Spirituality of abandoned Arctic Infrastructure

So-called ‘ghost towns’ attract people in a certain sense, the ailing beauty of their ruins and the atmosphere of silence that is so different from the silence that you experience when you are somewhere out on the tundra in the Arctic in a snow-desert. But when I recently walked with a friend through an abandoned building and felt the fascination of that atmosphere, I got also confronted with the opposite: for some people abandoned infrastructure feels threatening and scary for its association with death, decease and decline, and such people would stay away as much as they could from this kind of places. This reminded me of the relations between people and graveyards in the Arctic: that among some you are not supposed to go back to the graves of the relative after the funeral, or if so, then only in groups and on special occasions. Because the world of the spirits of the deceased is different from our world, and it may be dangerous for us is we engage with it in inappropriate ways. In my first field trip to the tundra, when I was going to take a photo of a Nenets graveyard in the tundra, the herder who was with me advised me: better don’t take a picture. “Not that I would mind, but we don’t know if this would be bad for yourself – who knows if the spirits like you taking this picture”.

So I wonder what is the spiritual implications of this ghost-town tourism in the Arctic? In many places people do not even take away the movable infrastructure of these places, although it certainly would have some value to sell. E.g. in the Komi ghost-town of Tsementozavodsk close to Vorkuta, there is a huge amount of trucks left behind, alongside the houses where nobody lived in the last decade.

Abandoned trucks in Tsementozavodsk, c Anadolu agency via Getty images

This place made it to the British Daily Mail newspaper with a detailed photo gallery of the abandoned infrastructure, and there is impressive air imagery from there by Reuters . Someone told me that it’s just more expensive to bring all this away from such remote places than the value that you get for it when you sell it. Hard to imagine. But I find a certain parallel to what I heard in 2013 in the village of Bykov Mys on the Laptev shore: there when the cemetery was being taken to the Sea by coastal erosion, the locals would not dare to go and recover some of the graves. One told me “if some Finns and Lithuanians whose ancestors are buried here would like to, they can come and exhume the remains – we are not going to do that. The Sea can take the cemeteries as all souls have left from there long ago”.

But in Tsementozavodsk this huge amount of abandoned trucks that actually look rather recent impressed me. How come that nobody took them at least to Vorkuta, which is just 17 km away. Surely they could be used there somehow? Maybe that has to do with the legal notion of escheated propertry (vymorochnoe imushestvo in Russian). According to the Russian Civil Code, the Russian Federation inherits such property if there are no legal heirs (article 1151, Law 146-FZ). But this may be only the superficial outside reason of why we see so much abandoned infrastructure in the Russian Arctic. It becomes part of the region’s environmental history. Speaking of which: this is a good occasion to congratulate our colleague Dmitry Arzyutov for his excellent PhD on environmental history in the Russian Arctic. It’s here open access. Congratulations!!!

The Arctic Environmental Responsibility Index – oil and gas better than mining?

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/bse.2698

This has been a long journey and a lot of work several years: jointly with a number of interdisciplinary colleagues, we published our article on the ranking of Arctic extractive industries in terms of environmental responsibility. We might think “how is this related to Arctic Anthropology?”, but it actually is a lot, both because of the content the method we applied are anthropologically inspired. On top of that, we also run an applied agenda with this article, and will be happy if readers further disseminate it in their own networks and make this ranking an “influencer” for the extractive industries, motivating them to perform better for the sake of the environment and the people inhabiting it.

c, F. Stammler. Loading mined ore to a cargo vessel on its journey from Arctic Norway, Narvik, to anywhere in the world. See the ship name: Indian friendship, Monrovia: Arctic extractive industries is globally relevant but should be locally responsible!
Continue reading “The Arctic Environmental Responsibility Index – oil and gas better than mining?”

Permafrost thaw responsible for Norilsk oil spill, impacting indigenous fishing?

Talking to a friend in Se Yakha, at the shore of the Ob Bay close to the Kara Sea, I realised how far the consequences of the recent Norilsk oil spill could go: the recent New York Times article about the oil spill cite environmentalists and even a Russian minister saying that the consequences of the spill could last for a decade. This is echoed by our friends from the Yamal Peninsula, who might be again among the most vulnerable victims.
The concern is that the spilled oil will eventually end up in the Kara Sea. And if that happens, it will contaminate the water along of the migration route of fish, on which the indigenous population along the shores rely for their subsistence and livelihood.

Continue reading “Permafrost thaw responsible for Norilsk oil spill, impacting indigenous fishing?”

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.

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

Continue reading “Arctic Security and Anthropology”

We don’t survive – we live here!

These were the introductory words of Alexandr Ivanov, the head of the Olenek district in Yakutia, in his discussion during our session on indigenous people’s territorial governance under industrial development at the Northern Forum for sustainable development in Yakutsk, 25 – 26 September 2019 (full session programme).

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practicing governance on the land: herding reindeer through a gold deposit in Neryungryi District, Yakutia

He thought it is useful to remind researchers from any field and country that there is a tendency in scholarship to portray indigenous life in the Russian Arctic as a struggle for survival, rather than a quest for harnessing opportunities, achieve well-being and happiness, and just living at home. This stems from the old idea that the Arctic is a resource frontier with a tough climate rather than home for people. Social scientists doing Arctic Studies have acknowledged this long ago, and published on it before. Continue reading “We don’t survive – we live here!”

Arctic youth well-being reserach project WOLLIE goes to Kola Peninsula

Last week, the mid-term meeting of our research project on youth in Arctic industrial settlements (WOLLIE) took place in Kirovsk and Revda, two mono-industrial cities in the Murmansk Region, North-West Russia. While discussing our project goals and achievements so far, we also visited several places. Being highly industrialised, densely populated and relatively compact, the Murmansk Region showcases the huge diversity of mono-industrial settings in the Arctic.

The WOLLIE team in Revda, where the local teenagers showed us their favourite hang-out place: the ruins of a Soviet-time building project

Single-industry towns are widespread all over the Arctic. What can they offer to their young generation inhabitants? Why do young people want to leave, or to stay? What can be done to make them stay, or return? These are the main questions that WOLLIE is trying to answer. Continue reading “Arctic youth well-being reserach project WOLLIE goes to Kola Peninsula”

Job for Arctic Anthropologists in Europe? Oulu

The University of Oulu is strengthening their Arctic profile and have announced several jobs. Let’s hope they will hire anthropologists eagerly! It depends on how many good anthropologists will apply, so, dear colleagues – go for it!

Tenure Track Positions in Arctic Interactions Research, University of Oulu, Finland
Are you the new generation of premier Arctic scientists with ambition for strengthening your international experience? Do you want to make new discoveries that are vital for the sustainability of the Arctic environment and our whole planet?

We are now looking for excellent and enthusiastic scientists from various research fields to join our Arctic Interactions (ArcI) research community at the University of Oulu. ArcI is a multidisciplinary research effort aimed at creating understanding and mitigating global change in the Arctic by bridging different research disciplines within natural, social and technical sciences. This international and globally significant research hub will produce new discoveries and cutting-edge research that will help solve some of the most pressing societal challenges in the Arctic.

Research areas

Our three main research themes (RT) include 1) Global change & northern environments, 2) Human-environmental relationship, and 3) Sustainable systems, resource use and development. Within these research themes we are offering tenure track positions in five different research areas:

• Biodiversity change and ecosystem health (RT1)

• Earth system sciences, ecohydrology and human societal resiliency (RT1)

• Cultural histories and traditional knowledge of resource use (RT2)

• Resource management in Arctic environment (RT3)

• Arctic architecture and environmental adaptation (RT3)

The tenure track positions are open to highly talented scientists with excellent potential for a successful scientific career. We invite strong candidates from various scientific fields, such as hydrology, ecology, biology, geography, geology, paleoclimatology, environmental sciences, environmental engineering, civil engineering, architecture, social sciences, archeology, cultural studies etc. Based on your experience and competence, you can be placed at the level of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Full Professor or Distinguished Professor. The positions include a start-up package for hiring a postdoctoral fellow and a PhD student.

What we offer

We are a dedicated and dynamic group of scientists working together towards a more sustainable and intelligent future. Our university’s long traditions in Arctic research and location close to the Arctic offer unique conditions for doing research. Currently, the ArcI community include 30 senior scientists with versatile expertise and background, which creates an inspiring working environment full of opportunities for wide variety of research. We foster a culture of collaboration, both within our university and with our international partner universities.

About Oulu

The City of Oulu is Northern Finland’s largest and oldest city, with a population of over 200,000. Oulu offers an easy-going living environment with good connections from anywhere. As the world’s northernmost tech hub, Oulu has a highly educated and innovative workforce, thanks to one of the biggest and most multidisciplinary universities in Finland.

How to apply

Please submit your application and relevant enclosures through our online recruitment system latest on February 28 2019. Please follow the links on the list of research areas to find individual position descriptions.

More information

Director: Prof. Bjørn Kløve, Kvantum Institute, University of Oulu, bjorn.klove(at)oulu.fi

Vice Director: Prof. Jeffrey Welker, Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu,

jeffrey.welker(at)oulu.fi

Coordinator: Jouko Inkeröinen, Kvantum Institute, University of Oulu, jouko.inkeroinen(at)oulu.fi

http://www.oulu.fi/arci

 

Assessing damage to indigenous cultures by industrial development with maths?

I just read an interesting post by the Russian news agency TASS (in Russian) announcing proudly the launch of a new method for assessing damage to indigenous culture and livelihood during industrial development of the Arctic. Russian scholars in this field know that there has been long a discussion about how the only Russian law on the anthropological expert review (etnologicheskaia expertiza) in Sakha (Yakutia) does not duly consider damage to culture and instead has a clear focus on compensation of material damage to natural resources that indigenous people use, as Ivanova has shown (2016:1237).

Now it seems that the working group of scholars and parliament committee members that want to push ahead with a Russian-wide law on the etnologicheskaia expertiza want to focus on assessing impacts with a participatory method that bases on a mathematical model. However, from the one article that I found by one of the authors it remains unclear to me if there would be aspects considered such as loss of spiritual knowledge, language, values and other aspects where indigenous cultures differ from the dominant societies of the state they live in.

While this is certainly a timely discussion, I wondered from reading that news post how the new scientific method advertised there wants to reliably assess such damage using mathematical formula only? The text says that researchers from the Russian Economic University and Kuban University have developed a mathematical formula allowing to consider the interests of all stakeholders around investment projects in the Arctic. In the text, economics Professor Violetta Gassiy is quoted as advertising this new method as a good replacement, because the method according to which damage has been assessed so far considers 101 criteria and therewith would be “very complicated”. But I wonder, isn’t it dangerous to simplify impact on local and indigenous cultures according to a ‘one fits it all’ formula? Countless anthropological research has shown that cultures are hugely diverse and function in a very tightly integrated reciprocal relationship between people and their specific environments.

I don’t want to dump the method of our colleagues prematurely, but I want to raise awareness of the fact that just by considering what local people express as their immediate interest in an industrial project may not necessarily be the best assessment of its possibly detrimental effects to culture. So far I thought that one of the advantages of the etnologicheskaia expertiza model in Russia is that it actually relies on trained anthropologists to assess JOINTLY with local experts the long-term impact of an industrial project on culture. This, I think, goes BEYOND the hopes of members in a community to get one-off payments as compensation or employment in the industry during the project life-cycle. I am not arguing that the hopes and opportunities for local people from industrial development projects are not important to consider. It is great if colleagues in Russia have come up with a good formula to do so.

All I am saying is that by no means does this replace the need for thorough assessment of cultural impacts by trained anthropologists together with local practitioners using our main method of participant observation.

A fair impact assessment must consider hopes, opportunities as well as threats and dangers of industrial development for indigenous societies. It must not be limited to assessing compensation payments for damage that occurs on the way, but should show avenues for PREVENTING such damage to happen in the first place. Together with colleagues we have highlighted this need for going beyond damage compensation towards damage prevention in social and cultural impact assessment more than a decade ago. With continued exploration and extraction of energy and mineral resources in the Arctic, this need did not diminish but increase, but the prevalent extractivist approach to natural resource governance does not always consider this need, as we have shown recently in a special volume on the topic.

I really welcome if this new method in Russia, if it becomes applied, is going to be seen as a tool to meet the need for participatory action together with local people in assessing their immediate needs, but that it would not replace our longer term joint challenge of trying to maintain culturally specific lifestyles of local and indigenous peoples in the Arctic basing on their unique adaptation to the Arctic environment and their knowing how to use the renewable natural resources in it in a reciprocal and sustainable way.

How do non-Arctic actors’ interests matter the Arctic? – debates around Arctic Circle assembly

From October 13 to October 19, 2017, the Uarctic Thematic network “Arctic Extractive Industries” held a masters/Phd course on the topic of Security, Governance and Geopolitics in relation to Arctic Extractive Industries. This time the organizers invited participants to Iceland. The course brought together students and faculty from Arctic universities and research centers from 10 different countries. The program came in three stages:

Continue reading “How do non-Arctic actors’ interests matter the Arctic? – debates around Arctic Circle assembly”