knowledge learned through experienced grounded in the everyday in such a way that they could be deployed under extraordinary circumstances. As such this invites a further thinking of Veena Das’s work on ‘the everyday’ which she insists should not be reduced to mere routine. It opens up a further discussion of Kath Weston’s notion of ‘techno-traps’ – not because of what ‘it’ forces people to do, but because of what it fails to see.
This seminar was part of the Making the unknown knowable seminar series. Click here to read more