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Polar Geopolitics?

Polar Geopolitics?

Knowledges, Resources and Legal Regimes

Edited by Richard C. Powell and Klaus Dodds

The polar regions (the Arctic and Antarctic) have enjoyed widespread public attention in recent years, as issues of conservation, sustainability, resource speculation and geopolitical manoeuvring have all garnered considerable international media interest. This critical collection of new and original papers – the first of its kind – offers a comprehensive exploration of these and other topics, consolidating the emergent field of polar geopolitics.

Chapter 7: Maintaining hegemony at a distance: ambivalence in US Arctic policy

Philip E. Steinberg

Subjects: environment, environmental law, law - academic, environmental law, politics and public policy, international politics, international relations


Policy documents matter. For at least three decades, scholars in political geography and international relations have been urging that attention be paid to the discursive constructions that underpin the documents by which statespersons frame problems and solutions. Words may not win or lose wars, but neither are they simply propaganda used to explain (or sell) a policy to the public or to government officials. Rather the stories that are told about a place locate it in a discursive frame ñ one of conflict or cooperation, fear or opportunity, difference or similitude ñ and these frames establish the tropes by which places are constructed as geopolitical objects. These tropes, in turn, inform the policies that guide practices and that, through their recitation, reproduce the discursive construction of situations and places (Der Derian and Shapiro 1989; ” Tuathail 1996). Policy documents are certainly not the only means by which these discursive constructions of place are achieved and reproduced. However, different ëothersí are constructed in different ways (Gregory 1998), and I would argue that the process by which the Arctic has been positioned in US political culture has occurred in a manner that is somewhat different from how it has positioned other ëforeigní regions. In successive eras, the Asian, Soviet/Russian, or Arab ëmenacesí have been scripted as geopolitical threats that could infiltrate into the very fabric of the homeland and the values of its citizens.

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