Building Arctic Futures:
Transport Infrastructures and Sustainable Northern Communities


Churchill, Manitoba. Photo by Philipp Budka



The “new Arctic” is attracting global attention because of geopolitics, (re-)militarization, resource extraction, tourism, and calls for environmental protection in the face of rapid climate change. Many of these activities necessitate the construction or upgrading of transport infrastructures.

The ERC Advanced Grant Project “Building Arctic Futures: Transport Infrastructures and Sustainable Northern Communities” (InfraNorth) is being realized at the University of Vienna and runs from January 2021 to December 2025. It explores how residents of the Arctic engage with transport infrastructures and their intended and unintended local consequences.

Our challenge is to understand whether existing and planned transport infrastructures support permanent human habitation and sustainable communities in the Arctic, or whether they will strengthen a trend of substituting permanent residents with “temporaries” like shift workers, tourists, and military personnel. Or put in another way: What is the role of transport infrastructures in sustaining northern communities?

InfraNorth adopts a relational affordance perspective, which documents the entanglements of local residents and transport infrastructures. Our approach combines ethnographic fieldwork with mapping, future scenario workshops and archival research. Quantitative population data and a survey about the role of transport infrastructures are used to upscale our research from local communities to regional and pan-Arctic levels. In doing so, InfraNorth contributes locally informed results to critical conversations about Arctic futures.


Univ.-Prof. Dr. Peter Schweitzer
Department of Social & Cultural Anthropology
University of Vienna


Mag. Susanna Heubusch, M.E.S.
Department of Social & Cultural Anthropology
University of Vienna
susanna.heubusch (at)

Ilya Krylov
Department of Social & Cultural Anthropology
University of Vienna
ilya.krylov (at)


Cristóbal Adam-Barrios, M.A.
Department of Social & Cultural Anthropology
University of Vienna
cristobal.adam.barrios (at)


This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (Grant Agreement No. 885646)

Integration Component

InfraNorth’s Integration Component (IC) constitutes a cross-cutting methodological framework for the project and is managed by an interdisciplinary team of geographers and anthropologists. Its aim is to coordinate the research effort on what, when, and how is going to be investigated in the geographically, culturally, historically, and politically diverse Arctic study regions of the project. To do so, the IC sets up the main lines of comparison between field sites in the European and North American Arctic. […]

Study Regions

European Arctic

The European Arctic is the most heterogeneous of the three study regions and comprises territories of five states: Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. In comparison to other parts of the Arctic, the region has a relatively well-developed transport infrastructure, especially in northern Fennoscandia. Still, compared to the political […]

North American Arctic

The North American Arctic study region comprises Alaska in the USA and Manitoba and Nunavut in Canada as well as cross-border connections to the Russian Arctic. While Alaska’s transport infrastructure is historically well-developed, infrastructure development in Northern Canada started comparatively late, with new transport infrastructure schemes surfacing all over the region; from maritime and road […]

Russian Arctic

Our research activities at Russian field sites have been suspended since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. As a result, the outlay of the Russian component has been reconfigured significantly. While continuing to monitor the situation in Russia, for the time being we work with previously collected field data from […]


Peter Schweitzer

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Peter Schweitzer

Principal Investigator

Research Group Leader at the Austrian Polar Research Institute; Prof. emer. at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Peter is Professor at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna and Professor Emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is past president of the International Arctic Social Sciences Association (IASSA) and served as director of the Austrian Polar Research Institute (APRI) from 2016 to 2020.

Research Focus: Schweitzer’s theoretical interests range from kinship and identity politics to human-environmental interactions, including the social lives of infrastructure and the community effects of global climate change; his regional focus areas include the circumpolar North and the former Soviet Union. He has published widely on all of these issues.


Selected Publications (ORCID)


Olga Povoroznyuk

Dr. Olga Povoroznyuk

Research Coordinator and Study Region Lead (Russia)

Olga is a PostDoc Researcher and Lecturer at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna, a member of the Social and Human Working Group of the International Arctic Science Committee and a researcher at the Austrian Polar Research Institute. As a research coordinator to InfraNorth, she is responsible for co-organization of the project’s key events and activities and collaboration with associate researchers and partners.

Research Focus: She has conducted long-term ethnographic research and published extensively on the issues of infrastructure and development, postsocialist transformations, indigeneity, ethnicity, gender and identity, climate and environmental changes in the Circumpolar North and Russia. Her previous research and a Ph.D. dissertation defended at the University of Vienna, examined the agency of large-scale infrastructures in the articulation of modernization and nation-building projects in East Siberia. Her research within InfraNorth focuses on the role of maritime and other transport infrastructures in social dynamics and sustainable futures of the coastal communities of Tiksi (Russia), Kirkenes (Norway) and Nome (USA), in the context of changing patterns of connectivity and the new geopolitics of the Arctic.


Selected Publications (ORCID)


Timothy Heleniak

Dr. Timothy Heleniak

Senior Researcher for Arctic Economic and Population Issues

Tim is a Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio. He is the Series Editor of the Routledge Research in Polar Regions. He was the Editor of the journal Polar Geography from 2011 to 2015. He previously worked at the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the World Bank, UNICEF, and George Washington University. He holds a PhD in Geography and an MBA in Finance from the University of Maryland (USA).

Research focus: He is a human geographer specializing in migration and population change and regional economic development with regional focuses on the Arctic, the Nordic region, the EU, and Russia. He has a long list of publications, book chapters, and policy briefs on Arctic population issues. He currently has a grant from the National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs, titled Polar Peoples: Past, Present, and Future, which examines population change in the Arctic.



Philipp Budka

Dr. Philipp Budka

Researcher and Study Region Lead (North America)

Philipp is a PostDoc Researcher and Lecturer at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna. He has been researching infrastructures, technologies, and media from an anthropological perspective in the Americas and Europe. He explored, for example, socio-technical change, technology appropriation, and digital practices in remote First Nation communities in Canada. His research has been published in peer-reviewed journals and books.

Research Focus: Philipp ethnographically explores affordances of transport infrastructures in sustaining communities in (Sub-)Arctic Canada. He is particularly interested in infrastructural entanglements, promises, and failures as well as related processes of change in the small town of Churchill, Manitoba. This town, which has become known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”, is unique in terms of transport infrastructures. Churchill is home of North America’s only deep-water port on the Arctic Ocean connected to a railway system. The town also has a relatively large airport which was originally built by the military, but is now supporting in particular the growing tourism industry.


Selected Publications (ORCID)


Ria-Maria Adams

Dr. Ria-Maria Adams

Researcher (Europe)

Ria-Maria is a PostDoc Researcher at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna. She has previously worked for the project “Live, work, or leave? Youth wellbeing and the viability of (post) extractive Arctic industrial cities in Finland and Russia” (2018-2020, University of Lapland) and contributed to the ERA-Net/Horizon 2020 project “Enhancing liveability of small shrinking cities through co-creation” (Aalto University). She is a visiting researcher at the Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi and part of the ArcCSII Research Exchange Program between Finland and Japan, which included a research stay at Sendai University in October 2023. Recently, she defended her thesis on the topic of youth wellbeing in northern Finland.

Research Focus: Ria-Maria’s current research interests revolve around transport and tourism infrastructures in communities along the Iron Ore Line in northern Sweden, leading to the port town of Narvik in Norway. She is particularly interested in imaginaries and the viability of communities in rural northern European regions, including Finnish Lapland, where she builds on her previous research. Arctic youth wellbeing continues to be a central concern of her work, as well as local initiatives enhancing liveability in shrinking northern towns.


Selected Publications (ORCID)


Alexandra Meyer

Dr. Alexandra Meyer

Researcher (Europe)

Alexandra is a PostDoc Researcher at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. She has previously worked in the EU H2020 project NUNATARYUK and currently contributes to the EU project ILLUQ on permafrost thaw impacts in the Arctic, and to the project Polar Climate and Cultural Heritage (PCCH-Arctic). She is committed to building connections and collaborations within the growing field of social sciences on Svalbard, as well as between science and society. She is a board member of the Svalbard Social Science Initiative (SSSI) and a member of the Social & Human Working Group of the International Arctic Science Committee.

Research Focus: Alexandra’s research interests lie within the broader field of environmental anthropology, including climate change, adaptation, permafrost thaw and outdoor life, as well as the built environment and cultural heritage. She has conducted long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Svalbard, and recently defended her PhD thesis on socio-environmental change in Longyearbyen. Her research within InfraNorth focuses on issues related to climate change and infrastructure, as well as the role of transportation infrastructure in community transitions in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, and Kirkenes.


Selected publications (ORCID)


Alexis Sancho Reinoso

Dr. Alexis Sancho Reinoso

Researcher (Integration Component)

Alexis was born in Barcelona (Spain) and holds a PhD in Geography, Spatial Planning, and Environmental Management. Since 2018 he has been working at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Vienna. He was part of the project Configurations of Remoteness (CoRe): Entanglements between Humans and Transport Infrastructure in the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) Region, being responsible for statistical and cartographic analysis as well as for the outreach portal

Research Focus: Alexis is interested in exploring the spatial dimension of human-environmental relationships, and specifically cultural landscape, toponymy, and territorial development (the latter mainly focused on rural/mountain/marginal areas). He is also interested in cartographic representations of such relationships by using GIS analysis and by developing storytelling.


Selected Publications (ORCID)


Katrin Schmid

Katrin Schmid, PhD student 

Researcher (North America)

Katrin is a PhD student at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. Her ongoing dissertation research examines the role of Nunavut’s transport infrastructure in territorial food sovereignty, specifically the differences created by gravel or paved runways in everyday community life. She previously worked with Gitxaała Nation in Canada on the SSHRC-funded K’tai Social Ecology and Gitxaała Perceptions of Change projects (University of British Columbia, 2018-2020). She is a member of the Austrian Polar Research Institute and the Austrian Subarctic and Arctic Working Group, as well as the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists.

Research Focus: Katrin’s research interests include perceptions of change, especially through the lens of cumulative effects analyses, and their influence on socio-economic sustainability, policy-making, and imagined futures of communities. She is based in the Qikiqtani region of Nunavut, Canada for this project. Her work centers on the role of Nunavut residents’ imagined futures in the development of transport infrastructure throughout the territory.


Selected Publications (ORCID)


Elena Davydova

Elena Davydova, PhD student

Researcher (Russia)

Elena is a PhD student at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. She has worked for several projects supported by the Russian Science Foundation that investigated food, supply and small-scale energy regimes in relatively remote communities of the Russian Arctic. She is a member of the Association of Anthropologists and Ethnologists of Russia, the International Arctic Social Sciences Association, the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences.

Research Focus: Elena’s research interests center around food-related infrastructures, supply, mobility, and materiality of food in the Russian Arctic. Through ethnographic fieldwork in Chukotka autonomous area as well as archival research she has studied how people in northern settlements create and maintain food security and food sovereignty.



Mia Bennett

Associate Researcher

Mia is a political geographer with geospatial skills analyzing processes of frontier-making in the Arctic from local to regional scales. She has specifically focused on the development of infrastructure ranging from highways to shipping routes. Her current area of focus is the Nordic North Atlantic, where she is examining the impacts of the commercialization of outer space on northern communities through the establishment of spaceports. To investigate these issues, her methods combine fieldwork and critical remote sensing, a subfield whose development she is helping to lead.



Sophie Elixhauser

Associate Researcher

Sophie is a social anthropologist specialising in human-environmental relations, mobility, climate change and interpersonal communication in the Arctic, particularly Greenland, and the European Alps. She has conducted long-term fieldwork on the east coast of Greenland working on the importance of the value of personal autonomy in the ways people communicate with each other as well as interact with their environment, and, more recently, on climate/environmental change and local perceptions/attitudes respectively. Moreover, she has inquired into the impacts of military installations/airports built during WWII and the Cold war era for social life, culture and the environment in East Greenland, with a continuing interest in current plans for new airports.



Susan Vanek

Associate Researcher

Susan’s interests include political-economy, political-ecology, policy, and Arctic diplomatic history. Her current research focuses on infrastructure as a key point of confluence through which everyday life intersects with regional, national, and global governance and competing visions of the future are negotiated. Her project explores the ongoing expansion of Greenland’s airport system through this lens with ethnographic fieldwork underway in Nuuk and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.


Andreas Mentrup-Womelsdorf

Associate Researcher

Andreas is a PhD student at the Department of Social & Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. He holds a B.A. in Social & Cultural Anthropology and Geography from the University of Münster (Germany) and an M.A. degree in Social Anthropology and Philosophy from Heidelberg University (Germany). He is a historical anthropologist and geographer with a distinct interest in Global Environmental History, Histories of the American West/New Western History, Borderlands Studies, Histories of Infrastructures, and Black & Indigenous critiques of contemporary Theories of Recognition. In his PhD project, Andreas focuses on the creation of the 141st meridian, the international boundary between Alaska and the Yukon Territory through entanglements of human and More-than-Human entities. More specifically, Andreas’ research engages with salmon—and its transboundary management—to unravel histories of colonization, infrastructural development, and resource extraction in these aqueous borderzone(s). His research is generously funded by the German Scholarship Foundation (Deutsche Studienstiftung) and the ERC Advanced Grant “InfraNorth: Building Arctic Futures”.


Tobias Holzlehner

Associate Researcher

Tobias is a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Anthropology at the Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. He received his doctorate in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His ethnographic research in the Russian Far East explores post-industrial landscapes, technological devolution, naturalcultural encounters and socio-economic transformations along the North Pacific littoral.

In the course of the last years he conducted several research projects (Far Eastern Borderlands: Informal Networks and Space at the Margins of the Russian State, NSF Arctic Social Science; Histories and Futures of Relocations in Alaska and Rural Chukotka, NSF/ESF; Cosmopolitan Xenophobia: Cultural Dynamics of Consumption and Ethnic Interaction in Vladivostok, Russia, Wenner-Gren Foundation) that tried to grasp shifting social and infrastructural configurations and various forms of mobility in a time of rapid cultural change. His current book project, Hunters and Traders in a Fluid World: A Maritime Anthropology of the Chukchi Coast, analyzes technological and infrastructural evolution and devolution through shocks, seismic shifts, debris, fall-backs, and involution.

Susa Gartler, Associate Researcher at InfraNorth

Susa (Susanna) Gartler

Associate Researcher

Susa is a member of the Austrian Polar Research Institute and a researcher at the University of Vienna. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. focused on extractivism and First Nation resurgence in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Susa is also a researcher for the EU H2020 project Permafrost – Pollution – Health (ILLUQ). She is dedicated to transdisciplinary, decolonizing research practices, and serves on the editorial board of the journal Environmental Research: Ecology. Her research interests encompass: Critical Indigenous Studies, Environmental Anthropology, Permafrost Research, and Arctic & Canadian studies. Previous projects include LACE and Nunataryuk.