Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Glasberg, Elena, Antarctica as Cultural Critique: The Gendered Politics of Scientific Exploration and Climate Change

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Glasberg, Elena, Antarctica as Cultural Critique: The Gendered Politics of Scientific Exploration and Climate Change

Article excerpt

Glasberg, Elena, Antarctica as Cultural Critique: The Gendered Politics of Scientific Exploration and Climate Change. 2012. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 174 pp. $85.00 hardcover (978-0-230-11687-0)

Antarctica as Cultural Critique adds to the rapidly expanding literature on the lived aspects of the world's polar regions. This relatively short and dense book delves into the theoretical aspects of climate change in a way rarely attempted in the literature. It moves beyond the politics of representation to achieve a better understanding of the sheer materiality of the snow and ice in this vast southern region. To do this, it focuses on literature, photography, and even capitalist marketing practices such as IBM's 2000 vision of Antarctica as a "great location for an E-marketplace" (p. 78) and represents a unique contribution to cultural sociology and social theory.

This book deconstructs the commonly held view of Antarctica as a desolate and inhospitable region, devoid of an indigenous population. Glasberg takes great pains to portray Antarctica as a space of politics connected to unresolved territorial claims (primarily including Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, United Kingdom, and United States), capitalism (through E-commerce and other failed efforts to capitalize on the region), and empire (through historic exploration). Against this geopolitical backdrop, Glasberg addresses how Antarctica has been affected by human presence over centuries and up to the present. Encapsulating the central orientation of the book, Glasberg writes that Antarctica, as it is usually represented, "is a frozen wasteland that according to Western notions of embodied presence in real time cannot be profitably inhabited" (p. 33). The author is interested in nonrepresentational (or nonrealist) narratives that confront the materiality of the south while understanding how that materiality has been constituted over the past century through spatialization, commodification (photography, bottled water), and conquest as "the colony at the end of the world" (p. 104).

Antarctica as Cultural Critique develops an ambitious and nuanced thesis that Antarctica is a space of hope because it is only lightly inhabited (and thus perhaps a possible future frontier for a rapidly expanding global population), while stressing the ways it is densely populated. This irony highlights the symbolic weight attached to Antarctica via visual mediation as a blank space fit for social action (which, I might add, is much like the Arctic in this sense). She shows "the problem of the human body on ice" through media such as photography that demonstrate "the complexity of human presence" (p. xvi). This is a carefully argued and beautifully written book that defies precise disciplinary location: it considers Antarctica in relation to often-muted human (gendered, racial, materialist, and geographical) constructions of this imaginative region. She implies that we have all been to the Antarctica, if only in our (polar) imaginations of environmental consciousness connected to climate change, or through a "spatialization" (that is, the "slicing up" of the space through social constructions [p. 10]) that often makes Antarctica seem closer to outer space than that of the rest of planet earth.

As already mentioned, the book tries to move beyond representation to speak directly to the issue of materiality that has preoccupied geographers in recent years. It outlines a compelling and unusual critique of feminism by taking aim at various female explorers who have professed to do polar exploration in ways that subvert the men that came before them, such as, most famously, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and British Robert F. Scott and the race for the pole in 1911-12. It becomes clear that Glasberg is suspicious of those subaltern women, such as Bancroft and Arneson's 2001 continental crossing (see: www.yourexpedition.com) (p. 42), who profess to journey across the Antarctica and leave no footprints or garbage (both in the literal and metaphoric sense), as did their male counterparts who mapped and named the space as they travelled. …

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