Arctic Security and Anthropology

Our colleagues Gunhild Hoogensen Gjorv with Marc Lanteigne  launched the Routledge Handbook of Arctic Security, of which they are the main editors, and where there are some chapters relevant for  (and co-authored by) us. Gunhild said that the starting point for their approach to security is much broader than just hard dominant state approaches to security, focusing on security that matters to people on the ground. The basics is that feeling secure is first and foremost being free from worry. I think in this definition security as a concept is related pretty closely to well-being, another of our focuses. It would be interesting to explore the connections between the two more explicitly. The book has 42 authors, of which seven were at the launch during the Arctic Frontiers conference 2020 in Tromso. The contributions cover the whole range of security issues connected to the Arctic Council, communities and extractive industries, indigenous theoretical approaches to security, legal reform and security in Russia, and in all other Arctic countries, energy security, peace, and many other relevant topics.

The editors launching the book at the Arctic Frontiers 2020 conference in Tromso

One of the reasons why this Handbook is launched exactly at the right moment is that security in the more dominant state definition is in a lot of people’s mouths. Not least because of the relations between Russia and the other Arctic states, and the advent of new state actors in the Arctic such as China and Singapore.

For an anthropological perspective, I would highlight the chapter 31 on communities and extractive industries, which shows on the example of the Russian Arctic how extractive industry increases the sense of security of people on the one hand, while it is a security threat to others simultaneously. With co-authors Aytalina Ivanova and Kara Hodgson we analyse what opportunities and threats extractive industries give to people living close to the sites of extraction, and how people perceive them, and respond to them. While the example for this are the Russian regions of Yakutia and Yamal, it is interesting to find out in future studies if the threats and responses to them are similar all over the Arctic. The other chapter that I find particularly interesting to highlight is the chapter seven by colleagues Rauna Kuokkanen and Victoria Sweet on indigenous notions of security. They argue that research on this has to be intersectional and should consider both indigeneity and gender as security-relevant factors. They make a very clear statement of the main elements of an indigenous Arctic security, consisting of food, shelter, and personal/community safety. This provides us in future research with a clear orientation to study how that is relevant among different inhabitants all over the Arctic.

The book launch is a good reminder for us anthropologists that security is a topic that we have also much to say about. There was an increase in the awareness of anthropologists on the topic of security some 6-10 years ago. E.g. the journal cultural anthropology highlighted in a blog post how some of the articles in the journal actually theorise security without necessarily giving it that name. Then there is the so far only explicitly anthropological book on security that I know, from 2014 , and most recently the EASA (European Association of Social Anthropology) Security Network. Their statement complies well with the rationale of our new Arctic Handbook, namely that “Today, security is everywhere – it is the leitmotif of the contemporary moment”.