Svalbard in and beyond European modernity


  • Anka Ryall


Svalbard, High Arctic, emergent place, modernity, gendered values, homemaking, Arthur Oxaas, Liv Balstad


What does European modernity look like from the extremely peripheral perspective of Svalbard, a Norwegian High-Arctic archipelago located approximately midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole? This is a questions that informs my reading of two personal narratives describing twentieth-century Svalbard as an emergent form of place, in Eric Prieto's term an entre-deux, that is no longer "outside time" as an uncharted Arctic wilderness, yet still not a location that has become thoroughly subsumed into European modernity. Both are memoirs published in 1955, Svalbard var min verden by the former trapper and hunter Arthur Oxaas (1888-1972), Nord for det øde hav by Liv Balstad (1915-1966), wife of the first post-war Norwegian governor of Svalbard. While Svalbard var min verden is a predominantly nostalgic retrospective of a historical era of hunting and trapping that had come to an with the Second World War, Nord for det øde hav looks forward to a future in which Svalbard has become fully integrated in the modern Norwegian welfare society. However, both narratives share an emphasis on the Heideggerian topic of place-making through building and dwelling, as well as a gendered vision of an Arctic modernity based on the feminine-coded values of family, homemaking and everyday life.