Thesis ID: CBB046856987

Polar Futurism and the Labors of Knowledge Production (2023)


Over nearly the last century, Antarctic research stations have been central to the production of knowledge of the “global environment.” Below the “global environment” however, inhabitants of these stations, including scientists, technicians, and operational laborers, have had to negotiate their own relations to the Antarctic’s extreme, hostile, and unforgiving environment, as part of the ongoing reproduction of their everyday life and labors. This dissertation asks how these inhabitants have done so, what ad hoc, low-level, and contingent environmental knowledges have been produced therefrom, and what features of Antarctic inhabitance have emerged as key determinants of the conditions of living and working there beyond the sheer climatic and geophysical extremity of the continent. In doing so, I focus in on Antarctica as an acute site of “knowledge work,” thought broadly to encompass the wide range of labors—scientific, technical, logistical, operational, serviceoriented—that underwrite the ongoing production of scientific knowledge on the continent. Looking in particular at the history of UK and US Antarctic research stations from their early institutional founding to the present, I argue that this history sees “knowledge work,” once a relatively autonomous and exceptional enterprise in Antarctica, increasingly subsumed under the normative conditions of contemporary professional work in the capitalist world. I argue moreover that this has been facilitated through socio-technical interventions that work to “exteriorize” collective wisdom, knowledge, habit, and practice cultivated as part of the integrated life of the base onto new technical and institutional forms that project an image of the Antarctic outward to the wider world. This image has become the basis for a widespread discursive linkage, termed polar futurism in the dissertation, between Antarctic inhabitance and the forthcoming conditions of the Anthropocene. The four chapters of the dissertation take up this polar futurism, seeing in speculative projections of future life in the Anthropocene a starting point for critically uncovering obscured and underlying lines of open discourse, debate, and contestation over the myriad conditions and forms of collective life and “knowledge work” in the Antarctic. The chapters look respectively at novel interventions in Antarctic architecture over the last decade; the history of psychological discourse in the Antarctic up to an including the growing body of institutional psychological literature on Antarctic inhabitance; literary narratives produced by Antarctic inhabitants from early in-station magazines through to more recent products of writer and artists residency programs; and climate modelling as a knowledge base that both implicitly projects visions of future life and labor and that, in Antarctica, entails an often hidden myriad of laboring activities. Across these chapters, I unravel ways in which Antarctic inhabitants have historically and do now think, live, and work “below” and aside from the so-called Anthropocene, even as the products of their work have been so crucial to the global knowledge frameworks out of which the Anthropocene as a periodizing concept emerged. Ultimately, in doing so, the dissertation offers a contribution to Science and Technology studies scholars and others examining the production of climate and environmental knowledge and the stakes of present and future climate change. It does so by arguing for an attention to scientific knowledge as grounded in a social labor process and to knowledge workers of various stripes, facing crises and structural transformations of their working conditions, as holding agency in rethinking and reconfiguring the institutions and orientations of their work and therefrom re-thinking the forms of knowledge suited to the crisis conditions to which that knowledge is addressed.

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Authors & Contributors
Geissler, P. Wenzel
Howkins, Adrian John
Ann H. Kelly
Alagona, Peter S.
Antonello, Alessandro
Dean, Katrina
Journal of the History of Biology
Social Studies of Science
Archives of Natural History
Earth Sciences History: Journal of the History of the Earth Sciences Society
Geohistorische Blätter
Historia Scientiarum: International Journal of the History of Science Society of Japan
Princeton University Press
Research institutes; research stations
Field work
Science and politics
Cold War
Natural history
Dumont d'Urville, Jules Sébastien Cézar
Harrison, Ross Granville
Hutchinson, George Evelyn
Lack, David Lambert
Pickford, Grace Evelyn
Ross, James Clark
Time Periods
20th century
20th century, early
20th century, late
19th century
18th century
21st century
United States
United Kingdom
Great Britain
Soviet Union
Yale University
Hastings Natural History Reservation (Calif.)
Lamto (Côte d'Ivoire)

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