Nature special, Arctic: discussion

The top-journal “nature” recently published a special issue on the Arctic, yet another proof on how important our field region is.

I liked Henry Huntington’s piece on Arctic residents’ knowledge and how important this is for understanding the changes happening in the North. A good overview, and touching on the crucial issues for the future. But it would have been good to elaborate a bit more on the role of social science in that interplay between residents and natural scientists. This is not his fault of course as he didn’t have the space to do so in this publication. His one story there about the shrimp-eating seals was illustrative but anecdotal. It is crucial that we understand our roles properly and make use of each other’s expertise, for the benefit of the whole. Some think that indigenous people can be good scientists just by the fact of living on the land, some scientists think that by talking to indigenous peoples they do social sciences. These misassumptions spoil the reputation of our field, as Henry rightly mentioned. We spend decades to become experts in our respective fields, be it natural science, reindeer herding, sea-mammal hunting or social anthropology.

photo c Florian Stammler

Arctic residents don't exist to understand Arctic change. Instead, natural science exists for helping to keep the Arctic liveable for its young residents!

Acknowledging this, we can make use of each other’s expertise when working together towards a more liveable North! But it is up to us anthropologists to be even more active in showing how this working together can be done in practice. We are the experts in cross-sectoral cross-cultural communication and work, and we can’t expect from our science colleagues or our friends in the field to do this cooperation job alone. But it’s a long uphill battle for us, and not everybody may want to engage in it.

All in all, the table of content of the special issue of nature left more questions open than it answered from an anthropological point of view. But it’s a journal about nature after all, not about people, and that was the focus. There isn’t any piece in there about the situation of residents in the Arctic whatsoever. Using their knowledge for making sense of climate change is as far as it gets, which is turning the real reason upside down: in fact we do climate change science in order to keep our planet liveable for humans after all, not the other way round! Sounds like typical “human dimension of climate change” In fact, as we have outlined elsewhere, any science is a “natural dimension of human existence on our planet”, because nobody would do science if it wouldn’t be related to human livelihood somehow. Share your view on this with comments, suggest plans  and share your ideas on this!

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2 Responses to Nature special, Arctic: discussion

  1. dear all, a colleague, Hugh Beach, has just sent me this link in reply. Definitely worth watching. Yes, it’s arrogant of us to think that all is done by us and for us. But that’s exactly the point! Nature doesn’t need any science for it’s own sake. As George Carlin says, “the planet is fine, the people are f….ed”. So let’s not pretend that we do science to safe the planet. We should be honest that in the end we do all science for ourselves. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eScDfYzMEEw

  2. Olga Radzikh says:

    Thanks for sharing the link! Enlightening video.
    Yeah, I care for this planet only because it’s my habitat. Therefore, I selfishly care for myself and my descendants. But there’s nothing wrong with it, as for me. I continue being a vegetarian, use as little plastic as possible, do the recycling properly and so on for the sake of my own clean environment.
    Yes, all of our science is for the betterment of our lives. As a social worker, I proudly acknowledge that.

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