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Accepted Paper:

Awkward data relations: Welfare frontiers, reindeer-satellite relations, and the terrestrial localities of remote sensing infrastructures  
Chakad Ojani (Uppsala University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes uses of satellite data among Sámi reindeer herders in northern Sweden. I discuss these uses in relation to Sweden’s ongoing efforts to develop small satellite launch capability and historical constructions of the circumpolar North as a welfare frontier.

Paper long abstract:

In January 2022, Swedish newspapers reported on the discovery of rapidly growing cracks in buildings around the city of Kiruna. Using satellite data, the National Space Agency could identify the cause: ground movements at the local iron ore mine. This application of satellite data forms part of a long-running campaign by Swedish space advocates to demonstrate the public benefit of space infrastructure and remote sensing, especially in the context of environmental research. Over the past decades, a similar impulse has promoted satellite data to manage reindeer herding. This initiative is currently administered by the Sámi Parliament and used by herders to manage their lands and track reindeer-landscape relations. However, the relation between the Swedish space sector and the Sámi is far from frictionless. In 2021, the Sámi Council halted a geoengineering experiment that was to be conducted at the Swedish Space Corporation’s rocket launch-site outside Kiruna. Moreover, the ongoing expansion of the Swedish space centre is raising concerns about potential impacts on the reindeer and access to grazing. In this paper, I discuss my fieldwork on Sweden’s efforts to develop small satellite launch capability, linking these activities to historical constructions of the circumpolar North as a welfare frontier. In doing so, I elicit the troubling and complex legacies of Swedish remote sensing infrastructures. Examining these infrastructures reveals an awkward relationship as satellite data is instrumentalised to support herders and monitor other extractive industries long contested by the Sámi.

Panel P12
LIE-DARs: Grounding remote sensing and environmental AI in perspectives of algorithmic injustice and colonial legacies
  Session 1 Monday 6 June, 2022, -