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Department of Geography



Institutions and Public Policy in the Field Sciences

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Looking ahead to International Polar Year 2007-2008 (IPY), the fourth such interdisciplinary event since 1882, Dr. Bravo has acted as the social sciences and humanities advisor on the UK Committee.

He is a member of the IPY social sciences advisory committee chaired by Dr. Igor Krupnik of the Smithsonian Institution, and has acted as a lead author in preparing the IPY scientific framework (2004).

Project Summary

Bravo is the Principal Investigator and Coordinator in an international comparative study of the history of field stations across five Arctic nations (USA, Canada, Russia, Denmark, and Sweden) with the aim of understanding how field practices drive the major agendas of environmental research.

Photograph: The Eastern Arctic Research Laboratory, Igloolik, Nunavut, Canada (M.Bravo)

Field stations have been one of the most salient and tangible features of IPYs since 1882-83 and through to the coming IPY 2007-08. The polar station is a modern feature, the smaller field cousin of the Laboratory, Instrument, or Observatory. It is a nexus, and a place, where a number of central features of the modern scientific enterprise - laboratory practices and methods, precision instruments, territorial claims - meet in the landscape and sometimes in close vicinity of local groups and populations. Field stations, and the scientific expeditions that created them and used them as vantage points, are inseparable from polar research. They form important parts of the infrastructure of polar research in the past two centuries. They have also served as flag carriers, and as symbols of political, diplomatic and economic ambitions of the nations to which their founders belonged.

However, field stations remain a surprisingly neglected element in the study of the creation of scientific knowledge, and in relation to science diplomacy and geopolitical conflict. We also know quite little of the archipelago of IPY stations and their significance, some of them more a century old. Nor are yet sufficiently clear about their cultural and historical status - field stations are also legacies of past ambitions, a heritage in landscapes which was shared by science with local groups and indigenous peoples.

In this project we will approach field stations from a range of disciplinary vantage points. At the heart of our concerns are field stations as units of knowledge production in the field. This is particularly pertinent to the IPY legacy. Cooperation in sharing field data is an ideal that has run through previous IPYs, and it has been given special prominence in the IPY 2007-2008 Framework. The original idea of IPY emerged from a recognition that individual studies in the field sciences only contribute to a larger picture with a great deal of work. Field stations are one of the chief means by which a sustained presence in the field is maintained: field sites, instruments, and the movement of personnel are carefully coordinated; projects are vetted within research communities through systems of peer review; research efforts are directed with an eye to agendas decided by policymakers.

In the project we intend to use the International Polar Year 2007-2008 as an opportunity to identify and analyse the work (e.g. planning, calibrating, publishing, sharing data) required to make field observations meaningful across a range of scales and contexts of users or audiences. This also represents a singular opportunity to understand how the field sciences have generated a scientific and cultural legacy. We will analyse former and present research station sites to understand how the residues of scientific practice become valid knowledge, collective memory and heritage.


  • 2006 'Science for the People: Northern Field Stations and Governmentality' (based on my 2005 Eaton Lecture in Canadian Studies, delivered at Queen's University Belfast, March 8, 2005), British Journal for Canadian Studies, 18(1), forthcoming.
  • 2005 Bravo, M. T., I. Krupnik, Y. Csonka, et al. 'Social Sciences and Humanities in the IPY 2007-2008: an Integrating Mission', Arctic 58(1):89-96.


  • Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Fund Grant (with S. Sörlin)
  • ESRC-Swedish Research Council Bilateral Scheme Grant (with S. Sörlin)