Is there something “Arctic” to youth well-being in northern settlements?

This was one of the guiding topics discussed at the session hosted by our WOLLIE project during the Rovaniemi Arctic Spirit conference 2019. On the one hand, the session served as a meeting spot for all the project members, to introduce their preliminary results to a broader audience. On the other hand, we engaged more broadly with concepts and debates in Arctic youth research.

audience discussed seriously:)

In this respect, Elena Omel’chenko’s (youth studies, HSE Petersburg) keynote lecture was thought provoking, as she strongly argued for overcoming the idea of subculture as a concept to study in youth research. The era of subcultures as understood classically in the Birmingham cultural school is over, because youth now can’t be put readily in to a stable category any more. Nowadays group belonging is more dynamic, fluent, and borders between groups are not as strict as assumed in subculture understanding. Instead, Omel’chenko introduced her elaborate research on Russian youth cultures scenes. Such cultural scenes are formed around a specific topic, such as k-pop scene, or anime scene, etc. Cultural scene in this understanding offers a combination between place, practices and identities, leading further than subcultures. In the survey that Omel’chenko’s team conducted, youth value assessments come to interesting results across their studied case cities. Some were less surprising, for example that religion is a more important value in the mostly Muslim city of  Makachkala, the capital of Dagestan, than in St Petersburg. They measured how youth relate to a lot of different values, even those sensitive for some decision makers, such as youth attitude to LGBT orientation. The results allow Omel’chenko and team to conclude that youth has become even more diverse than it used to be, and that nowadays in Russia we witness more and more the emergence of hybrid cultural forms.

The following presentations on Finnish and Russian Arctic elaborated more on how this diversity looks like now, and compares between two Arctic countries. One interesting finding of the WOLLIE survey in Russia was that the stated happiness of respondents in the poorer survey region of Murmansk was higher than in the richest survey city of Novyi Urengoy, Yamal (Pitukhina and Simakova presentation). Here it becomes particularly interesting for anthropological research, as we are best equipped with our in-depth qualitative fieldwork method to clarify what makes people happy in Arctic Cities besides a good income. Stammler’s and Ivanova’s research found out that salary cannot even translated directly into material well-being. Besides, they argued that history, geography, feeling connected to the centres of the country and the region, the comfort of the urban surroundings and the personally perceived opportunities for growth all have a great influence on notions of youth well-being beyond the sum of money you get on your monthly pay-check.

A lot of such opportunities are pre-conditioned by legal frameworks as well. This is where the comparison between the Finnish and the Russian youth legislation was insightful. Oglezneva (NEFU Yakutsk) outlined how there is a lot of Russian legislation and policy programmes concerning youth, but no youth law. Tanja Joona’s presentation showed on the Finnish example implementation practice of the recent Finnish Youth Act (2017). In the discussion we found that in the Russian cases, the specifics of the Arctic is more important to consider than in the Finnish youth legislation. Again, this is connected to geography, because Russia hosts almost sub-tropical as well as Arctic regions, so the diversity of living conditions is greater there.

In what turned out to be the longest session of the entire conference, we finished with a lively discussion that compared the Russian, European and North American (mostly Canadian) experiences of youth well-being. One point that we noticed was specifically Arctic to youth well-being was that the natural surroundings play a role in all the compared cases. While in Russia, often the harshness of the climate is mentioned as a possible minus, in Finland youth has mentioned the beauty of the northern nature as a plus in the first place.

This kind of comparative insights evolve only out of discussions where people bring their research experience from widely different settings to the table. Therefore the session turned out to be more than just listening to a number of separate presentations. I thank my co-host Lukas for the excellent session organisation, and all the presenters for their input.

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