Barentsburg and Longyearbyen in times of socioeconomic transition: Residents’ perceptions of community viability
Geopolitical interventions since the end of the 1980s—such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, a decline in the activities of state-owned coal companies, and governmental initiatives to increase tourism activities—have affected the community viability of two main settlements on Svalbard: Barentsburg and Longyearbyen. This paper explores how the residents of these settlements (with different cultural backgrounds) perceive the effects of socioeconomic transitions on community viability. The analysis of qualitative interviews with residents of Barentsburg (n = 62) and Longyearbyen (n = 36) reveals the residents’ perceptions of the pace of the transition and the changing community composition. New types of commercial activities, such as tourism, contribute to local value creation and socioeconomic development but come with concerns grounded in community fluctuation, environmental protection, economic prioritisation, and power relationships. Compared to Longyearbyen, Barentsburg has undergone relatively minor demographic and social changes and remains stable in terms of culture, language, and management practices. We conclude that the viability of Longyearbyen and Barentsburg during the transition was affected by community dynamics and fluctuations, social relationships within and between communities, and local institutional practices.