The concept of indigeneity: From definitions to norms and to identity (object of international law; between transnational and local; who is indigenous?)
North as space (geographical, economic, legal and mental space; homeland and frontier)
Human-nature relations and environmental changes (culture-nature relations: ‘Western import’ and sentient landscape; scientific vs. local knowledge, concept of ‘reindeer/good fishing luck’; autonomy of nature and climate change, concept of vulnerability in context, state adaptive strategies and local agency, risk taking behavior and no-risk thesis)
Anthropology of snow (social and economic significance of snow, Santa Claus tourism, ‘no snow’ emergencies, snow business)
Anthropology of seawater (changing Arctic Ocean, borders and lines, multiple meanings of seawater, ‘taking and giving properties’, fish and fisheries; burden or asset – ‘newcomers’ to the ocean [King Crab and farmed fish]; dynamic seascape and coastal communities)
Introduction to relevant anthropological approaches to issues of space, place and territoriality. Indigenous narratives of the land versus maps and borders to administrate the land.
Place names on maps and issues of identity. Mapping as way of reclaiming land and emphasizing indigenous presence and its relation with it (Inuit and Sámi examples).
Resource conflicts and indigenous rights. Overview of some world wide example related to oil extraction, mining and forestry and then focus on the conflicts between Sámi reindeer herding and forestry in Upper Lapland
Issues of locality and globality particularly in relation to indigenous identity. Cultural and social change while keeping up with traditions.
Tourism and cultural representations of otherness: issues of cultural and social authenticity.
Roza Laptander presented a poster about the snow terminology in Nenets language and the traditional environmental knowledge of tundra nomads in the Arctic. The poster of Stephan Dudeck presented the planned project of the Anthropological Research Team “Nomadic Memories” – Implementing public access to Arctic peoples’ oral history – bringing endangered knowledge back to Finno-Ugric and Uralic minority cultures.
Natural science and social science research in the Arctic is carried out together at these French institutions but real multidisciplinary and joint research agendas are still rare. For the Alfred Wegener Institute the social sciences are a new territory even if natural scientists are well aware of the consequences of their research for the life of Arctic inhabitants and especially indigenous people, as Prof. Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten the Head of AWI Research Unit Potsdam stated. Particularly in the so much important research on climate change in the Arctic the importance of juridical and economical circumstances as well as the consequences for human inhabitants are more than obvious for natural scientists, who search to understand the natural processes in the Arctic environment, as was stressed by Renate Treffeisen, the main organiser of the seminar from the AWI Bremerhaven.
At the moment there are only a few and quite dispersed social scientists in Germany, most of them in the Siberian Studies Centre of the Max-Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle/Saale, who do research in the Arctic. Collaboration with natural scientists, who have much bigger resources and an impressive infrastructure at hand, could be very beneficial for social science researchers but also for local communities and indigenous partners, social scientists are working with. Precondition for a fruitful multidisciplinary research is of course that social scientists don’t feel reduced to a pure attachment of environmental studies as the “human dimension” or worse if they feel together with indigenous informants to be used just as guides, door openers and interpreters for researchers who are interested in the live of Arctic inhabitants only so far as it concerns their scientific research.
Another serious obstacle is of course the difference in research methodologies and different epistemologies used in the research. As we learned during the discussion, natural researchers are much more self-reflexive and aware of the pitfalls of positivistic approaches than social scientists suspect. A more holistic view on the interplay of political, economical and natural phenomena is necessary especially in the Arctic, where human live is so dependent on nature and nature so vulnerable.
As anthropologists we know that often we lack an adequate understanding of the highly specialised knowledge of our informants in the Arctic. We are missing environmental knowledge about weather phenomena or the biology of animals and plants in the Arctic. We are unable to grasp how much the Arctic inhabitants know about the ecosystems and cultural landscapes they are part of, because we can’t translate their knowledge in our own languages. Collaboration with natural scientists could provide us with instruments to become seeing in that blind spot. We as anthropologist at the opposite could provide the instruments to understand the different forms of environmental knowledge and how they and the epistemologies they are based on are embedded in social and political contexts. Indigenous people are often quite aware of the fact that the abilities, instruments and perspectives to look at and understand the world of different groups of people (and in general all beings) differ a lot but have to be respected and judged on their own merits. It was refreshing to see that natural scientists start to recognise the highly developed forms of empirical knowledge inhabitants of the Arctic have and their farewell to the hierarchical epistemologies that place insights derived by western science on top of the development of knowledge.
But I should not hide the fact that there is not yet so much interdisciplinary research at least in Germany and France. The only exception was probably Alexandra Lavrilliers research from the CEARC about the way Evenk and Even people in Siberia observe changes in the climate and how these knowledge is embedded in the social and religious universe of the reindeer herders, hunters, and fishermen.
The rest of the talks and posters presented served at least the purpose of getting to know better each other’s research agendas in arctic research. This is all the more astonishing as the strong division between the humanities and the natural sciences in Arctic research is something quite new in the history of science, as was mentioned several times during the seminar. Prof. Günther Lottes from the University of Potsdam for instance spoke in his talk about Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, the French mathematician and Lapland traveller who became the first president of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in the 18th century.
Concrete suggestions about joint research in the Arctic were rare. Before this background it was all the more surprising when a colleague from the geochemistry asked Roza Laptanders who did research on Nenets knowledge about the phenomenology and terminology of snow if she could imagine a joint field-research about the different manifestations of snow.
The need to continue the discussion for the search of possible multidisciplinary research themes and a further understanding of scientific methods used in research was stressed by Jan Borm, the director of the CEARC. A seminar organised by the French Polar Institute (IPEV) will therefore follow next year in the French city of Brest to continue the initiated dialogue. The talks of the director of the AWI Prof. Karin Lochte and the Head of the AWI Research Unit Potsdam Prof. Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten who took very active part in the discussions gives reason to hope that the institute will foster the dialogue and multidisciplinary projects between social and natural sciences in the future.
On the first week of October the Institut für Finnougristik/Uralistik of HamburgUniversity (Germany) held the 4th International Conference on Samoyedology.
It was nice to see many familiar and well known Russian, Hungarian and German linguists who do their research on Siberian languages documentation, describing and linguistic analyzing, also on multilingualism and language policy regarding the Samoyedic languages; researches on contact linguistics, areality, typology and the Samoyedic music and culture. There were also so many young scientists, who gave a very positive impression about their research.
On the conference people mostly talked about the Samoyedic languages which are spoken on both sides of the Ural mountains, in northernmost Eurasia. I made a presentation about Oral history of Nenets, as one of the Uralic languages’ minority of Siberia, told by their life stories.
The term Samoyedic is used for Nenets, Nganasan, Enets and Selkups. These languages form the right branch of the Uralic languages family tree. The Samoyed territory extends from the White Sea to the Laptev Sea, along the Arctic shores of European Russia, including southern Novaya Zemlya, the Yamal peninsula, the mouths of the Ob River and the Yenisei and into the Taymyr peninsula in northernmost Siberia. Their economy is based mostly on reindeer herding.
Dancing and singing Nganasan bear song during the workshop. Photo Andrey Filchenko.
After a long day of the conference, Oksana Dobzhanskaya from Dudinka made a unique Nganasan bear dance workshop. She also asked people to make their personal songs in the language they study. In this warm and nice atmosphere, the conference was finished the next day, with further planning for the next one in two years time in Helsinki (Finland).
Several of our anthropology research team members just came from a lecture by Prof Sandra Harding from UCLA on different science and knowledge systems, which was really inspiring. It was part of an Indigenous Knowledge Systems Workshop here at the Arctic Centre, the other keynote lecturers being Elina Helander Renvall and Suvi Ronkainen.