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Complicating Resilience in a Global Arctic: Energy Infrastructures at a Precarious Juncture

Presentation Date
Tuesday, December 14, 2021 at 2:55pm
Convention Center - Hall D-2, First Floor

As a measure of sustainability, the concept of resilience as applied to systems research fails to account for multiple types of resilience and the many scales at which resilience is enacted. Research focusing on infrastructure in particular tends to conflate infrastructure preservation, maintenance, and repair with societal well-being, despite the fact that many infrastructures are socially contested or themselves a destabilizing source of system vulnerability. There is an urgent need to refine metrics of infrastructural resilience in terms of their integration with scale-spanning markets and assemblages, their long-term ecological and geological interactions, and their contribution to cultural and political identity formation. As part of the Interdisciplinary Research for Arctic Coastal Environments (InteRFACE) project, we have developed a typology of Arctic oil and gas socio-ecological systems (AOGSES), with a detailed case study of Alaska’s North Slope Borough, to explore this topic. In our analysis of the AOGSES, we consider factors unique to the Arctic’s accelerating change rate, sources of path dependency and novelty, and the intersection of geochemical and economic measurements of infrastructural resilience. Analysis of sources of normative discursive power, structures of multilevel governance, and the construction of scenarios further contribute to a “geopolitical assemblage” model of material flows and fixities in a dynamic Arctic. We conclude that the attention being paid to Arctic infrastructures in political and academic arenas, especially within the framework of sustainability, resilience, and adaptation, takes insufficient account of historical community-based definitions of change and lacks adequate theoretical grounding in critical political economy and political ecology.

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