Oil, reindeer herders and flexible Laws on Kolguev

It is time for an anthropology team lecture again, this time focusing on Arctic Extractive Industries, in Rovaniemi, Finland, in the Arktikum building.

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 1.27.40 AMWe do this in as part of our Uarctic Thematic Network “Arctic Extractive Industries” and welcome all interested people to join us in the discussion.

Solitude in the wake of Willem Barentsz

A very new book with many beautiful pictures and a colourful text made by photographer Jeroen Toirkens and writer Petra Sjouwerman, with a historical epilogue by Diederik Veerman, was recently published in the Netherlands. It tells about a trip made following the so-called ‘Barents Road’ on the Barents Region, to the area that has been described as Europe’s last wilderness. It is in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Just like the Barents Sea the Barents region was named in 1993 after the sixteenth century Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz. It was done at the initiative of the Norwegian minister for foreign affairs Thorvald Stoltenberg, who wanted by this way to improve collaboration between these four northern countries in the fields of culture, education, environment and indigenous peoples.

Here is an interview made with one of the authors – Jeroen Toirkens

R.L.:Jeroen, how did you get this idea to write a book about Willem Barentsz? Continue reading “Solitude in the wake of Willem Barentsz”

Arctic city-communities and the extractive industries: urbanisation, industrial livelihoods and sustainability-considerations

The extractive industries working group (EIWG) of the International Arctic Social Sciences Association (IASSA)

Gazprom Kindergarten in Novyi Urengoy, Yamal, Russia.
Gazprom Kindergarten in Novyi Urengoy, Yamal, Russia.

and the Uarctic Thematic Network on Arctic Extractive Industries start their  course in the Pan-Arctic PhD programme on Arctic Extractive industries next Monday until Friday. We have a very nice group of instructors and students alike, with participants from Canada, Norway, Austria, Finland, Russia, Denmark, UK if I remember correctly. A detailed programme and reading list can be found here on our PhD programme website.

Sámi people of Jona: pride and prejudice

The anthropology research team, organised by Anna Stammler-Gossmann, invites to a workshop (in Russian) with  Sámi activist and writer, Aleftina Sergina from Jona village (Kola Peninsula, approx. 30 km from the Finnish border, around 100 inhabitants).

Jona village indicated with "1", further places on the map being Rovaniemi ("2"), Kovdor ("3"), Apatity ("4"), and Murmansk ("5")
Jona village indicated with “1”, further places on the map being Rovaniemi (“2”), Kovdor (“3”), Apatity (“4”), and Murmansk (“5”), to give an idea of the location of this remote yet so centrally located village.

Issues  that we shall discuss at the meeting with Aleftina include

–      Lovozero is not the only Sami village in Russia
–      Sami potatoes project
–      Finnish reindeer in Russia, tundra reindeer in the forest and failed project on reindeer re-introduction in Jona.
–      Sacred sites of Sami
–      Soviet and post-Soviet Jona

Our blogger Nina Meschtyb had earlier been to Jona and written beautifully about that trip here on the blog, illustrated with nice photographs

A new visiting researcher at the Arctic Centre

As a new arrival at the Arctic Centre, allow me to introduce myself. My name is William Davies, a PhD research postgraduate from the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds (UK) who will be based at the centre until mid-December as part of an ESRC-funded Overseas Institutional Visit. My broad academic interests revolve around sustainable development, political ecology and natural resource management in an Arctic context. More specifically, my PhD research explores social construction of ‘scale’ in relation to Arctic extractive industries and the ways in which scale-framings of stakeholders discursively influence debates surrounding Arctic extractive activity, especially offshore petroleum and uranium mining.  Furthermore, I’m also interested in the notion of ‘Arctic identity’ and how cultural and technical definitions of the Arctic influence environmental policy in the region.

Whilst instinctively reluctant to pigeonhole myself into one academic discipline, if pushed I’d say I come from a predominantly ‘human geography’ background; my previous studies including a BA in Geography and an MA in Sustainable Development from the University of Leeds as well as a Masters in Coastal and Marine Management from the University Centre of the Westfjords in Iceland. Indeed, the time spent in the Westfjords piqued my fascination with all things Arctic.

During my visit at the Arctic Centre, I will be assisting Florian Stammler with various facets of the Extractive Industries Working Group, the upcoming week-long PhD course and Rovaniemi Process conference, as well as getting involved with other activities taking place at the centre.

When not ruminating on Arctic issues, I’m never happier than when riding my bike; be it cycling amidst the smog and bustle of rush-hour London traffic or the serenity and peace of remote, coastal Iceland.

 

Oral History workshop, 23-24 September 2013, Rovaniemi

Everybody with a serious interest is invited to the following event:

Workshop “Intangible oral culturalheritage: documentation, archiving and preservation techniques” Organised by the ORHELIA project team & anthropology research team Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland

Venue: Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Arktikum Building, Pohjoisranta 4, Thule meeting room, 1st floor, take the door up the stairs right after the main entrance into the building.

The blind elder Piotr Khudi with his family just before crossing Bovanenkovo gas deposit, Yamal Peninsula
The blind elder Piotr Khudi with his family just before crossing Bovanenkovo gas deposit, Yamal Peninsula

The anthropology team members interested in oral history are thrilled to get a visit by linguist Michael Riessler from Freiburg, Germany, and Anna Afanasieva from the Barents Institute in Kirkenes, Norway, to join us for a 1.5 day workshop where we explore different ways and best practices of data management, preservation and processing in oral history and sociolinguistics. We will also use this opportunity to think about ways of cooperating with Riessler’s documentation project initatives, as well as for updating each other and anybody who is interested about our recent fieldwork  all over the European and Russian Arctic. That fieldwork report session will be on Tuesday before lunch, 24 September. A detailed programme of the workshop can be found HERE.

“If research doesn’t surprise you, it’s not worth the research” Julie Cruikshank

I would like to share with you some of the things we learned from Julie Cruikshank and other elders from the Yukon Territory to better understand oral history from the North. To search for surprising insights, to be open to challenges to our conventional perceptions, that was Julie’s most important advice to us.

Her talk centred on stories about glaciers that challenge the nature versus culture dichotomy science is so preoccupied with. Why did she invite us to dismiss this divide? Does it not serve us well at least to keep the humanities and social sciences distinct from the natural sciences?

Informal get-together with Julie Cruikshank after the meeting and ice swimming and barbecue at the Kemijoki river.
Informal get-together with Julie Cruikshank after the meeting and ice swimming and barbecue at the Kemijoki river.

We know from our own fieldwork experiences that people who live in close connection with the local environment don’t draw a clear line between nature and culture. They interact with natural phenomena in a very social way and they know very well that the beings we call nature display the ability to communicate and to interact with humans and human society.

Julie said she expected that the elders she wanted to record life stories with would talk about historical events like the gold rush and the construction of the Alaska Highway that had such a huge impact on the life of their communities. Surprisingly they insisted on telling different stories about encounters with phenomena we consider to be part of nature like glaciers and animals. The stories were about establishing relationships with different beings and about knowledge transfer and Julie could understand them as related to her own work that is based exactly on these things – the relationship with her partners in the field and the knowledge shared across social and cultural differences. These stories provided the basis for interpretation and as Claude Lévi-Strauss would say are “good to think with”.

If we skip our objectifying perception of nature we become able to listen to the message contained in stories about glaciers that hear and smell and take revenge. It will be easy then to link these stories of the risk of inappropriate behaviour in the face of powerful beings to stories about colonial encounters in life histories but a purely metaphorical interpretation of these encounters with speaking animals and listening glaciers would get the elders that tell these stories wrong.

The idea of Amerindian perspectivism developed by the anthropologist Eduardo Vivieros de Castro invites us to take the perception of non-human actors seriously. It suggests that different beings perceive the world in similar ways but from different angles and that indigenous stories reveal a sensibility to see and acknowledge these different perspectives. The idea that parts of what we call nature like animals and plants, mountains, rivers and glaciers but also invisible beings like spirits, gods and the deceased and non-animated objects like cars or oil companies have the same abilities as humans to comprehend the world but have their own perspectives, sometimes diametrically opposed to ours, is something we all experience in ethnographic fieldwork in the Arctic.

There are some important consequences of this idea we can learn from the stories that tell about the interaction of different categories of beings in a social way.

First: Humans are able to imagine the different perspectives. We can interact with different beings and visit their worlds. We are not fixed to a standpoint in accordance to our place in the world. Interaction and mobility allow for epistemological moves that enable us to understand others. That is an idea developed in an article by Terhi Vuojala-Magga in “Knowing, training, learning: the importance of reindeer character and temperament for individuals and communities of humans and animals.” It is a question of respectful behaviour to be able to avoid conflict, violence and failure in the process of interaction. We have to develop ways to deal respectfully with different perspectives, appropriate ways to keep distance and to transgress boundaries.

Second: Important are the differences in agency allocated to different beings but agency is not a property to possess. Different places and contexts reveal different power relationships. There are situations when the powerless can become powerful and vice versa. Stories tell about these encounters, failures in the perception of power, and the inversions of power relations. They tell about the possibility of respectful acknowledgement of difference and about the possibilities and inabilities to learn from each other without erasing these differences.

Third: The knowledge that beings develop out of their diverse perspectives possess different power. People we collaborate with in the Arctic experience the hegemony of certain forms of knowledge brought in by colonial institutions like science, religions and the state. Hegemonic knowledge is opposed to the ideas of perspectivism and claims it would be normal to have only one moral, one god, one identity, one truth, and one language for every human and only for humans. Forms of interaction like languages and value systems informed by traditional religion and ethics are delegitimised and sometimes even lost in the process of loss of access to land and social capital and the enforcement of capitalist economy, scientific positivism and the implementation of Christian universalism.

The difference between knowledge production in the academic world and in local communities can give us a first hint on the power differences and the process of hegemony of one and deligitimization of the other knowledge but if we get stuck in the dichotomy between scientific and indigenous knowledge we will end up in a vicious circle. With careful ethnographic work we reveal that there is more than one form of indigenous knowledge and digging in our own scientific traditions will reveal that there are strands in European scientific thought that differ from the hegemonic naturalist or objectifying perspective.

If we’ll link local and scientific traditions of perspectivism, we will become able to see how stories – oral as well as written – can contain a polyphony of voices that have agency in our society and in our interactions with different beings as well. They have the power to transform the listener, to make him/her wonder, to call the authoritative discourse into question and to facilitate understanding.

Internship at the Arctic Centre, Berit Wahlers

I am an anthropology student from Hamburg, Germany, and I just finished my two month internship at the Arctic Center in Rovaniemi. I had a great time with a lot of new experiences. The Anthropology Research team welcomed me warmly into their team and everybody was willing to share their research experiences. Soon I also got to know researchers from other disciplines and I enjoyed staying in such a multidisciplinary and international place as the Arctic Center. I helped collecting information for the researchers, created posters and announcements for lectures and took charge of the bulletin board which contains publications and pictures of the different fieldwork experiences of anthropologists. I also assisted in research application processes and created a list of relevant anthropological journals and their different ranking positions. I had my own working place and computer where I could also proceed with my own research. I decided to write my master thesis about the impact of climate change on winter tourism and already did a survey with tourists who visited the exhibition of the Arctic Center (thanks to Anna for her help). In my free time I experienced cross country skiing for the first time, took part on a reindeer safari (thanks to Susanna for this great experience),

Imagewent snowboarding at Ounasvaara and experienced ice-swimming (which cost me some effort and a lot of convincing from Florian, but was a good experience in the end). After a while I started liking Rovaniemi a lot. It is a cute town with amazing people. I enjoyed getting to know people from the Arctic Centre and from the University and to also meet them in the evening at Kauppayhtiö, a great place to hang out in Rovaniemi. I am happy that I had the opportunity to do an internship at the Arctic Centre and to have an insight in the lives and work of researchers. I felt comfortable working in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere and I am looking forward to visiting Rovaniemi again. I am really curious how this place looks like during the summer!

‘Are glaciers ‘good to think with? – Julie Cruikshank in Rovaniemi

We are honoured and pleased to have Julie Cruikshank for the better part of the first week of April with us here in Rovaniemi. It won’t pay enough respect to her fame to introduce her here briefly. There is enough good praise for her work in the net, most recently through the 2012 Clio award for her lifetime achievement . She will participate in the ARKTIS graduate school annual seminar, but also spend time to talk to us about oral history theory and practice, epistemologies, and other fascinating topics on

Saturday 06 April at 12:00, in the  Borealis lecture room, Arctic Centre,

After the session, the ORHELIA project welcomes all participants to a discussion and an ‘Arctic grilling’ at a laavu. Everybody with an interest in these topics is welcome!

Abstract: The concept we now call ‘indigenous ecological knowledge’ continues to undergo transformations with real-world consequences.  Systematic use of this term appeared in Canada during the early 1990s, when its potential contributions to understanding the natural world became a topic of discussion among researchers working in arctic and subarctic regions. Concepts, however, travel. They carry and accumulate meanings that may have unexpected consequences.  In the twenty-first century, the terms indigenous and knowledge have each become contested, internationally and locally. My questions are: What is not recognized as knowledge in dominant regimes? What is lost when local knowledge in Canada is trimmed and transformed to fit the requirements of science, policy and governance? Strikingly, ethnographies from northern Canada that give weight to ontology, values, social relations and meaning are taken up and developed theoretically and in public and political forums in South America (Viveiros de Castro, Blaser, de la Cadena) with implications for subarctic regions.

Please see a full poster on our lectures & events page, more questions to Anna Stammler-Gossmann or here in the comments of this blog entry.

Welcoming Simeon Buckley at the Anthropology Research Team

Hi my name is Simeon Buckley or (Sim) I am a new staff member here at the Arctic Centre.simeon_photo
I am working as a research assistant to Anna Stammler-Gossmann. I am working on a research project which is a comparative study looking at Coastal communities of the Barents region and marine resources use: Seascape and fishing rights. I am a master’s student from RMIT University, which is located in Melbourne Australia.
While living here in Finland I have become very interested in traditional Reindeer husbandry. I am developing a research project which is using traditional reindeer husbandry as a model for the development of the kangaroo meat industry in Australia. The harvesting of kangaroos could be a valuable economic and social resource for indigenous communities in Australia.
I will be working here at the Arctic Centre until the middle of February and I am looking forward to getting to know some of you.
Thanks,
Simeon Buckley