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Rethinking Remoteness and Peripherality

16-19 January 2017, Longyearbyen, Svalbard

This international conference explores the concepts of remoteness and peripherality. These concepts are used in numerous disciplines, including geography, development studies, anthropology, spatial planning, and cultural studies. But what do remoteness and peripherality mean in practice, from the perspectives of the people and places deemed to be remote and peripheral? ‘Remote’ and ‘peripheral’ presume a centring of (potentially colonial) power elsewhere and tend to be defined in terms of accessibility to major urban areas.

Are remoteness and peripherality essentially relative concepts, only comprehensible with reference to the near and the central? Can remoteness and peripherality ever be experienced internally, or are they simply projections from the outside? If political, economic, and social power rest with the big cities and centres, is it fruitful or is it damaging to cast some communities as remote and peripheral? Notions of ‘remote’ and ‘peripheral’ connote economic stagnation, decay, and underdevelopment (or absence of development) and are associated with a lack of connectivity, indicating a local state of de-globalization. And yet ‘remote’ is not univocal. Might it be possible to reclaim remoteness and peripherality as drivers of societal creativity, innovation, and resilience?

This Island Dynamics conference is a collaboration with: RMIT University’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies and the Centre for Global Research, Melbourne, Australia.

About the conference.

REMOTE allows delegates to contextualise knowledge and engage with the local community. 16 January is devoted to a day-long tour of Svalbard’s spectacular arctic landscape: Participants will travel to a glacier and ice cave by dog sled. On 17 January, delegates will explore Longyearbyen’s community, speaking with representatives from government, businesses, and cultural organisations. 18-19 January will feature conference presentations by delegates, held at the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel Spitsbergen.

© Heinrich Eggenfellner

About Longyearbyen, Svalbard.

Longyearbyen (population 2200) is the world’s northernmost town, the main settlement on Norway’s vast, largely ice-covered Svalbard archipelago. The polar night, when the sun never rises above the horizon, lasts from late October until mid-February. Most residents stay for only a season or a few years, and even those who do remain must eventually return to their homelands: The Norwegian state provides no health and social care, with the result that it is colloquially said that ‘In Longyearbyen, it is illegal to die.’ Furthermore, the risk of attack by polar bears means that people are only permitted to leave town in the company of someone with firearms training.

Longyearbyen is iconically remote and peripheral, but the town is also highly cosmopolitan, hosting residents from over 40 nations, an active cultural life, and an economy based on tourism and mining activities. The community is young, close-knit, and diverse. Longyearbyen is thus the perfect place to explore the contradictions and paradoxes of remoteness and peripherality.