Tangled Up in Blue: Narratives of Glacier Change in Southeast Iceland
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This dissertation reports the findings of an ethnographic field study that examined the plurality of glacier-related narratives, knowledges, and practices of people living on the southeastern coast of Iceland. A growing amount of research is directed at glaciers and society from a variety of disciplines within the social sciences, however, a crucial gap in research remains centered around local perceptions, values, beliefs—of how and why people and ice interrelate today and how such experiences compare from one glacier community to the next. Everywhere glaciers are located on this planet, there are people, and the two have been interacting for the entirety of human history, but very little is known about the nature of people-ice relations. To better understand how people and ice interrelate, I completed nine months of field work from September 2015 through May 2016 on the southeastern coast of Iceland. Iceland was chosen as field site because people and ice on the southeastern coast exist in extreme proximity. Local glaciology models predict these glaciers will lose 25-35 percent of present volume over the next fifty years. As such, to better understand the nature of relations in this rapidly changing environment, alongside focus groups, participant observation and preliminary field work, I interviewed 84 Icelandic women and 112 Icelandic men ranging in age from 18 to 96 years old using a semi-structured, in-depth ethnographic interview method. The results of this dissertation demonstrate other ways of looking at glaciers and people, highlighting profound connections, the power glaciers enact upon communities, the perceptions of glaciers as alive and self-aware, the plasticity of glaciers to verify multiple conflicting narratives all at once, and the intertwined positive and negative consequences glacier change engenders for local communities. I argue glaciers have rich social and cultural context and variability that is largely unstudied, that glaciers are contested, controversial, and that what is widely assumed does not match what is happening on the ground. The aim of this work is to contribute to the development of a global geography of glacier change that includes the physical and social dimensions of ice across the cryosphere.