Iceberg Economies and the New Media of Natural Resources

A new industry is taking shape on the northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland. In the small community of St. Anthony, a once thriving fishing port, the icebergs that at one time drifted by, untouched if admired, are harvested each spring for bottling and sale in the global premium water market. Through international trade fairs from Dubai to Shanghai, iceberg water is marketed as the purest water on the planet, and as a resource originating from a time before the dire effects of pollution and mass industrialization.

Drawing on the work of political economist and communications theorist Harold Innis, this paper will bring to bear a wide conception of “media” on the politics of living in a rural community in Newfoundland and Labrador. Based on field research undertaken in St. Anthony, my study of this seasonal industry and its precarious labour practices is located at the intersection of environmental history, media theory, and critical theory. Thinking at length on what can constitute an unconventional medium, especially in increasingly marginal rural settings that support larger systems of economic power, resource exploitation, and monopolies of centralized information, it will constitute an attempt to draw attention to the temporal and relational mediations that the fight over natural resources can reveal. Icebergs, as experiments in form, tourist commodities, circulating natural resources, and the harbingers of a new local economic sustainability, are precisely a contemporary example of those contested new media. As such, the town of St. Anthony is at the forefront of the potable water debate and its attendant economies, and reveals the next frontier in the “race” for the world’s no longer renewable resources.

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Rafico Ruiz is pursuing an ad personam Ph.D. in Communication Studies and the History & Theory of Architecture at McGill University. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Cultural Studies from McGill University, and a Masters degree in French Cultural Studies from Columbia University. His dissertation examines the Grenfell Mission of Newfoundland and Labrador as a project of social reform, with a particular focus on its relevance for the historical and cultural relations between space, time, and technologies that helps us to site contemporary problems of mediation. His research interests range across historical and theoretical questions pertaining to materiality, mediation, communication, and social action. He is the co-editor and co-founder of Seachange, a journal of art, communication, and technology (