Mobilities of Ice (K. Coddington)

MobilitieKate-Coddington-Photo-webs of ice and their potential for violence

Dr. Kate Coddington, Postdoctoral Research Associate, IBRU Centre for Borders Research

The geographies of borders, citizenship, and mobility I study are primarily located in the Indian Ocean region, far from the polar regions studied by many people at the conference. I confess, I had done very little thinking about ice. I had seen glaciers—in Alaska, in Tierra del Fuego—and even travelled to the Mackenzie River delta in the Canadian Arctic, yet I had thought very little about how my interests in borders, migration, sovereignty, and postcolonial politics intersected with ice. I was surprised, therefore, at how issues I grappled with within political geography became refracted in interesting ways through the complex assemblages of ice, land, and water.

Ice garners both unease and interest at times because of its mobility, and the access to mobility it allows or prevents. The difference between the mobility of ice and its relationship to other mobilities was striking. The movement of ice is frequently characterized as unstable; the cracks, breaks, calves, and melts are difficult to either temporally or spatially predict. The instability of ice seems often to be framed as a problem—sometimes with an opportunity that results, but usually as a problem. In contrast, the mobilities created by ice’s movement are framed in brighter terms: shipping possibilities! Sovereignty opportunities! Drilling potential! Contrasting how different forms of mobility in icy places become characterized demonstrates the differential nature of mobilities. It also suggests, as Martin (2011) writes, the underlying violence of differential mobilities.

The violence of mobility in icy places occurs at multiple levels: for Martin (2011), the violence from mobility comes from speed, from lack of protection from the consequences of that speed, and the differential access people have to that protection. In icy places, the violence of mobility comes from the unpredictability of ice, certainly, and the impacts of its melting upon coastal areas throughout the globe. Yet there is violence, too, in new shipping routes that open mobilities for commodities and capital but close them to people; violence, too, in the parasitic mobilities of invasive species who are towed into pristine polar waters; violence, too, in the ways in which indigenous peoples in icy places are continually written out of decision-making bodies, cartographic representations, and descriptions of polar life.

Carving glaciated landscapes, calving unexpectedly, melting uncontrollably—in its instability, ice presents also an opportunity for destabilizing other taken-for-granted concepts, such as territory, resources, or mobility. The violence inherent in the mobility of ice, and the mobilities it begets, should not be overlooked.

Cited: Martin, C. (2011) Desperate passage: violence mobilities and the politics of discomfort. Journal of Transport Geography, 19: 1046-1052.


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