Anthropology beyond dichotomies? Thoughts after “Beyond Perception 2015”

WP_20150901_006[1]The Symposium “Beyond perception 15” was organised in Aberdeen by the department postgraduate researchers and postgraduate students to celebrate the work of Tim Ingold. The aim was to explore the ways in which anthropologists can find new avenues of approaching the most fundamental questions that our discipline deals with: our relations to the environment and – hence, our ways of being-in-the-world, and ultimately addressing our being alive – i.e. what it means to be alive in general. understanding of life in general

The symposium started, on 1st September, with a general introductive session touching upon some this general questions at the heart of the anthropological discipline and were discussed by Tim Ingold, David G. Anderson, Gisli Palsson and Amiria Salmond. It was followed for the next three days by distinguished keynote speakers and panelists like Christina Toren, Stephanie Bunn, Colin Scott, and participants like Myrdene Anderson to name a few! It has been a four days marathon, for about 10 hours a day, of thinking and discussing about these theoretical questions that totally filled our minds with deep thoughts. We can’t remember many of so deeply inspiring scholarly exchanges in our academic life as this one. Many of the participants felt that we were all part of a gathering that might become important for the history of our entire discipline.

In the picture, Tim Ingold and his wive Anna discussing with Colin Scott.

As the symposium was unfolding it became clear to many of us that Tim Ingold’s work had really reached out far beyond the disciplinary boundaries of anthropology, as the conference had brought together some of the world’s finest scholars also from many other disciplines such as arts, art history, architecture, archaeology, literature studies, psychology – to name but a few. But as important as that, it became also clear that anthropology as we know it got broadened into new directions through Ingold’s work.

In his talk Ingold emphasised how he would like to see our discipline really as an open discipline, and one that is not afraid to ask brave, grand and fundamental questions about life on this planet. In his final words he made it very clear that our enquiry is about life in the ONE WORLD we all jointly inhabit. Focusing too much on different ontologies, he argued, would favour the creation of different worlds – which in the end do not talk to each other anymore. Rather than ontology, instead, we should focus on ontogeny, which allows us to analyse processes of becoming, of coming-into-being, of growing in the one but heterogeneous world we live in. These enquiries should continue to be comparative, because rather than one final solution there is always a multiplicity of paths we can follow. If we want to find out why somebody follows one path rather than another, we should know something about all those possible paths.

As important as these discussions are, we also felt at some point that the fundamental questions of course are not really new. They have been asked by many of our academic ancestors before, especially the one about the dichotomy between nature and nurture, biology and culture, as the recent discussion of Ruth Benedict’s work shows

However, we enjoyed how in this symposium many of the discussions pushed anthropology really to the edge of what many of us thought our field is about. Almost after each substantial paper the questions reached a maximum depth, and reminded us of a quite principal dilemma: we know that many of the dichotomies with which we work do not really hold when we go out and experience real life. The borders between the human and the animal, the human and the non-human, the alive and the dead, the animate and the inanimate, and really any dichotomy we work with – do not really hold when we expose them to radical empirical enquiry. On the other hand – however – as much as we attempt to overcome these dichotomies, we always rebuild them again in the next available context. This led Martin Mills in the final discussion to ask that why is it that our brain always longs for solidity, finite objects, and certainty, if we have come to understand – not least through Tim Ingold’s work and the discussions that followed – that actually everything around us and we ourselves are involved in processes of becoming.

Maybe it is that if we abandon the idea of dichotomy altogether, we cannot deal with causation anymore. You need to have a dichotomy in order to say that something causes something else. Once you arrive at that point there is not much else you can say, can you?

Maybe this is actually what is important to remind ourselves, as Ingold has reminded us in the end, “anthropology is an open discipline”. We have found out the hard way that final solutions can have the most disastrous effects our planet has ever seen. So let us continue looking at life and experiencing it as openly as possible, at the same time acknowledging our own limitations: our brain works with concepts that are maybe simpler than what we see in the world surrounding us.

Seminar: Arctic fish-fishers-fisheries: scientific and local knowledge convergence

February 16-17 2015, Thule room, Arctic Centre

Arctic Centre (University of Lapland, Rovaniemi) organizes 3rd workshop in the series ‘Arctic Ocean and coastal communities’ on February 16-17, 2015. The workshop is a great opportunity to bring together local and academic knowledge and in this way deepen our knowledge about Arctic fisheries.

Seminar is part of the EU ACCESS project – Arctic Climate Change Economy and Society.

More information

Puzzling about sustainability: Coastal economies – sea water interaction

EU ACCESS project – Arctic Climate Change Economy and Society

November 11, 2014, Borealis, 10am. Organized by Arctic Centre, Dr. Anna Stammler-Gossmann

access-workshop-photoThe sustainability framework has become a powerful concept in shaping national and international objectives. Nevertheless, the concept may face considerable challenges in putting together pieces of the sustainability puzzle. There are still several uncertainties over its underlying meaning as well as effectiveness in addressing emerging social and environmental problems.
What sustainable development actually means is one of the important issues for the Northern coastal economies and international political agenda of the last decade. During the workshop practitioners and researchers will discuss the sustainability concept as applied on the regional level in the fisheries and marine mammal hunting in Russian, Icelandic, Norwegian and Canadian context.

Everybody is warmly welcome

10:00 Anna Stammler-Gossmann, (Arctic Centre). Welcome and opening remark.

10:10 – 10:45 Dmitrii Klochkov (Marine Informatics, Murmansk). Sustainability and climate change issues in the Russian commercial fishery sector

10:45 – 11: 20 Halldór Þorsteinsson (Seafood Quality, Iceland). Sustainability in Icelandic: Mackerel war

11:20 – 11:55 Nikolas Sellheim (University of Lapland). Sustainability in a Canadian commercial seal hunting community

11:55 – 12:30 Nina Messhtyb (Arctic Centre). Fishing reindeer herders of Yamal peninsula

12: 30 – 13:00 Anna Stammler-Gossmann (Arctic Centre). Arctic fisheries and sustainability discourses

13:00 – 13:45 Discussion

More information: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Arctic Ocean and coastal communities

Fishing is the livelihood of many Arctic coastal communities in Northern Norway and Northern Russia. The workshop aims to bring together different groups of stakeholders who share common interests in the resources of the Arctic Ocean. The stakeholders from Northern Norway and Northern Russia will discuss the ongoing changes in the marine environment of the Arctic Ocean and their relevance for the intricate relations between people, sea water and fish. Case studies from the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea and White Sea will be represented.

Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Arctic Centre, University of Lapland with the EU ACCESS project – Arctic Climate Change Economy and Society will organize Arctic Ocean and coastal communities  Changes, challenges and livelihoods  Stakeholders’ workshop on February 20-21, 2014, Thule Room at the Arctic Centre. More information from Anna Stammler-Gossmann.

Continue reading “Arctic Ocean and coastal communities”

Barents Stories: How do we see the sea?

Anybody passing by in Rovaniemi is welcome to the opening or later to watching an exhibition by Anna Stammler-Gossmann.

Welcome to the exhibition in the Arktikum library, Rovaniemi
Welcome to the exhibition in the Arktikum library, Rovaniemi

Here you find the official press release and further details: Continue reading “Barents Stories: How do we see the sea?”

New book on polar geopolitics

Narratives, bureaucracies and indigenous legal orders: Resource governance in Finnish Lapland is the title of our chapter in a volume titled “Polar Geopolitics? Knowledges, Resources and Legal Regimes”, which has been published end of January. The aim of our chapter is twofold: Firstly, to examine narratives of indigeneity and secondly to investigate how these are tied into struggles over natural resources. Especially the narrative of indigenous peoples being the “original ecologists” seems to open up opportunities for claim-making by indigenous groups, but on the other hand also allows for patronising approaches to resource management in indigenous homeland. The specific example we then look at is the conflict over forest resources in Finnish Upper Lapland, and in particular the Nellim conflict. In the following, we discuss how state bureaucracies sometimes contradict local management regimes, which, in the case of Upper Lapland, are still based on indigenous legal order. To illustrate this contradiction, we juxtapose reindeer herding principles of the Finnish state and of the indigenous Sàmi population adhering to the notion of “reindeer luck”.


Together with the chapters by Lassi Heininen, Jeppe Strandsbjerg and Mark Nuttall our text forms Part III, “Indigenous and Northern Geopolitics”.  Part I of this volume focuses on “Global and Regional Frameworks” and part II engages with “National Visions”. Follow the link below and check out the excellent contributions to this book, edited by Richard C Powell and Klaus Dodds, and published by Edward Elgar.

Enjoy reading!

Hannah and Nuccio

New publication: Nomadic and Indigenous Spaces. Productions and Cognitions

Nomadic and Indigenous Spaces. Productions and Cognitions. Edited by Judith Miggelbrink, Joachim Otto Habeck, Nuccio Mazzullo and Peter Koch (2013). Surrey: Ashgate.

With contributions from the editors, Denis Wood, Denis Retaillé, Gail Fondahl, Brian Donahoe, Joseph J Long, Kirill V Istomin, Florian Stammler, Claudio Aporta, and Tim Ingold (epilogue)


How is space produced and how is it perceived? Looking at nomadic and indigenous peoples, we investigated this question between 2008 and 2012 in a collaborative research project between the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland and the Leibniz-Institute in Leipzig, Germany. A conference we organised in 2010 brought together international scholars to discuss experiences from different fields.  During the conference, it quickly became clear that cognitivist and phenomenologist paradigms come to very different interpretations of nomadic and indigenous spaces. This book continues that debate and invites readers to further engage with the topic, since the main contestations have not been resolved, as Tim Ingold notes in his epilogue. Continue reading “New publication: Nomadic and Indigenous Spaces. Productions and Cognitions”

Barentsburg: Place names (Svalbard fieldwork, June 2013)

Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Soviet spirit

My next stop in the Svalbard archipelago is the tiny Russian settlement of Barentsburg. How many people are living here is hard to say. The number of residents may change by the end of June and August, when an airplane from Moscow lands in Longyearbyen airport. It may bring 100 workers and take some back to Moscow. ‘I tell the tourists that there are 200 people here, my colleague may operate with different figures, tells one of the local tourists guides. Tourists have around 1,5 hours here to admire a ‘Soviet relict frozen in time’, ‘a perfectly preserved slice of a country that no longer exists’. This time is enough to have a look at the rusty Soviet heritage, buy some souvenirs and send an ‘I was there’ postcard, which will be sent with the same boat by which you arrived here.

To make the site more appealing to Western tourists the local administration decided two years ago to place an old “Our goal is communism” banner in the central square instead of the not so exotic ‘Barentsburg’ banner. It is a good accessory to the statue of Lenin, which looms over the settlement.


Lenin: ‘Our goal is communism’, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Continue reading “Barentsburg: Place names (Svalbard fieldwork, June 2013)”

The ’Svalbardianers’ community of Longyearbyen: coming and going …and maybe coming back (Svalbard fieldwork, June 2013)

Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Diversified community.

Everybody here is an outsider, but as my conversation partner in the most popular café tells me, ‘there are still status values: how long have you been living here? How far did you go? Maybe it is also about your polar bear story’. She knows everyone in the café (tourists excluded): ‘the group over there are mining workers, who are shift workers, but do not leave to the mainland when they are off their shift. They are commuting every day between Longyearbyen and the coal mine and have the most highly respected status. They are also the financially wealthiest ones here’. From time to time she greets people, who are passing by, mainly women: ‘The community is changing and the gender balance as well. It is not only a male dominated community anymore’. In the statistics I can see that, for example, permanent part-time positions are occupied more by women (This is Svalbard. 2012. What the figures say. Oslo: Statistics Norway, p.12). In the café and on the streets I see many young mothers with kids. There are 3 kindergardens and one school. Still, according to the Svalbard statistics (This is Svalbard 2012: 10) nearly six out of ten residents’ adults are men.


Longyearbyen: mining town, photo Anna Stammler-Gossmann Continue reading “The ’Svalbardianers’ community of Longyearbyen: coming and going …and maybe coming back (Svalbard fieldwork, June 2013)”

Arctic anthropology of Arctic biology (Svalbard fieldwork, June 2013)

Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Polar bear and community of Longyearbyen

Of course, the polar bear is the most prominent animal symbol of Svalbard. Once an animal is charged with this representational status, it means, as Franklin states, that every positive act towards it simultaneously endorses the nation or group that it represents (Franklin, A. 2006. Animal Nation: the True Story of Animals in Australia. Sydney: UNSW Press, p.7; more about animal symbolism see Anna Stammler-Gossmann. 2010. Political animals of Sakha Yakutia. Stammler F., Takakura H. eds., Good to eat, good to live with: Nomads and animals in Northern Eurasia and Africa. Sendai: Center for Northeast Asian Studies, Tohoku university, p. 153-178). Maybe we can apply this statement to the Longyearbyen community?

Different images of the polar bear represent the variety of forms related to this animal upon governmental regulations, tourist activities, scientific research and media. It should be protected, it should attract tourists, it is a soft toy and it is a predator. Maybe the different values attributed to this animal symbol contribute to building a symbolic ‘common place’ for this diverse and fluctuating society? Definitely, there is an interesting interplay between rational and social values attributed to this animal.

Polar bear in the church. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
Polar bear in the church. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

When you land in Longyearbyen, the first thing you hear of when you read in the safety instructions and the “Svalbard Rules of Common Sense” or start talking with the tourists or locals is the polar bear. Polar bears have become the charismatic symbol for all climate change related issues: melting sea ice, environmental awareness, global warming and the most vulnerable species.

‘Environmental’ T-Shirt: The North Pole today and in 50 years. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
‘Environmental’ T-Shirt: The North Pole today and in 50 years. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

They are carefully protected by law, there are no polar bear safaris on Svalbard. Global hunt for polar bear guard attracts 300 applicants (Icepeople 5/25, July 9, 2013). Local officials are concerned about the increasing number of film crews, both Norwegian and from abroad, that are perhaps too keen to film the protected polar bears in action. A film team working for the BBC on Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is being fined NOK 50,000 (nearly USD 10,000) for allegedly disturbing a polar bear mother and her two cubs. (


However, it is the world’s largest land carnivores and humans are considered as an alien element in the polar bear’s habitat (Norwegian Polar Institute Usually one bear is shot every year due to the endangerment of people’s life. This year, it was already two bears (personal conversation). One of the ‘Longyearbyen bears’ is displayed in the hospital entry hall. It is related to a dramatic story from 1987.

Polar bear of the Longyearbyen hospital. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
Polar bear of the Longyearbyen hospital. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
Drama of 1987 on Edgeøya. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
Drama of 1987 on Edgeøya. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

That year two Dutch biologists at the Kapp Lee station on Edgeøya, Piet Oosterveid and Georg Visser, were badly injured by this young polar bear. As Hacquebord pointed it out, indirectly, this event led to the end of a Dutch research station in the High Arctic.  In 1989 it was sold for a symbolic sum to the Norwegian Polar Institute. On the instruction of Piet Oosterveld, the executive committee terminated the Foundation for Arctic Biological Research that supported his research activities, thus putting an end to one of the most important Dutch research initiatives in the Arctic since the Second World War.  (Hacquebord, L. 2004. Permanence in diversity. A life in the service of Arctic Biological Research. Boschman, N., Hacquebord, L. (eds). 2004. Permanence in diversity. Netherlands Ecological Research on Edgeøya, Spitsbergen. Groningen: Arctic Centre, RUG. p.10).

The residents of Longyearbyen to whom I talked, definitely did not like to talk about current accidents with polar bears, which happened in the last years (see  I suppose, it is not a pleasant topic to discuss with visitors. It may harm the charismatic image of the polar bear and may have an impact on tourist activities, governmental safety efforts, scientific research, and finally on this small Arctic community. Living in this environment, where the risk of this wild animal is very high and at the same time, where the polar bear symbol is so important, animal symbolism reveals a potential to constitute community commonalities.

Svalbard reindeer

When I showed a picture of a Svalbard reindeer to my Sami reindeer herder friend, his first reaction was: ‘that’s not a reindeer’. A sharp difference to the Eurasian mainland reindeer shows in short-legs, relatively round heads and a thick coat. This reindeer population represents the morphology typical on artcic islands and the Greenland origin of the Svalbard reindeer seems probable (Hakala, A. et al. 1986. Taxonomy and history of Arctic island reindeer with special reference to Svalbard reindeer. Rangifer, Special issues 1: 360).

Svalbard reindeer, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
Svalbard reindeer, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Their behavior is also different from reindeer that I have observed in Finland and Russia. Svalbard reindeer are not nomadic and live individually or in small groups (see Reimers, E. 2012. Svalbard reindeer population size and trends in four sub-areas of Edgeøya. Polar Research 31). They are less dependent on the lichens then relatives on the mainland and feed on almost any type of vegetation. All the plants in question are more resistant to grazing and trampling. And that is why the pastures’ carrying capacity becomes ‘a floating concept’ in Svalbard, as Reimers states (Reimers 2012).

I haven’t seen any polar bears roaming around, but I have met a reindeer almost every day. They do not have any natural enemies, except for some cases where polar bears or Arctic foxes occasionally prey on weak or newborn animals. There are no mosquito clouds around the reindeer like I observed in the Nenets tundra and the Verkhoiansk mountains (Barents region and Siberia, Russia) – they harass and can even kill a reindeer. Svalbard reindeer are not afraid of people and you may see them peacefully grazing around the houses. Restricted hunting is allowed in some areas of Nordensköld Land (The governor of Svalbard. Reindeer population appears to be at a record high this year. There have not been so many reindeer since records began in 1979 (Icepeople 5/25, July 9, 2013)


Svalbard reindeer, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Svalbard reindeer, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

‘Exotic’ species.

There are not so many pets in this permanently fluctuating community on Svalbard. I have not seen anybody working with a dog. To bring a dog to Svalbard requires permission from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. The permit is granted for one year at a time. No permissions to bring cat to Svalbard are given (the governor of Svalbard However, these two cats I saw in the Russian settlement of Svalbard, Barentsburg. Maybe it is a post-Soviet cats’ generation? Anyway, they are great companions, who comfort the – mainly single – males, who are working hard, away from their home.

Cats of Barentsburg. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
Cats of Barentsburg. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann


In Barentsburg I discovered another ‘post-Soviet’ animal – a pig. There is a small pig shed still left over from Soviet times, whereas only abandoned houses with a cow’s picture on the wall remain of the former cow farm. Pork is almost the only fresh product in the local canteen menu. The community receives basic food supplies one or two times a year by boat from Murmansk.

‘Pig house’ in Barentsburg. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
‘Pig house’ in Barentsburg. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
Pig of Barentsburg. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
Pig of Barentsburg. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann


Pig of Barentsburg. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
Pig of Barentsburg. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

A really exotic animal for this latitude is a penguin in the shopping centre that holds the sign of the sushi restaurant. Why penguin? I became curious as far as I always thought that there are no penguins in the Arctic. Or are there? I just asked the people in the sushi restaurant and found out that ‘they were here’.

‘Arctic’ penguin. Sushi canteen in Longyearbyen. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann
‘Arctic’ penguin. Sushi canteen in Longyearbyen. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann


Snow crab

In September 2011 the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen (Norway) published information that one alien species, the snow crab, was caught in the eastern part of Svalbard waters (Institute of Marine Research. Fant snøkrabbe ved Svalbard, September 6, 2011, Recent findings of Russian scientists in relation to the biomass of snow crab in the Barents Sea were unexpected: it is ten times higher than another alien species, the King Crab (Institute of marine research, Ti ganger mer snøkrabbe enn kongekrabbe,  April 24, 2013, The King Crab was intentionally introduced to the Barents Sea in the 1960s by Soviet scientists. There are different views on the scale of changes caused by these species in the Barents Sea ecosystem (see Herbold, B. and Moyle, P.B. 1986. Introduced species and vacant niches. Am. Nat. 128:751-760; Owen, J. 2004. Giant Crab ‘red army’ invades Norway,;  Norwegian Ministry of the Environment. 2007. Strategy on invasive alien species; 2008 Камчатский краб не наносит серьезного ущерба донной фауне Баренцева моря, ).

However, it has brought new economic activities for the coastal communities of Eastern Norway, as I observed during my fieldwork in 2012 (Blog entries June 2012 Kings, predators and research on the northern top of Europe.; Havet (ocean) – is giving and taking.; see  Karlsbakk, J.2013. Cold king Crab catch. .

It is not clear yet how the snow crab has spread to the area – by ballast water or by natural migration (Institute for Marine Research, Ibid). Are the ‘newcomers’ burden or asset of the Barents Sea and for the coastal communities? Is it a serious threat to biodiversity or a valuable resource?

The Svalbard governor’s office is concerned about the growth of the snow crab population and has decided to delay the official release of its invasive species action plan in order to incorporate this new information (Barents Observer, June 24, 2013;; Icepeople 5/25, June 25).

(ACCESS project, Arctic Climate Change Economies and Societies, ‘European Project supported within the Ocean of Tomorrow call of the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme’ and Research Grant by Norwegian Embassy in Helsinki)