My original background lies in linguistics; I’ve been studying sociolinguistic issues of the post-Soviet Russia. However, as it often happens, during my fieldwork in the Kola Peninsula I suddenly realized that the social context of life in the North is of much greater interest to me than dull socio-linguistic variations, and I took up the complex task of changing my focus area. In 2013 I got my Master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the European University at St. Petersburg, focusing on the collective identity building in the Russian part of the Barents Region. Now I continue with my PhD research on Arctic extractive industries and the communities they create, focusing on the Russian mining community in the Svalbard archipelago.

The unique status of Svalbard (the archipelago is a part of Norway, but citizens of virtually any state can live and work there) has been attracting researchers for a long time. I’m focusing on the small Russian mining town of Barentsburg, with a population of 500. The Barentsburg mine has been producing coal since the 1930s, serving also as a political instrument in Russian-Norwegian relations. The crisis of the coal industry has destroyed the fancy picture of the “sanctuary of the 1970s” and put the community on the verge of fundamental changes. The new economic model for the town and the very existence of the mine are the most pressing issues. I’m studying the structure of the local community, the processes of redevelopment of Barentsburg, and the community response to these changes.

My research brings to light different approaches to the urban sustainability in the Arctic, while I argue that the societal and economical model of Barentsburg is unique for the Arctic and should therefore be described from different points of view; I’m trying to take into account both Western and Russian approaches to the concept of urban sustainability.

In 2016, when I started preparing the final draft of my thesis and decided to do that outside St. Petersburg, a great opportunity emerged: to spend a couple of months in Rovaniemi, Finland. I heartily embraced that, as I had been to the town many times and also admire the local university, especially its Arctic Centre with the great library and amazing people. I spent two months as a part of the Sustainable Development Research Group, contributing to their work with my experience and gaining new knowledge for my own research. I got a wonderful opportunity to meet the leading scholars in my area and get things right in my own head. My upcoming thesis was enriched by new ideas gained from highly productive discussions with the Arctic Centre researchers, especially Monica Tennberg, Florian Stammler and Anna Stammler-Gossmann. I hope that this cooperation in the Arctic research community continues afterwards, as we all share common perceptions and understandings of the region.

 

Andrian is a UArctic Board of Governors Student Representative and also a UArctic Student Ambassador (2014-2017).

 

Originally published in UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2016