Ethnography of a Scientific Base in Antarctica

Our project focuses on the processes of structuring social life and on the constitution of a specific culture, that of a relatively isolated microsociety of actors. It seeks to define the forms of sociality and culture engendered, that is to say the nature of the relationships that individuals weave together, in a particular situation.

This multidisciplinary project combines the skills of anthropology, history, cognitive psychology and information and communication sciences. Its originality is to try to analyze how to “make society” for actors in small numbers and relatively isolated from the rest of the world. In the context of the perception of the space and the very particular time implied by rare communications with the outside, and probably rapidly ritualized communications between these actors, the group of these gradually builds its identity through a set of rituals, whose rites concerning commensality are not the least.

To this end, we will study in a very concrete way various aspects of everyday situations: meal periods, festive moments, episodic contacts with colleagues, friends and family that give rise to postures and communications whose forms and contents have important specificities. These impact the perceptions of time and space by the actors, as well as their power relations other than those of the institutionalized hierarchy.

Only a fine ethnography will show if these actors “make” society and in what form, as well as the possible future of such a society after the mission. This last item will be dealt with as follows: – interviews immediately after the mission – interviews with former researchers who spent time on the base – a comparative approach between different bases. We plan to compare the experiences of researchers on American, British, German or Italian bases.

The project will be implemented on the basis of Dumont d’Urville et Kerguelen Islands. The methodology used will be that of participant observation in situ of a researcher, during 2 months, at the beginning of the campaign, and 1 month at the end of the campaign each year, during the first 2 years. The third year will be devoted to the writing of the report.

The concrete applications of this research will be twofold:
– On the one hand, we wish to contribute to the structure IPEV by providing elements relating to daily life and the identity building processes, that will enable it to better identify, solve and anticipate certain problems related to the long-term cohabitation of people from different social and/or cultural backgrounds.

– The concrete applications of this research could also affect the organization of long-term space flights expected to develop in the future, such as underwater explorations at great depths conducted by small groups, and for short periods of time. In caissons pressurized for this purpose, or situations of cohabitation suffered, as in the case of displacement of populations, or in the case of cohabitation of groups of diverse origins in large urban areas…

Beyond the purely technical problems posed by these types of experiments, these are important human problems that arise acutely on these occasion.