Introducing Critical Arctic Studies at the Arctic Circle Assembly 2022

Text: Marjo Lindroth, Sanna Kopra & Rasmus Leander Nielsen
Photo: Charlotte Gherke

The Critical Arctic Studies panel discussing at the Arctic Circle Assembly

The thematic network on Critical Arctic Studies made its debut at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik this year. The Assembly is an event that gathers researchers, policy-makers and diplomats from all over the globe to discuss Arctic issues and developments. Participants numbered around 2000 from about sixty countries. Critical Arctic Studies organized its own session in the Harpa building on Saturday 15th October. It was a great opportunity to present the UArctic Thematic Network and introduce the idea to fellow Arctic researchers and those interested critical research.

Page Wilson (University of Iceland) put together a roundtable ‘Introducing Critical Arctic Studies’. Page tasked the panelists, Marjo Lindroth (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland), Sanna Kopra (Arctic Centre, University of Lapland) and Rasmus Leander Nielsen (Ilisimatusarfik/University of Greenland) to ponder what being critical in research means to each of us and how we understand critical research. We also discussed the added value and contributions that this type research can bring to studies of the Arctic.

Marjo raised three points that are important for her in her own research: problematisation of our accepted truths and making the familiar strange, uncovering relations of power and having critique at the heart of research, without the obligation of coming up with solutions from the outset. There is often a strong call for Arctic research to have policy relevance and while this is an important aspect, Marjo’s intervention emphasized the value of doing research for sake of research itself. This does not preclude policy relevant solutions from forming at some point in the process.  

Sanna discussed the state-centric focus of Arctic International Relations research and called for the recognition of the intrinsic value of nature in the Arctic and beyond. She also briefly introduced her new research project focusing on planetary approaches to Arctic politics. In the project, her team will study what would social and political organization of Global Arctic politics look like if planetary justice was put at the heart of politics.

Rasmus addressed that the seemingly cliché of “we should not forget the peoples who actually live in the Arctic” still needs to be revisited, as this, alas, is often times overlooked in, for example, social sciences, security, and climate studies or by international actors such as the EU. Drawing on examples from his own research on Greenlandic foreign policy, he conveyed how practical insights from Greenlandic diplomats are key sources he utilizes. In addition, he also drew attention to the first survey on foreign and security policy in Greenland, with data from a nationally representative survey of Greenlanders’ views on security dynamics, Arctic cooperation, and views on Great Powers, etc., conducted by him and a colleague from Ilisimatusarfik.   

The roundtable drew a good amount of interested audience and generated discussion about the meaning of critique and the ways in which we understand it in contemporary Arctic research. There were some tricky and good questions posed from the audience about the novelty and relevance of Critical Arctic Studies. This roundtable is hopefully the first among many that will give us the chance to engage with each other and take the conversation further. Thank you to all those who participated!

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