Rain on snow – how do people and reindeer learn to survive?

This winter and spring we hear again disastrous news from sudden temperature rises and falls, leading to thick ice-crusts on reindeer pastures that block reindeer’s access to their pastures. While the most famous of these events happened in 2014 in the Centre of the Yamal Peninsula, West Siberia, the phenomenon is known probably to reindeer herders all over the Arctic, and several of our colleagues have extensively published on this. In Yamal, however, this does not endanger reindeer herding as a livelihood altogether. The scale in the world’s number one reindeer herding region is different from more marginal regions, which also have less possibilities to help with emergency measures in comparison to the Yamal government that is one of Russia’s richest financially. The winter/spring 2021 icing event in northernmost Yamal raises to me a new question on how we study the movement of adaptation-knowledge between wild animals, domestic animals and humans. Read below how.

Continue reading “Rain on snow – how do people and reindeer learn to survive?”

Trust Versus Paranoia: Can the Siberian fire spirit explain the spectacular failure of the UK Covid track and trace app?

Piers Vitebsky and Roza Laptander are going to give an interesting example on how to de-provincialise Arctic social sciences. This time on a topic that could hardly be more timely: they refer to their elaborate ethnographies of indigenous Siberians’ communications with the fire spirit to explain why apps to track the corona virus may fail.

They hold their talk virtually on May 4, 2021, 4.30-6.00 PM (London time) in the University of Cambridge MIASU seminar series. The link was sent to the email list of MIASU only. If you want to listen to their talk, please contact one of the authors ask them if they can share the link with you directly. The event is announced at the MIASU website here

Below is their abstract. I have read a draft paper and can only recommend it. It’s thought provoking for its link of two so contrasting settings, and for its reflections on theories of subjectivity, privacy, anonymity and – of course – spiritual encounters.

Abstract: “We contrast how the UK’s Covid-19 track and trace system gives warnings about exposure to infection, with how the domestic fire in a nomadic reindeer herder’s tent crackles warning about dangers of the Siberian landscape.  This is an issue less of epistemology than of signalling, trust and coherence.  We locate differing configurations of trust and suspicion in social and political context.  The technocratic Covid app de-personalizes tracing, as individualism and concerns about privacy block channels of knowing and narrativity, and encourage non-compliance and conspiracy theories.  In its sociality and acute attention to the environment, the nomad’s fire evokes not the epidemiological model of the besieged bounded body but a divinatory openness to space, time and event which ironically resembles an alternative model of the viral encounter.”

Society 5.0 – new evolutionism towards more inclusive well-being?

Listening to the presentation of Ms Kanae from the Japanese cabinet office at the Japan-Finland Joint Committee meeting on Cooperation in Science and Technology, I was impressed how human social evolution as a concept continues to play such a significant role even in concrete decision making. Japan accepted a holistic radical development plan called society 5.0 which bases on the idea of human evolution since the early hunter-gatherer societies to the future.

The evolutionary aspect of the Society 5.0 concept as introduced in the 5th Science and Technology Basic Plan of Japan - source Keidanren paper
Evolution according to Japan’s “society 5.0”, in a paper by the Japanese Business Federation

According to the presentation of Ms Kanae, the distinctive feature of society 5.0 is how cyberspace is integrated with physical space in a sophisticated way. And how economic growth is reconciled with resolution of social issues, which was not as high on the agenda in the previous social development models. The aim is a “human-centered and inclusive society” . The Japanese government plans to work towards this with what they call the “Moonshot Research and Development Programme “. It consists of seven goals, the first of which being mainly about well-being, namely ” Realization of a society in which human beings can be free from limitations of body, brain, space, and time by 2050″.

I liked the unconventional way in which a government official presented this vision of their society of the future, where they want to work towards creating conditions where “everyday life is happy and fun”!

Slide 9 of the Japanese government’s presentation on their view of society 5.0

This makes me think that with the prominent position of happiness and fun not only purposeful and eaudaemonic notions, but also hedonistic notions of well-being play an important role in the society of the future. This is probably also very good news for young people, who in our current research project have emphasized the significance of opportunities to enhance the fun-aspect of life in the North, as particularly Lukas Allemann and Ria Adams shall emphasize in their forthcoming publications.

The Experience of Displacement and Social Engineering in Kola Saami Oral Histories

Public defence of the doctoral dissertation by blog contributor Lukas Allemann on 15 Oct 2020

Our team member and periodic blog contributor Lukas Allemann examines in his thesis people’s experiences of Soviet-time, state-initiated displacement and (re)emplacement on the Kola Peninsula as well as the consequences of these developments. Sources show that Saami communities bore the brunt of these processes. The work seeks to draw – for the first time – a holistic picture of the social transformation among the Kola Saami, while nevertheless respecting the reality of mixed and multiple ethnic belongings as well as other categories of identity in the region.

Continue reading “The Experience of Displacement and Social Engineering in Kola Saami Oral Histories”

Tenure Track Position in Oulu, Finland: Cultural Histories and Traditional Knowledge of Resource Use

Our anthropology colleague Prof Hannu Heikkinen from Oulu just sent this around. Seems to be a rather rare opportunity for a permanent job in Arctic Anthropology!

Arctic Interactions (ArcI) is a programme designed to achieve global leadership in the area of “Understanding and mitigating global change in the Arctic through fundamental studies at the interface between the natural and social sciences in the north”. These studies are aimed at weaving new discoveries and understanding into sustainable resource use, while informing those dedicated to mitigation and providing the information needed to help achieve sustainable communities throughout the North. The ArcI community in Oulu include 30 PIs linked to three research areas (www.oulu.fi/arci).

Job description

The tenure track position “Cultural histories and traditional knowledge of resource use” will strengthen the ArcI research area “Human-environmental relationship” (https://www.oulu.fi/kvantum/node/56116 ).

The research of the tenure track position should examine cultural histories and traditional environmental knowledge of natural resource use by using past records and data mining methods to identify key cultural conceptions and practices, that are focal to local communities to adapt to changing environmental condition and affect how the environment and its resources are used and understood. The position will be based at the Unit of History, Culture and Communication, the Faculty of Humanities, University of Oulu.

The tenure track position is open to highly talented individuals who hold a doctoral degree and have excellent potential for a successful scientific career. Based on the experience and competence, the successful applicant will be placed at the level of Assistant Professor or Associate Professor.

Call text:


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

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Future Arctic Ecosystems revisited or reindeer herding at the verge of extinction?

30 Oct, 14:00, Rovaniemi, Arktikum, 2nd floor, coffee room.

The world’s northernmost herding horses? at work in herding reindeer, Kharaulakh, Laptev Sea

In this Wednesday Afternoon Coffee Chat (WACC) Florian Stammler will have a dialogue session with Aytalina Ivanova from Yakutsk reflecting on Arctic research agendas. What was supposed to be the first trip in a new multi-party consortium on scenarios of a changing Arctic became an example of how research agendas can – and should – change in response to the concerns of those people with whom we work in the field. During the first research trip, it turned out that rather than the project topic – people in the field were concerned about other things that are more immediately related to their future as a community. You are welcome to join and find out what worries people even more than the changing Arctic Climate. This WACC will feature impressive photos and videos from a very extreme environment on the shore of the Arctic Ocean, with nomads who unite tradition and innovation in very original ways. All welcome, coffee and biscuits will be served.

Discussion: pros and cons of research cooperation between academia and military/security organisations

This month’s reading and discussion circle of our Arctic Anthropology team is open to all interested participants! Given the relevance of the topic for the entire academia, we explicitly welcome scholars and students also from other research groups and academic fields than ours. We will discuss the pros and cons of research cooperation between academia and military/security organisations.

TIME: 22 August 2019, 12:00 (noon), Helsinki time (UTC+2)

PLACE: Arctic Centre, Borealis room, 2nd floor, Pohjoisranta 4, Rovaniemi, Finland.

Chapter to read: Rubinstein, Robert A. 2011. “Ethics, Engagement and Experience: Anthropological Excursions in Culture and the National Security State.” In Dangerous Liaisons: Anthropologists and the National Security State, edited by Laura A. McNamara and Robert A. Rubinstein, 145–66. Santa Fe, N.M.: School for Advanced Research Press.

A short introduction to the topic: Rubinstein (2011, 145) observed that “security agencies and organizations are expending considerable efforts and resources to figure out how to […] bring anthropologists and other social scientists to work with them.” This includes not only direct employment but also funding of and access to publications and conferences (Ferguson 2013). A recent example is a common workshop held in Rovaniemi in Spring 2019 about security issues, to which Arctic Centre (University of Lapland) and NATO experts were invited and which was fully funded by the latter.

The traditionally left-wing preponderance in anthropology tends to strong ethical reservations, up to complete denial, towards any forms of academic cooperation with military and other security organisations, due to concerns about misappropriation. We should, however, also admit that denial and outrage often goes hand in hand with generalisations about the military “in a totalizing fashion that our discipline would never sanction were they to be applied to other peoples” (Rubinstein 2013, 121). Also in our discipline there are voices advocating a responsible cooperation in order to contribute to better-informed decisions within military structures. After all, a pragmatic discussion acknowledging the presence of the military as an immutable fact boils down to one question: does bringing knowledge about societies into the military rather increase or reduce harm inflicted to people.

As overt and covert interest of military and security organisations in our work as social scientists is potentially everywhere, we will discuss in this session a chapter that tries to offer a balanced discussion, without slipping into sweeping generalisations and negative stereotypes about “the military”. The goal is to discuss according opportunities and dangers of cooperation.

Further readings for those interested in the topic:

Chamayou, Grégoire. 2015. Drone Theory. New York: Penguin.

Ferguson, R. Brian. 2013. “Full Spectrum: The Military Invasion of Anthropology.” In Virtual War and Magical Death: Technologies and Imaginaries for Terror and Killing, edited by Neil L. Whitehead and Sverker Finnström, 85–110. Durham; London: Duke University Press.

Rubinstein, Robert A. 2013. “Master Narratives, Retrospective Attribution, and Ritual Pollution in Anthropology’s Engagements With the Military.” In Practicing Military Anthropology: Beyond Expectations and Traditional Boundaries, edited by Robert A. Rubinstein, Kerry B. Fosher, and Clementine K. Fujimura, 119–30. Sterling, Virginia: Kumarian Press.

Price, David H. 2016. Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology. Durham; London: Duke University Press.

Ssorin-Chaikov, Nikolai. 2018. “Hybrid Peace: Ethnographies of War.” Annual Review of Anthropology 47 (1): 251–62. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-102317-050139.

The perfect place for comparative border studies?

Being here in Blagoveshensk (for a conference on a different topic), I realise how cool this place is for border studies.

On the left side the Chinese skyscrapers of Heihe, on the right the Amur embankment. The tower is a control tower, I guess for the border, but also for the safety of the swimmers in summer, because it’s placed at a public beach:)

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Another Summer school: Oulu 12-16 August 2019

Colleagues from Oulu also put together an interesting programme for their doctoral course, with a focus on studying ‘dark heritage’, i.e. civil wars, atrocities. Here is their programme description, and they say there are still some places free:
The Human Science Doctoral Student course: Monuments, visual representations, and spaces of  dark heritage, 3 credits, in the University of Oulu, 12. – 16. August 2019. Location: HUTK-HUM330, third floor.

The course outlines international dark heritage scholarship, focusing especially on memorialization of civil wars, places of atrocities and other painful and traumatic sites. The course will focus on memorialization of civil wars, like in Ireland, the USA and Finland, sites of colonial atrocities towards indigenous people in Australia, and sites of ethnic violence at the end of 19th and 20th centuries. The course will focus on different kind of memorials and other visual materials and representations, for example photographs, of these sites and people; how memorials and photographs visualize the memory of the painful incidents that occurred in the places. This course is interested in the intersection of what we consider dark heritage, what is remembered (and what
is forgotten, or even silenced) and how they are remembered in terms of how they link to wider identity issues of race, class and gender.
Course teachers:
Professor Jane Lydon, The University of Western Australia, Australia.
Professor Paul R. Mullins, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, USA.
Associate Professor Laura McAtackney, Aarhus University, Denmark.
Docent, Senior lecturer Timo Ylimaunu, University of Oulu, Finland.

The Course includes six (6) hours teaching each day in one-week period, 12. – 16. August
2019, so there will be 30 hours teaching in the course. Teaching will happen two hour classes before the lunch and four hours at afternoon. Students will give a short max. 15 min paper of their own doctoral research topic during the course in the workshop-type classes. Course includes two field walks in different dark heritage sites in Oulu.
Meeting location: Central lobby at University of Oulu at 9 am. 12th of August. We will have a table at there. University campus maps: https://www.oulu.fi/university/campuses
Teaching language: English.
Students will repair for the course short paper in their own research topics before the course. There is no course fee. Students will be responsible of their own travels, accommodation and living in Oulu.

Contact: timo.ylimaunu(at)oulu.fi