Building Arctic Futures:
Transport Infrastructures and Sustainable Northern Communities




The “new Arctic” is attracting global attention for a variety of reasons, including geopolitics, militarisation, resource extraction, wilderness 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 in this relatively remote, inaccessible and scarcely-populated part of the world. While these large-scale infrastructures are mostly sponsored by outside interests, they can have profound impacts on local residents.

We propose to focus on how residents of the Arctic, both indigenous and non-indigenous, engage with these infrastructures, and to examine the intended and unintended consequences these projects have on their lives.

Our challenge is to understand whether existing and planned transport infrastructures will 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. In addressing this challenge, we adopt a relational affordance perspective, which will document the material and non-material entanglements of local residents and transport infrastructures in three distinct arctic regions (Russian Arctic, North American Arctic, European Arctic).

Our approach combines ethnographic fieldwork with mapping exercises and archival research. Our project team of anthropologists and geographers will use quantitative population data to upscale to the regional level, and regional patterns will be contrasted and compared to reach conclusions on the panarctic level. We will use interactive scenarios to collect input and to develop decision options.

Our overarching research question – What is the role of transport infrastructures in sustaining arctic communities? – is of urgent relevance on both theoretical and practical levels, and by addressing it we will contribute locally informed results to critical conversations about arctic futures.


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

Project Administration

Mag. Johannes Kramer
+43 1 4277 49536

Integration Component

The INFRANORTH’s Integration Component

The INFRANORTH’s Integration Component (IC), which is managed by an interdisciplinary team of geographers and anthropologists, endeavours to coordinate the research effort on whatwhen and how is going to be investigated in the three study regions of the project (European, North American, and Russian Arctic). To do so, the IC sets up the main lines of comparison between the case study areas and regions. It provides common methodological guidelines so that all project members are able to work with the same research protocol that is, at the same time, flexible enough to deal with the heterogeneity of the case study areas. One key tool in this respect is an on-site field survey exploring relationships between transport infrastructure and local population. It consists of questionnaires that are distributed in situ and are jointly analysed and interpreted using statistical processing and GIS.

Study Regions

European Arctic

The European Arcticis 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 centers […]

North American Arctic

INFRANORTH’s North American Arctic study region comprises Alaska, the Yukon Territory (YT), the Northwest Territories (NWT), Manitoba and Nunavut in Canada as well as cross-border connections to the Russian Arctic and the European Arctic. While Alaska’s transport infrastructure is historically well-developed, infrastructure development in Northern Canada started comparatively late, with new transport infrastructure schemes surfacing […]

Russian Arctic

All research activities in Russia have been suspended after February 24, 2022. This study region is defined by the extension of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), a large-scale infrastructure that encompasses a maritime passage and numerous coastal areas, communities, and seaports. The NSR has been playing the key role for Soviet Arctic explorations, urbanization, and […]


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, where she has previously worked on the project Configurations of Remoteness (CoRe): Entanglements between Humans and Transport Infrastructure in the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) Region. She received her highest degree at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow and is a member of the Association of Anthropologists and Ethnologists of Russia, of the Austrian Polar Research Institute, and a working group on infrastructure and climate change within the International Arctic Science Committee.

Research Focus: Her research interests include infrastructure and development, postsocialist transformations, indigeneity, ethnicity and identity, colonialism, migrations and mobility in Russia and in Circumpolar North. She has a number of publications, including a book on these issues. In this project, she focuses on settlements and sea ports tied together by the infrastructures of the Northern Sea Route. She explores the historically determined interrelationship between infrastructural development, population dynamics, and living conditions in the Russian Artic.


Selected Publications (ORCID)


Timothy Heleniak

Dr. Timothy Heleniak

Senior Researcher for Arctic Economic and Population Issues

Timothy Heleniak 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

Study Region Lead (North America)

Philipp is a PostDoc Researcher and Lecturer at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna. He completed his PhD at the University of Vienna with a dissertation on socio-technical change in remote First Nation communities in Canada. His research demonstrates that the localization of digital infrastructures contributes to the creation of social relations and to cultural empowerment.

Research Focus: Philipp has been researching infrastructures, technologies and media from an anthropological perspective in Canada, Austria, and Mexico. His research has been published in a variety of journals and volumes. Recently, he co-edited two books on the relationality of media technologies, ritual, and performance, as well as conflict. In this project, Philipp ethnographically explores local perspectives on the multiple affordances of transport (and digital) infrastructures in sustaining communities in Canada.


Selected Publications (ORCID)


Alexis Sancho Reinoso

Dr. Alexis Sancho Reinoso

Researcher (Integration Component)

Member of the Austrian Polar Research Institute; currently also working as freelance geographer (lecturing at UNIBA-Universitat de Barcelona in Spain and Universitat Carlemany in Andorra; external expert for the Interreg-MED project EMbleMatiC Plus).

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)


Alexandra Meyer

Alexandra Meyer, PhD student 

Affiliated Researcher (Europe)

Svalbard Social Science Initiative, The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), Austrian Polar Research Institute

Alexandra is a PhD student at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, and a project collaborator in the EU project Nunataryuk: Permafrost thaw and the changing Arctic coast – Science for socioeconomic adaptation. She is board member of the Svalbard Social Science Initiative.

Research Focus: Through long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, she investigates how the town is impacted by environmental and socio-economic changes, and how people live with, experience, perceive, and respond to these changes. She also studies the practices and associated values of outdoor life and nature use on Svalbard.


Ria-Maria Adams

Ria-Maria Adams, PhD student

Researcher (Northern Fennoscandia)

Ria-Maria is a PhD candidate 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 currently contributes to the ERA-Net/Horizon 2020 project Enhancing liveability of small shrinking cities through co-creation (Aalto University) as a guest researcher. She is a member of the Arctic Centre’s Anthropology Team in Rovaniemi, the Austrian Polar Research Institute and the Austrian Subarctic and Arctic Working Group.  

Research Focus: Ria-Maria’s research interests revolve around Arctic youth wellbeing, industrial northern towns, Arctic infrastructure and sustainable communities in Northern Finland. Since 2018, she has conducted ethnographic research in the towns of Rovaniemi, Kolari, Kemijärvi, Pyhäjoki, and Puolanka.

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. She completed her Masters degree at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where she collaborated with Gitxaała Nation on their cumulative effects assessment. Her research there describes ongoing interactions between settler colonialism, anthropogenic climate change, natural resource extraction, and Gitxaała’s access to food and resources.

Research Focus: Katrin’s research interests include perceptions of change and the environment, especially through the lens of cumulative effects analyses, and their influence on the sustainability and imagined futures of communities. For this project, she will be working in Nunavut, Canada.


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