Feminist glaciology asks how knowledge related to glaciers is produced, circulated, and gains credibility and authority across time and space. It simultaneously brings to the forefront glacier knowledge that has been marginalized or deemed “outside” of traditional glaciology. It asks how glaciers came to be meaningful and significant (through what ontological and epistemological process), as well as trying to destabilize underlying assumptions about ice and environment through the dismantling of a host of boundaries and binaries. The feminist lens is crucial given the historical marginalization of women, the importance of gender in glacier related knowledges, and the ways in which systems of colonialism, imperialism, and patriarchy co-constituted gendered science. Additionally, the feminist perspective seeks to uncover and embrace marginalized knowledges and alternative narratives, which are increasingly needed for effective global environmental change research, including glaciology (Castree et al., 2014; Hulme, 2011). A combination of feminist postcolonial science studies and feminist political ecology provide the intellectual foundation for feminist glaciology.
Most existing glaciological research — and hence discourse and discussions about cryospheric change — stems from information produced by men, about men, with manly characteristics, and within masculinist discourses. These characteristics apply to scientific disciplines beyond glaciology; there is an explicit need to uncover the role of women in the history of science and technology, while also exposing processes for excluding women from science and technology (Phillips and Phillips, 2010; Domosh, 1991; Rose, 1993). Harding (2009) explains that the absence of women in science critically shapes “the selection of scientific problems, hypotheses to be tested, what constituted relevant data to be collected, how it was collected and interpreted, the dissemination and consequences of the results of research, and who was credited with the scientific and technological work” (Harding, 2009: 408). Scientific studies themselves can also be gendered, especially when credibility is attributed to research produced through typically masculinist activities or manly characteristics, such as heroism, risk, conquests, strength, self sufficiency, and exploration (Terrall, 1998). The tendency to exclude women and emphasize masculinity thus has far-reaching effects on science and knowledge, including glaciology and glacier related knowledges.
Feminist glaciology is rooted in, and combines, both feminist science studies and postcolonial science studies to meaningfully shift present-day glacier and ice sciences. While feminist science studies focuses explicitly on gender and the place (or absence) of women in science, it can neglect specific analyses of the social relations of colonialism and imperialism, emphasizing instead Western women without sustained attention to indigenous, non-Western, and local knowledge systems that are the centerpiece of postcolonial science studies (Harding, Carey et al. Phillips and Phillips, 2010; Schnabel, 2014). The postcolonial perspective is crucial for understanding glaciological knowledges because the science of glaciology has historically participated in the imperialist, colonial, and capitalist projects associated with polar exploration, mountain colonization, resource extraction, and Cold War and other geopolitical endeavors.
More recently, glaciology has also been central to earth systems science that often relies on remote sensing from satellite imagery to suggest broader claims of objectivity but is actually akin to the “god trick of seeing everything from nowhere” (Haraway, 1988: 581; also see Shapin, 1998). Questions about epistemology in climate science, ice coring, and glaciology are only beginning to be asked, especially focusing on Cold War polar glaciology (Martin-Nielsen, 2012, 2013; Elzinga, 2009; Korsmo, 2010; Naylor et al., 2008; Turchetti et al., 2008; Macdougall, 2004; Finnegan, 2004; Heymann et al., 2010; Bowen, 2005; Hulme, 2010). Of these studies probing the discipline of glaciology, only a tiny subset analyze gender (exceptions include Bloom, 1993; Bloom et al., 2008; Hulbe et al., 2010; Hevly, 1996) or approach human glacier interactions from the perspective of feminist postcolonial science studies or feminist political ecology (exceptions include Williams and Golovnev, 2015; Cruikshank, 2005). Fewer still recognize indigenous knowledges, local perspectives, or alternative narratives of glaciers, even though large populations of non-Western and indigenous peoples inhabit mountain and cold regions near glaciers and possess important knowledge about cryoscapes (Carey et al., 2015; Nu¨sser and Baghel, 2014; Drew, 2012).
Feminist and postcolonial theories enrich and complement each other by showing how gender and colonialism are co-constituted, as well as how both women and indigenous peoples have been marginalized historically (Schnabel, 2014). Feminist glaciology builds from feminist postcolonial science studies, analyzing not only gender dynamics and situated knowledges, but also alternative knowledges and folk glaciologies that are generally marginalized through colonialism, imperialism, inequality, unequal power relations, patriarchy, and the domination of Western science (Harding, 2009).
An additional theoretical foundation for feminist glaciology is feminist political ecology, which has generally emphasized unequal vulnerability and disproportionate global change impacts, but which also contributes significant research on knowledge production, ontologies, and epistemologies. With hundreds of millions of people utilizing glaciers for everything from drinking water and hydroelectricity to recreation and spiritual sites, the disproportionate vulnerabilities and disparate adaptive capacities in these societies are critical to acknowledge.
Feminist political ecology addresses how inequality and unequal power relations — mediated and co constituted through gender dynamics — have silenced the knowledge of people “most affected and marginalized by neoliberal, colonial, and patriarchal systems” (Hanson and Buechler, 2015: 6).
Crucially for feminist glaciology, feminist political ecology argues for the integration of alternative ways of knowing, beyond diverse women’s knowledges to include — more broadly — the unsettling of Eurocentric knowledges, the questioning of dominant assumptions, and the diversification of modes and methods of knowledge production through the incorporation of everyday lived experiences, storytelling, narrative, and visual methods (Harris, 2015). This inclusion of alternative knowledges and narratives alongside analysis of colonialism and inequality, such as race relations (Mollett and Faria, 2013), fits squarely into more recent feminist political ecologies that increasingly go “beyond gender”. This means that the research builds on “a history of boundary-breaking ideas [that] makes possible the present-day spaces where feminist geographers explore power, justice, and knowledge production, ideas that encompass but also surpass a focus on gender” (Coddington, 2015: 215).
Feminist glaciology raises critical conceptual, analytical, and epistemological questions that are largely absent in the 21st-century love affair with glaciers and ice. The framework offered here strives to open discussions, to introduce avenues of investigation, and to suggest ways forward not only for scientific enquiry that includes the environmental humanities and social sciences, but also for public perceptions of glaciers. Examples within this review and synthesis article are primarily meant to expose the value and various dimensions of the feminist glaciology framework; they are not meant to be comprehensive, but rather starting points to indicate lines of future investigation into this major gap in glacier studies and its related contribution to global environmental change research and both human and physical geography.