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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Science, borders, and boundaries in the western Arctic : environmental histories of the Porcupine Caribou Herd Luedee, Jonathan


The annual migration of the Porcupine Caribou Herd is an important biological phenomenon that is central to the maintenance of dynamic environmental relationships in the transboundary western Arctic (northeastern Alaska and northern Yukon). In this dissertation, I argue that far from being a purely natural or unchanging biological process, the herd’s migration has an historical geography, which has been shaped by human societies, and structured by the establishment of political, conceptual, and metaphorical boundaries and borders throughout the twentieth century. Informed by recent research in the fields of transnational environmental history, the history and geography of science, and critical northern geography, I develop a conceptual framework that seeks to explicate the role of caribou science in boundary-making practices in the western Arctic. In four conceptually-linked case studies, I examine the scientific establishment and reinforcement of critical boundaries employed by state-based wildlife management agencies during the twentieth century. These include the shifting line between domesticated and wild animals; the boundaries drawn around species, subspecies, and caribou herd concepts; the violable spatial and conceptual boundary between industrial development and critical caribou habitat; and, finally, the illusory threshold between safe and unsafe levels of exposure to radioactive contamination for both caribou and people. Across these four case studies, each boundary emerges not as stable line drawn around the natural world, but rather as a contested site of knowledge production. Through an examination of scientific boundary-making practices, I show how scientists not only sought to demarcate natural boundaries, but also contested and transformed the placement of the very line that separated scientific from non-scientific knowledge, and determined which individuals and groups represented legitimate producers of scientific knowledge about migratory caribou herds.

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