Gender in Polar Research: Gendered field work conditions, epistemologies and legacies

Program and Abstracts
ASSW 2020 Workshop Gender in Polar Resea
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“Gender in Polar Research: Gendered field work conditions, epistemologies and legacies”




Workshop in the framework of


Arctic Science Summit Week 2020, Akureyri, Iceland

29-30 March 2020


funded by IASC - the International Arctic Science Committee





The IASC Social Sciences and Humanities Working Group (WG), together with IASC’s Cryosphere, Marine, and Terrestrial WGs, invites you to a unique cross-disciplinary workshop attempting to bring together the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities in order to discuss and reflect on the gendered nature of Polar research.

The workshop will combine three strands of debate that have thus far not been discussed systematically:

(1) Doing science in the 21st century in a way that departs from but also pays careful attention to the history of exploration and colonial endeavours as “heroic” and masculine activities – while a masculine image still seems to dominate the methodologies and practices of Arctic and Polar research.

(2) The still existing gender gap when it comes to female researchers in hard sciences, their career prospects, and their sometimes difficult working conditions as women in the field. Critiques of the gender gap and gendered research work have thus far neglected the diversity aspects of queer and gender minority (LGBTQI) researchers. They face particular challenges whíle working in a still largely heteronormative research environment as it is described for research stations, vessels or tundra/taiga camps.

(3) The gendered composition of researchers as actors and the gendered spaces of conducting research, including the field sites, have an important impact on research interests, research design, research ethics and epistemology. The gender bias affects the research subject and methodology, and Polar research can learn from and communicate with other fields of science about how to ensure a high standard of equality, sensitivity to issues of marginalization, and ethical production of science.


We invite participants of the ASSW 2020 from natural and social sciences to pop by at the workshop and to join the discussions and break-out groups. Participants will be engaged through alternative formats to gain a maximum of knowledge exchange as well as to map out the state of the art and ideas about where to go from there.





Re-examining the “heroic” past of Polar research

The first task of this workshop is a re-examination of the “heroic” phase of Polar exploration. Certainly, such imagery provided structural benefits for some individuals and initiatives, but worked to the disadvantage of others. The question arises how curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit articulated with gender roles in the 19th and 20th century. This question should be assessed against the institutional backdrop of Polar and marine research in the past decades. Does knowledge exist about non-heteronormative research settings? Specific attention will be paid to the range of roles that were available for the explorers’ partners and relatives: official or unofficial expedition members; facilitators, supporters or secretaries at home etc. How can historical knowledge help envision a different future?


Gender bias and diversity in research strategies and disciplines

Second, the workshop has the aim to explore the ways in which gendered roles have a bearing on research methods, research agendas and epistemologies, as well as careers. In social sciences research, it is now widely accepted that the research process cannot be separated from the background and positionality of the researcher. Does the same hold true for other disciplines like the natural sciences? Feminist and queer approaches in natural sciences have been met with suspicion; hence the need for an assessment of how this debate has proceeded in different disciplines and if it has resulted in new perceptions and strategies of Polar research. Gender, queer and ethnicity perspectives (among other intersectional and diversity markers such as race, disability or age) are also relevant in natural sciences in projects with community interaction and community participation. Therefore, a discussion about how ready the various sciences are for acknowledging and addressing diversity amongst themselves and in the field is essential.


Gender in fieldwork and research settings

As a third task of the workshop, we attempt to assess the effects of non-conventional gender roles on research practice. An arctic vessel, an Antarctic research station, a geologists' camp, or a reindeer herders’ tent — these are just four examples of constricted spaces in Polar research where emotional stress may occur simply because researchers may feel inhibited to speak openly with colleagues or interlocutors. Our aim is to address interpersonal situations and research settings in which conventional gender roles do not work, sexual orientation cannot be articulated or where researchers have to keep silent about those who are dearest at home. Non-heteronormative views are not the only challenge in constricted spaces, but they are likely to aggravate difficulties during long-term stays in a limited social environment.