There is a growing need for research in the social sciences and humanities to inform policy-making for Antarctica, but a comprehensive research program is lacking. Political and financial support for initiating, developing and coordinating social science and humanities research is needed. The research network Social sciences & Humanities Antarctic Research Exchange (SHARE) has been initiated to start fulfilling this need.
Human involvement in Antarctica has expanded substantially since the Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959. As we have seen in this Special Issue tourism has grown rapidly during the last two decades, raising questions about its desirability, and consistency and adequacy of the current governance regime. Besides tourism the number of research stations and scientists in Antarctica and Southern Ocean fisheries has also increased steadily. This has led to an exponential growth of human-human and human-environment interactions. The growing number and intensity of interactions has raised all kinds of issues with regards to e.g. governance, environmental monitoring, environmental behaviour, intercultural cooperation, and the media representation of Antarctica and the International Polar Year.
The humanities and social sciences have a wealth of knowledge, insights and tools available to assess the state of the human-environment relations and the political, socio-economic and cultural situation in Antarctica, as well as to inform decision-makers. This potential is currently not used to the fullest. On the contrary: Antarctica-related research in the social sciences and humanities is highly fragmented, with isolated projects and researchers working in different countries scattered across the globe. Antarctica is a global common that comprises academic interest from the social sciences, humanities and policy research on an equal scale. Therefore Antarctic researchers involved in topics such as tourism, environmental management, history, law and philosophy should be able to collaborate intensively and exchange ideas in order to safeguard academic quality and novelty.
Clearly there is much scope for collaboration between similar projects, but also on the interfaces between different projects and across disciplines. By the same token, collaborative research linking the social sciences and humanities with ecology and other natural sciences can be envisioned and should be supported. A small proportion of this potential for collaboration within and across the disciplines is realised through personal contacts among individual researchers or institutes, but there is much to be gained from the establishment of a more formal research community, with the means and structure to foster collaboration and exchange. The success of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and its standing scientific groups on Geosciences, Life Sciences and Physical Sciences is excellent proof of this.
The Social sciences & Humanities Antarctic Research Exchange (SHARE) aims to lay the foundations for international collaboration, institutionalization and greater transparency by building a database of research activities and a virtual platform for exchange of ideas and a fortification of contacts between researchers.
However, for a thriving research community more is needed, in particular structural forms of collaboration and funding. Establishing such a formal community would not only have benefits for the research community itself, but also for policy-makers. Pro-active forms of governance could help to manage the increasing numbers of visitors (scientists, tourists and others) and their impacts. Research in the social sciences and humanities could inform the development of such governance systems, but long-term commitment and international cooperation is required to do this in a structured, effective, and scientifically sound way.
In view of the considerations above, the contribution of social sciences, policy research and humanities to Antarctic science, society and policy-makers should be acknowledged and strengthened. Therefore, the SHARE network aims to advocate and provide active support of social sciences and humanities research in the Antarctic context. Moreover, the SHARE network calls for the development of a vision for research in the social sciences and humanities. The International Polar Year provides an excellent opportunity for launching such an initiative.