An expected complement to the Handbook of the politics of the Arctic (Jensen & Hønneland, Reference Jensen and Hønneland2015) by the same publisher, the common thread through the 37 chapters of this large and impressive volume is to show how Antarctica has been shaped by global politics and has helped to shape global politics since the 1950s. In spite of the different disciplinary backgrounds of the 44 contributors, some core ideas confirming this general thesis appear time and again through the book – ideas purportedly characterising a new era of Antarctic studies and scholars. One is that Antarctic exceptionalism is démodé as an analytical tool to make sense of Antarctic politics, past and present. On the contrary, the only way to understand political processes in Antarctica is to see them as part of larger scale power plays. This can be found all the way back from what Shirley V. Scott characterises as the ‘first wave of Antarctic imperialism’ (with Spain commissioning explorers to conquer territory not yet charted during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries) to what Klaus Dodds and Alan Hemmings call the contemporary ‘frontier vigilantism’ of claimant states in the face of new Antarctic actors, especially Asian countries. A second idea is that, as much as unashamed European imperialism is over, Antarctica remains a resource frontier. Seal hunting and whaling have been replaced by tourism and commercial fishing. More worryingly, who knows about the future, when improved technologies allow easier and cheaper access to hydrocarbons both on land and the continental shelf of the Southern Ocean.
In the introduction, the editors set the tone of the rest of the book, which may well be defined as one of salutary intellectual resistance. Assuming that Antarctic politics are contested and contestable, even where peaceful cooperation and apparent consent prevail the reasons underlying them ought to be examined. This is done in four parts: Conceptualizing Antarctica, Acting in and beyond Antarctica, Regulating Antarctica and Futures in Antarctica.
The first part exhibits the largest concentration of articles representing what the editors call a ‘flourishing new body of critical scholarship on Antarctic politics’ (p. 4). If something characterises this kind of scholarship in general it is the ability to find power manifestations all around us and especially in those places where one would least expect them. Among the diverse topics covered are Antarctic fiction as a reflection of power interests (from romantic utopias to eco-thrillers); the role of ice in general, and of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet in particular, as a ‘fascinating space of Antarctic politics and science’ (p. 173); the symbolic appropriation of Antarctic resources (from king penguins to glaciers) by advertising campaigns worldwide; and the uses of digital technologies to prefigure possible futures in the White Continent. There are also lengthy analyses, especially suited for neophytes, of the ways in which imperialist and post-colonialist narratives have informed Antarctic politics, the well-known place of science and exploration as political tools, and the role that anticipating Antarctic futures has played in shaping geopolitical forces around the continent.
The second part offers ‘snapshots of key events and players’ (p. 13). Most of the articles here deal with the relationship between the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) and other actors, internal or external – like the original signatories, Brazil, China, the United Nations (UN) and the European Union. I must admit that I was a bit perplexed by some of the inclusions and omissions in this part. Regarding the omissions, it is not clear to me why the comparison between Svalbard and Antarctica, and Argentina's nationalist approach toward the continent are relegated to the third and fourth part instead of being included here. Regarding the inclusions, The politics of early exploration looks like the odd one out, while the discussion about Territorial claims and coastal states would have made more sense in the third part, in tandem with the examination of the ATS's reception of the Law of the Sea.
An analysis of the more specific legal instruments and bodies designed to manage the continent is the focus of part three. There are very useful introductions to topics like the historical evolution of environmental regulation, the changing regulatory framework of search and rescue missions through the introduction of the Polar Code and the unique ecosystem approach of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), together with its current and future challenges – for example, regarding the contested definition of ‘rational use’ of living marine resources. It is worth mentioning a concrete case study of inadequate environmental management in the Fildes Peninsula and Ardley Island, the most densely populated areas in the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Here the authors contrast the well-intentioned provisions of the Madrid Protocol and other ATS instruments (geared at preserving the environment), with the actual practices of station personnel and tourists. Their conclusion points to one of the sempiternal problems of international regulatory instruments, namely, that in the absence of enforceability mechanisms, non-compliance is not unusual, thus resulting in inefficient environmental management measures.
The fourth and final part consists of shorter and longer term speculations regarding the future of Antarctica and the ATS, from their place in an evolving global geopolitics to their capacity to confront new environmental challenges. There is one worry that keeps resurfacing here; to wit, the question whether the ATS will be able to cope with rapid change or whether it will drag behind. As the different authors note, if past performance can tell us anything about probable futures, then the slow pace and little proactivity so far shown by the ATS are troubling signs for the decades to come.
Since the creation of the Humanities and Social Sciences Expert Group (HASSEG) within the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) in 2010, the Antarctic humanities and social sciences have undergone a real boom. All in all, this handbook is an excellent reflection of it, for good and for bad. For good, this collection includes pieces by the best-known experts in their fields. Among others, Klaus Dodds and Alan Hemmings on geopolitics, Adrian Howkins on environmental history, Christy Collis on post-colonial Antarctic studies, Aant Elzinga on the politics of science, Rüdiger Wolfrum and Julia Jabour on the ATS's legal framework, and Peter J. Beck on the historical relationship between the ATS and the UN. While some of the material will look familiar and not particularly new to those already immersed in this literature, it will be welcome by those who want to get first a grasp of Antarctic politics. This leads me to the bad, or rather the more problematic, feature of this volume. Being a clear reflection of the interests of a new generation of Antarctic scholars (most of them working in the tradition of critical studies), there is quite a lot of overlap and repetition of certain themes, while others are simply overlooked. To mention a few, bioprospecting, the role of non-state actors in the ATS and the legitimacy of this system both internally and vis-à-vis other comparable international orders were some that I missed. Having said this, this handbook ought to be in the shelves of those who profess an interest in this polar region. Not only will it serve as a quick reference on a large number of topics, but it will remain representative of a new, lively era of social and humanistic Antarctic studies.