About the Project

In a world of land and water, where does ice fit in?

Photo by United States Fish  & Wildlife Service.

Photo by United States Fish & Wildlife Service.

The modern geopolitical state system assumes a permanent, binary divide between land and water. Land is understood as solid and stable, the place for human habitation. Areas of land are divided and bounded into state territory.

Water, on the other hand, is understood as liquid and mobile. Because it cannot easily be divided, controlled, or settled upon, water is seen as fundamentally external to social life and state territory.

While this division is an oversimplification in all places, it is particularly ill-suited for polar regions. At the poles, land and water freezes and melts with increasing rapidity, introducing a degree of dynamism that complicates governance and challenges underpinning ideas of sovereignty and territory.

As state institutions and commercial economic activities intensify in the polar regions, the social and physical properties of ice call for innovative research at the intersection of law, cultural anthropology, state theory, and political geography. The Project on Indeterminate and Changing Environments: Law, the Anthropocene, and the World (the ICE LAW Project) is guided by three objectives:

  • To examine the challenges posed by polar environments to Western political, legal, and regulatory systems in order to improve understanding of historic and potential relationships between the physical nature of the geosphere, constructions of territory, and practices of territorialization.
  • To assist in developing legal and regulatory mechanisms to address the obstacles and opportunities that the physical nature of the polar environment poses to actors there, from indigenous peoples seeking self-determination to corporations seeking secure investment opportunities.
  • To extend findings about the practical and conceptual influence of the polar environment within Western and non-Western legal and social systems to inform understanding and policy-making in other regions of the world where the geophysical categorizations that underpin state authority are similarly upended.

To meet these objectives, the ICE LAW Project incorporates the work of five subprojects.

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