2019 RSA Russia Division Workshop
Mia Bennett is an assistant professor in the Geography Department and School of Modern Languages & Cultures (China Studies Programme) at the University of Hong Kong. As a political geographer with geospatial skills, through fieldwork and remote sensing, she researches transportation infrastructure and natural resource development in northern frontiers, namely the Arctic, Russian Far East, and along the more remote corridors of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Mia received a PhD in Geography from the University of California, Los Angeles and an MPhil in Polar Studies from the University of Cambridge, where she was a Gates Scholar. She has published extensively in both peer-reviewed journals and in the general press and edits a long-running blog on the Arctic at cryopolitics.com.
Development on Ice: Arctic Infrastructure in the Anthropocene
Abstract: With climate change melting away the Arctic ice cap, multinational corporations, national governments, and indigenous corporations all see opportunities for development. Even as sea ice decline and permafrost thaw destabilize the environment, plans are underway to build new infrastructure like ports along Russia’s northern coast and a highway to the Arctic Ocean in Canada. More than geophysical factors, however, are motivating this infrastructure push. Political, economic, and technological drivers are leading developmental interests to shorten the distance between global markets by bridging the supposed “infrastructure gaps” that exist in not only the Arctic, but also places like Central Asia, Siberia, and beyond. Using a mix of qualitative methods and remote sensing and case studies drawing on Canada, Russia, and Chinese activities in the Arctic, I explain how the region is conjured as a space in need of development and globally articulated infrastructure by actors both within and outside the region. Taken together, these examples illustrate how even in the Anthropocene – the current era in which humans are the primary influence on the planet – despite the importance of environmental factors, development remains politically and economically conditioned, locally negotiated, and cyclical rather than linear.