Happiness in times of change: Friluftsliv on Svalbard


Svalbards miljøvernfond har gitt støtte til prosjektet «Lykke i Brytningstider» som handler om friluftsliv på Svalbard.


Svalbard’s nature is fundamentally changing due to global climate change. Simultaneously, the popularity of the archipelago as an exotic travel destination is increasing due to an
intentional economic restructuring from coal to tourism. This is advocated as part of Svalbard’s “green transition” towards a carbon-free economy but presents environmental and social challenges of its own. According to the Norwegian government, Svalbard is supposed to be one of the world’s best-managed wilderness areas, and environmental regulations are currently being revised and strengthened. The common imaginary of the Svalbard nature is thus one of an empty and pristine wilderness that is being threatened by climate change and thus must be protected. What is often overlooked in such portrayals of the Svalbard nature is the role it plays for the people living on the archipelago, their lifeprojects, and wellbeing.


The aim of this project is to document current outdoor practices (friluftsliv) among Svalbard residents, understand the motivations and aspirational dimensions behind outdoor activities in Svalbard’s wilderness areas, and analyze the impact of an expanding tourism industry, increased regulations, and climate change on local ways of living, through ethnographic fieldwork, film, photography, and interviews. We find that access to nature and outdoor activities are important factors of wellbeing and constitutive of what is considered the good life on Svalbard.


The landscape of the archipelago is attributed different meanings across experiential, commercial, and political dimensions, which results in tensions and dilemmas between competing regimes of value. As environmental concerns are brought to the fore of the political agenda and economic restructuring towards an increasing reliance on tourism advances, our findings highlight the importance of understanding the territorial reordering of the Svalbardian landscape by state and market in conjunction. We suggest that in this process, local outdoor traditions and practices should be considered, and highlight the importance of guaranteeing the public equal access to the outdoors in years to come.