Structural Inequality and the Sámi: Challenging Equality in the Nordic Welfare States

Text: Assi Harkoma
Photo: Berit Siilasjoki


Reindeer-husbandry legislation and regulations restrict the Sámi from practising traditional reindeer herding in Nordic states.

Critical research is needed to explore and expose the structural inequality affecting the Sámi. The Nordic states have failed to examine historical and ongoing colonial processes’ impacts on the Sámi. As a result, colonial practices and policies are rooted in, and inequalities exist as part of the social structures. Structural inequality creates conditions where the Sámi are systematically disadvantaged compared to the majority people in Nordic states. Structural forms of inequality are notoriously tricky to identify. The ignorance of the Sámi’s experiences of discrimination is not assisting the situation. What the mainstream population does not see is not challenging the Nordic welfare state narrative. There is a need for critical research that provides viable knowledge on structural inequality based on the Sámi’s experiences of discrimination. 

Structural inequality

According to Iris M. Young (2001) structural inequality is: “a set of reproduced processes that reinforce one another to enable or constrain individual actions […] that tend to privilege some more than other.” It is different from individual forms of discrimination.

Structural inequality results from a power imbalance, where the economic and political power groups set up institutions to benefit and direct resources to them and not the other groups in the society. (see, for example, Royce 2018)

Structural inequality is reproduced and reinforced by, unequal relations in rights, resources, opportunities, roles, functions, and so on, in the discriminatory practices of social institutions such as the justice system and legal institutions, and governmental, educational, healthcare, social welfare, and economic institutions as well as the media. (see, for example, Dani & de Haan 2008, 3)

It is a form of inequality that is notoriously difficult to identify. The reason is that the inequalities are embedded in the normal operations of social institutions. If the inequalities and scope of the phenomena are left unseen, it is easy to pretend that structural inequality does not exist, especially when it is challenging the Nordic welfare state narrative. 

Discrimination of the Sámi in Nordic states

The oppression and discrimination of the Sámi are in sharp contrast to the idea of the Nordic welfare state. In fact, the Nordic welfare model aims to create socioeconomic and social equality (see Kananen 2016). The public sector is set up to provide welfare services and social safety net for all citizens. Equal opportunities are created by reducing economic inequality and promoting social mobility. 

If the Nordic welfare states equally distribute benefits, such as health, education, and income, throughout the population, why do Sámi not have full and equal enjoyment of the social welfare and health care services or education in Finland? (see Ombudsman for Equality 2021 & Yhdenvertaisuusvaltuutettu 2021) 

Or, if Nordic welfare states create equal opportunities for all their citizens by reducing economic inequality and promoting social mobility, why approximately one in five Sami people are reported to experience discrimination, the most common form of discrimination is ethnic discrimination, and the Sami experience discrimination is much more frequently than the majority of Norwegians? (see Hansen 2016)

Especially when the national legislation and regulations, as well as international human rights conventions and declarations, safeguard the Sámi rights as Indigenous peoples and national minorities in Nordic countries. 

Colonialism in the Nordic states 

The problem lies in the failure the Nordic states´ to comprehensively account for the past and present impacts of colonial, assimilationist practices and policies towards the Sámi. The wrongdoings by the states vary from cultural assimilation practices to the dispossession of land and resources (Kuokkanen 2020). The Sámi experiences of colonialism are ignored by the Nordic states and not well-known among the mainstream population (Kuokkanen 2020). 

As a result, the colonial processes are rooted in and exist as part of the social structures in the Nordic states. In the Nordic countries, colonialism manifesteds itself in different and diverse forms, from conscious colonialistic actions and assimilation policies in Norway (Minde 2003) to more subtle but discriminating forms in Finland (Kortelainen 1968, 4; Lehtola 2012, 453-457 & 2015, 28). Colonialism has also taken a distinct settler colonial form and follows: “the settler colonial logic of elimination that seeks to assimilate and incorporate the Sámi into the state and its institutions” in Nordic countries (Kuokkanen 2020, 309). According to Lehtola (2015, 30), the common nominator is that the Nordic Sámi policies tend to create more structural injustices than outright violence.

It is important to recognise that not all colonial processes do not result in structural inequalities, and vice versa; new kinds of structural inequalities can arise and have emerged without a direct link to historical colonialism, but colonialism in different forms is a significant contributive factor to structural inequality.

Structural inequality and the Sámi

The oppression and discrimination of the Sámi is based on Indigeneity. Other aspects of a Sámi person’s identity, such as ethnicity, gender, geographic affiliation, age, wealth, health, and sexual orientation, can expose them to overlapping forms of discrimination. Therefore, groups like Sámi women are more likely to be discriminated against on multiple grounds. 

Sámi reindeer herder women are discriminated against on multiple grounds in Finland. They are discriminated against because they are Sámi, and the reindeer-husbandry legislation and regulations more suitable to Finnish-style small-scale reindeer husbandry (Näkkäläjärvi & Pennanen 2000:82) have more or less replaced and created significant obstacles to traditional Sámi reindeer herding system based on seasonal migration (Lehtola 2015, 28).

Sámi reindeer herder women are also discriminated against in different ways because they are women and, for example, not entitled to stand-in help when unable to work due to maternity leave, unlike women in the agriculture or fur farming industry. (see Ombudsman for Equality 2021 & Yhdenvertaisuusvaltuutettu 2021). 

When Sámi reindeer herder women´s different identities, such as Indigeneity and gender intersect, it produces distinct and intersecting forms of discrimination, limiting women´s possibilities to practice traditional Sámi reindeer herding as their main livelihood. Crenshaw (1989) refers to interlocking systems of power. 

Social structures continue to create inequalities for the Sámi in the Nordic welfare states. The limited cultural and political independence and rights Nordic states have given for the Sámi, and various decolonial efforts have not been able to end discrimination. Structural inequalities maintain the status quo, where the Sámi do not have self-determination let alone the political and economic power to make the broad, policy-based structural changes that often require governmental organisations. 

The Sámi have called for a public process to examine and expose the colonial processes and structures. More knowledge is needed on the effects of asymmetric power relations between the Sámi and the majority population (Lehtola 2015,). According to Kuokkanen (2020), approaching colonialism as a structural problem and concrete structural changes can lead to reconciliation and justice. Critical research on structural inequality can provide viable knowledge for the task. 

Critical research on structural inequality

When researchers examine Nordic social systems from top to bottom, operations of social institutions, laws, policies, etc., may seem neutral and treat all citizens equally. In the worst-case scenario, this research type produces a mainstream, simplified, and stereotypical understanding of the Nordic welfare model. It maintains and reaffirms colonial, assimilative policies and practices and structural forms of inequality. 

Instead, we need a critical, bottom-up analysis of social structures based on the Sámi peoples´ experiences of discrimination in Nordic states. The exposure of the Sámi discrimination experience is the important first step towards deconstructing structural forms of inequality and ending discrimination against the Sámi. The second step is to identify structural patterns from the discrimination experiences.  

Research should not represent the Sámi people as a homogenous group but engage with standpoints and voices from different Sami groups, such as women in reindeer herding, youth, and sexual and gender minorities, to reflect an assessment of social structures and inequalities they are producing.

Critical research can provide valuable knowledge on how different power structures and grounds for discrimination are connected with, reproduce, and reinforce each other in the Nordic welfare states. 

Assi Harkoma is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Lapland, Finland.


Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989) Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sew: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. Accessed on 8 May 2023

Dani, A. Anis & De Haan, Arjan (2008) Social Policy in Development Context: Structural Inequalities and Inclusive Institutions. In Anis A. Sani & Arjan de Haan (eds) Inclusive State: Social Policy and Structural Inequalities. The World Bank: Washington DC.

Hansen, Ketil Lenert (2016) Self-Reported Experience of Discrimination against Samis in Norway. Accessed on 8 May 2023

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Kuokkanen, R. (2020) Reconciliation as a Threat or Structural Change? The Truth and Reconciliation Process and Settler Colonial Policy Making in Finland. Hum Rights Review 21, 293–312.

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From the Covid-19 travel gridlock to a visitor record winter: Problematising the rebound of luxury tourism development in the Arctic from a moral economy perspective

Text and photo: Dorothee Bohn

The sign in front of a luxury-branded hotel tells local people who ski or exercise on the public cross-country skiing/outdoor recreation trail, which is located beside the tourist facility, that “you will soon arrive at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel’s accommodation area. Please move silently so that our guests can enjoy a pleasant moment of rest”. Source: Author.

The sign in front of a luxury-branded hotel tells local people who ski or exercise on the public cross-country skiing/outdoor recreation trail, which is located beside the tourist facility, that “you will soon arrive at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel’s accommodation area. Please move silently so that our guests can enjoy a pleasant moment of rest”.

Covid-19 hit the global tourism industry like no other previous crisis. In order to curb the spread of the virus, nation states closed their borders and restricted the mobility of citizens as well as leisure travelers. During 2020 and 2021, international tourist arrivals dropped around 70 percent and the export revenue of the sector declined about 60 percent compared to 2019 (UNWTO, n.d.). In 2022, when mobility restrictions were lifted, tourism recovered quickly. For instance, the winter season 2022/23 in Lapland is expected to break all pre-Covid-19 inbound visitation records and more international direct flight connections are currently available to the region than ever before (Talvensaari, 2022). Tourists are happy to be able to travel again and the local media expects an economic boost for northern Finland from this “super winter” (Tolppi, 2022).

Is this rebound of international ‘business as usual’ tourism an occurrence that should be celebrated unequivocally? A quick glance at destination management organizations’ websites assures us that Arctic tourism is sustainable and a responsible traveler can consume in good conscience. Yet, in the introduction to the recently published book Critical Studies of the Arctic, Unravelling the North, Marjo Lindroth et al. (2022) underscore that critical research revolves also around the problematization of taken for granted issues and practices that seem to offer ‘the’ truth. Tourism development in peripheries falls oftentimes into this category of largely undisputed social facts due the sector’s promise of jobs and contributions to economic growth. Hence, I discuss the growth of high-value/low volume luxury tourist enclaves, which represent a particular salient post-Covid 19 tourism pathway in the European Arctic, from the vantage point of moral (political) economy. This form of tourism is often touted as a more sustainable and economically viable development option for remote areas than conventional travel and hospitality (e.g. Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö, 2022) and received recently considerable amounts of public funding.

Tourism in the Arctic

During the past 20 years, tourism has been growing considerably in the Arctic, albeit characterized by a strong concentration in hotspots (Runge et al., 2020). Some places became popular destinations due to regional planning (for instance in Finnish Lapland) others because of their gateway position to tourist attractions. Tourism plays also an increasing role within regional development strategies, particularly as a means to achieve growth-based but sustainable development. Greenland represents a vivid example. High hopes are placed into tourism as an economic opportunity that can support the island’s aspired independence from Denmark (Bjørst & Ren, 2015).

The main pull factor for visiting the Arctic is the region’s instagramable nature. Tourism firms offer a wide range of soft nature-based activities, such as dogsledding, snowmobile trips, aurora hunting tours, wildlife watching, cruise expeditions, and reindeer farm visits (Rantala et al., 2018). Extreme adventure tourism is far smaller segment. However, international Arctic tourism is often highly energy and emission intensive due to long flight routes and fossil fuel-based activities. Jamie D’Souza and colleagues (2021) found that for some Arctic tourist activities, such as polar bear viewing, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have grown signifyingly over the past decade. Even though the disastrous risks of environmental change are well recognized within the travel sector, the common policy response is to promote efficiency gains through technological solutions in line with the green growth paradigm (Scott & Gössling, 2022). Arctic destinations engage therefore frequently in zero carbon initiatives and offsetting. Yet, Alix Varnajot and Jarkko Saarinen (2022) argue that the desire of tourists to experience the Arctic as a cold and snowy wilderness actually accelerates the thawing of its icescapes.

The rise of luxury enclaves in the Arctic: postsocial spaces surrounded by exclusive nature

While voyages to the high Arctic have always been an expensive and exclusive undertaking, the tourism sector in the European high north increasingly amends mass-standardized and low service quality tourism, which is affordable for the broader society, with low volume/ high value products for affluent travelers. This trend can be observed around the world. For instance, in the Dutch province Zeeland, many ordinary camping grounds and public beaches were transformed by real estate developers into high-end tourist facilities by the sea. These luxury design enclaves are surrounded by conservation areas. In addition to wildlife protection, the purpose of these ‘artificial’ nature areas is to generate revenues by offering the rich an eye-pleasing and relaxing retreat from hectic city life. Such exclusive tourist enclaves are also on the rise in the European Arctic (see

Characteristic for these facilities is an architectural style that combines vast glass fronts, natural building materials, and Nordic minimalism with (im)material local culture. This signature design differentiates the enclave from its surrounding local context but renders it familiar to its global target audience (see Saarinen, 2001). Indeed, glass elements (curtain walls) and expensive minimalist interior design are the embodied hallmarks of power and wealth in contemporary capitalism (Simpson, 2013). Affluent international tourists enjoy a comfortable stay in this environment coupled with exquisite cuisine and a wide range of soft nature-based activities. Neither is there the need to leave these sheltered micro-destinations and explore the surrounding region independently nor to meet other people except for the service staff. Mattew Soules (2021) calls such dwellings therefore postsocial spaces. Exclusive enclaves are not only sheltering the rich from the rest of the society through a distinctive architecture of isolation but the built environment serves also as a depository for wealth and an investment asset. Soules (2021) writes that “the avoidance of social contamination effectively abstracts domestic space and removes it from collective entanglements, ultimately facilitating its postsocial role -that of a tradeable financial asset”.

The purposeful seclusiveness of luxury resorts, which promises the rich a care-free time out of sight of regular folks, stands in stark contrast to the Nordic conception of access to land and the traditional egalitarian approach to society. The everyman’s rights grant all people the freedom to roam on public as well as on private lands and domestic tourism used to be accessible for all social classes (see Anttila, 2014). Moreover, these high-end enclaves oftentimes privatize scenic spots that were once public lands (e.g. Ávila-García & Sánchez, 2012). Privacy and landscape picturesqueness are imbued in the marketing messages of the Arctic enclaves with personal wellbeing. The clean and unspoiled nature surrounding the tourist accommodation provides exclusive physical and mental health benefits. As in the case of the Netherlands, nature becomes a luxury object itself in a world that is battered by displacement, inequality, and the grave effects of accelerating climate change.

The deserving rich and the undeserving poor?

The naturalized understanding that the rich deserve to holiday in such places while the poor are denied access is problematic in many respects. At the heart of this belief lies neoliberal rationality, which holds that the individual alone is the architect of their own fortune. Structural aspects of inequality and unjust distribution are outweighed by a person’s responsibility for their self-valorization in a competitive global market (Chandler & Reid, 2016). Instead of social solidarity, neoliberal reasoning furthers the view that people who fail to succeed financially are to blame for their own situation and do not merit the help of others (Dardot & Laval, 2013). Hence, the rich occupy not only an economically superior position but also a moral one even though much of their wealth is not self-earned through hard and honest work but obtained though inheritance and investments (Piketty, 2014).

Furthermore, wealthy people’s lifestyles and vacation habits generate generally more GHG emissions than those of middle- or low-income groups (Gore, 2020). Arctic luxury tourism itself has a comparatively large ecological footprint. Tourism firms usually justify these emission intensive pleasure trips for the rich by stressing their function as environmental ambassadors. Do wealthy people who jet set around the world really care? How persuasive is their ambassadorship? Do a few Instagram posts profoundly impact on global climate policy? Does their consumption convince other people to refrain from consumption? Andrew Sayer’s (2015) reply to such questions is a categorical no. He asserts that the “‘rich’ are incompatible with a sustainable future” and that we simply can’t afford them in the light of accelerating climate collapse (Morgan, 2022, p. 124). Sayer’s (2015) proposition is not an ad hominem argument but a systemic critique. Current neoliberal capitalism, predicated upon endless economic growth, warrants urgent reform since absolute decoupling through technological innovation remains a distant goal (Hickel & Kallis, 2020). The gatekeepers for profound political and socio-economic transformations are the rich; yet their inertia seems to outweigh their willingness for change (Sayer, 2015).

Taking stock from a moral economy perspective

Scholars of moral economy remind us that there is nothing natural about this neoliberal growth-based economy where profits are put before people (Morgan, 2022). Moral economy is a field that interrogates the value underpinning of the economy, how institutions reproduce economic organization, and how an economy, which stays within planetary boundaries and facilitates equal wealth distribution, should look like (Sayer, 2007). This field also sheds light on “what kind of “people” and “society” particular economic activities tend to create” (Sejersen, 2022, p. 164). From this vantage point, exclusive luxury tourism is not just frivolous and unjust, but also a short-sighted development strategy. Of course, high-end tourism generates revenues that contribute to regional growth but its long-term ecological impacts that affect the whole globe should not be ignored. Another aspect of particularly nature-focused luxury tourism is that environmental commons are enshrined for the consumption and capital accumulation of a wealthy minority. The rich can afford to live in a parallel fairytale world, far away from precarity and ecological crises. ‘Clean nature’, which is the major attraction factor of luxury tourism in the Arctic, turns from a common good into an exchange value asset. Instead of working hard towards securing a habitable nature for everyone, it seems that the last unspoiled spots on earth become privatized at an increasing pace while socio-economic sustainability transformations advance at an incremental pace at best. Yet, the conditionality of access to land and high-quality services upon financial power is largely normalized. Even deaths due to environmental pollution and climate change seem to be acceptable collateral damage for economic growth (see Hall, 2022). For instance, Ella Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year old underprivileged girl from London, died in February 2013 of her asthma amplified by exposure to severe air pollution (Laville, 2020). She was not given the possibility to live or holiday in a place with clean air.

From a normative perspective, it is time to rethink the accumulation of luxury tourism and its instrumental but naturalized role in alienating people from their lands. We should not welcome the post-Covid-19 rebound of a tourism product that thrives on inequality, short-sighted investments, and pleasure for a minority that causes costs for the majority. Indeed, tourism researchers with interest in post-growth alternatives to socio-economic organization emphasize that resource-intensive forms of luxury travel require termination if we aspire equality and an economy that operates within planetary boundaries (e.g. Fletcher et al., 2021). Furthermore, we should repoliticize tourism development along with the economy and ask more questions regarding who gets what, why, and how. In Sayer’s (2007) approach to moral economy, social sciences have a role to play not only in critically questioning political economic order but also in creating alternatives. Such a task requires, first and foremost, that we (collectively) break free from our own neoliberal subjectivity and leave its institutional baggage behind.

Dorothee Bohn is a PhD candidate at the Department of Geography, Umeå, Sweden. Her thesis examines Arctic tourism development and governance from a political economy perspective. Dorothee is also interested in finance geographies and the manifold nature-society relations in peripheries.


Anttila, A. H. (2014). Leisure as a matter of politics: The construction of the Finnish democratic model of tourism from the 1940s to the 1970s. Journal of Tourism History, 5(3), 325–345.

Ávila-García, P., & Sánchez, E. L. (2012). The Environmentalism of the Rich and the Privatization of Nature: High-End Tourism on the Mexican Coast. Latin American Perspectives, 39(6), 51–67.

Bjørst, L. R., & Ren, C. (2015). Steaming Up or Staying Cool? Tourism Development and Greenlandic Futures in the Light of Climate Change. Arctic Anthropology, 52(1), 91–101.

Chandler, D. & Reid, J. (2016). The neoliberal subject. Resilience, adaptation and vulnerability. Rowman & Littlefield.

Dardot, P. & Laval, C. (2013). The new way of the world: on neoliberal society. Verso.

D’Souza, J., Dawson, J., & Groulx, M. (2021). Last chance tourism: a decade review of a case study on Churchill, Manitoba’s polar bear viewing industry. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1–19.

Fletcher, R., Blanco-Romero, A., Blázquez-Salom, M., Cañada, E., Murray Mas, I., & Sekulova, F. (2021). Pathways to post-capitalist tourism. Tourism Geographies, 1–22.

Gore, T. (2020). Confronting carbon inequality: Putting climate justice at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery. Oxfam.

Hall, C. M. (2022). Tourism and the Capitalocene: From Green Growth to Ecocide. Tourism Planning & Development, 19(1), 61–74.

Hickel, J., & Kallis, G. (2020). Is Green Growth Possible? New Political Economy, 25(4), 469–486.

Koivisto, J. (2022). Matkailuala on kohdannut ennätyksellien suuren työvoimapulan, johon ratkaisuksi ehdotetaan luopumista nolla-tuntisopimuksista ja muutoksia sosiaalietuuksiin. Lapin Kansa. Retrieved from:

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Lindroth, M., Sinevaara-Niskanen, H. & Tennberg, M. (2022). Introduction: Alternative Lenses on the Arctic. In M. Lindroth, H. Sinevaara-Niskanen & M. Tennberg (Eds). Critical Studies of the Arctic. Unravelling the North, pp. 1-14. Springer.

Morgan, J. (2022). Andrew Sayer on inequality, climate emergency and ecological breakdown.
Can we afford the rich? In B. Sanghera & G. Calder (Eds) Ethics, Economy and Social Science.Dialogues with Andrew Sayer, pp. 121-138. Routledge.

Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the twenty-first century. Harvard University Press.

Rantala, O., Hallikainen, V., Ilola, H., & Tuulentie, S. (2018). The softening of adventure tourism. Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 18(4), 343–361.

Runge, C. A., Daigle, R. M., & Hausner, V. H. (2020). Quantifying tourism booms and the increasing footprint in the Arctic with social media data. PLOS ONE, 15(1), e0227189.

Saarinen, J. (2001). The transformation of a tourist destination. Theory and case studies on the production of local geographies in tourism in Finnish Lapland. Nordia Geographical Publications.

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Simpson, T. (2013). Scintillant Cities: Glass Architecture, Finance Capital, and the Fictions of Macau’s Enclave Urbanism. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(7–8), 343–371.

Sejersen, F. (2022). Moral Economy In: M. Lindroth, H. Sinevaara-Niskanen & M. Tennberg (Eds). Critical Studies of the Arctic. Unravelling the North, pp. 163-184. Springer.

Soules, M. (2021). Icebergs, Zombies, and the Ultra-Thin: Architecture and Capitalism in the twenty-first Century.  Princeton Architectural Press.

Talvensaari, L. (2022). Rovaniemelle avautuu historiallinen matkailutalvi: suoralla reittiennolla pääsee 11:een Euroopan kaupunkiin kokosimme yhteen kohteet, ajankohdat ja esimerkkihinnat. Lapin Kansa. Retrieved from:

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Challenging assumptions on rewilding the Nordic nature

Text: Monica Tennberg & Carina Keskitalo
Photo: Monica Tennberg

Landscape in Lapland.

The late French sociologist Bruno Latour challenged the separation of humans and nature typical in our modern thinking. In his view, we have never been modern; our relations to nature are multiple and entangled. Thus, Latour suggested that we should rethink our modernist distinctions to include the non-human in our activities. This could mean that we include the non-humans, that is, species and ecosystems, as part of our social fabric and give them a status of an actor; we should understand societal relations to nature without fixed or static categories, and we should seek institutional and procedural innovations to reconnect the social to the non-human.

The conception of “wilderness” as a place without people follows the Western tradition to divide the world into distinct categories that separate humans and nature. Often wilderness is seen as a place where people are visitors to an uninhabited area. This idea has been thoroughly criticized, showing that even early peoples in fact managed nature, and that most nature areas – even those we today see as natural landscapes – were affected by human use. The idea of “wilderness” has never been prominent in the Nordic tradition where people live, work and interact with the nature in many ways. Instead, nature has been conceived of as “outland” or “erämaa”: areas which were used for specific purposes even if they were outside owned property. In this conception, nature is thus not empty, but includes people, not only as visitors, but as residents and work force.

Today, the idea of nature as places with people absent is again coming to affect also the thoroughly managed Nordic landscapes, not the least through the “rewilding” movement. What does it mean to “rewild”, to what kind of “wilderness” and by what means and by whom?

Nordic resource politics and governance provides an excellent case to study dynamics of human-nature relations. The Nordic area is often considered as a “modern”, populated, industrialized area but has historically been relatively rural areas. A large amount of people in northern regions live in cities and are employed in modern livelihoods, such as administration, education and health care. However, at the same time, traditional livelihoods, such as reindeer herding, small-scale fishing and agriculture remain prominent, but are often practiced drawing on high technological means as part of international and often global production systems. This result in that people are intertwined with nature in many ways, which involve issues of sustainability, justice and well-being. Land use conflicts are often prominent and include questions of access, ownership, use and sharing benefits from the nature-based activities, such as mining, forestry, fisheries, tourism and energy industry. Today the region is governed by complex, multiscale set of institutional, democratic arrangements, the countries are industrialized, export-based, welfare states, and embedded in global economy in many ways. The region provides an excellent place to study modern human-nature relations in its complexity. 

In the context of different cases that relate the Nordic nature, we ask: How to study relationally diverse human-nature relations in Nordic resource politics beyond modernist assumptions? What can we learn from Nordic human-nature relations in relation to understanding non-binary relations between human and nature? And how can the current legal and political institutions better recognize nature and non-humans in their practices?

These questions were discussed by fourteen participants in a Nordic workshop organized at Luleå University of Technology, Sweden 25-26 October 2022. The next workshop will be held in Oulu 9-10 February 2023 to discuss further cooperation. The Luleå workshop was organized by Monica Tennberg, University of Lapland and Carina Keskitalo, Umeå University (workshop organisers) and Maria Petterson, Luleå, University of Technology (local host).

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!

Lectio recut

Text and pictures: Joonas Vola

In the blog, Joonas Vola presents a radical reworking of his Arctic research “Homunculus: Bearing Incorporeal Arcticulations” by cutting the introductory lecture, lectio praecursoria of his public defence into pieces and reconstructing a new whole from its fragments.

Besides of linear reading, the text may form surprising and unexpected links self-referentially, enstrengthening the argument or even making way for new ones. Intratext (see Palmer 2002, 1; Sharrock 2019; Vola 2022, 5–6) has the capasity to restructure the data that it consists of, that is to say, it may know and learn. An argument or a research finding might already be in the text, but we haven’t yet made the connections. We don’t know that the text knows …

You may reconstitute the text from the phographed pieces of cut text, in respect of the role of the reader. Some of the contents are written down fragmentarily to ease the accessability.

the Arctic in Change

ARCTICULATION,  joining a-part of the Arctic” […] ‘what if the Arctic is not the same phenomenon, but rather an outcome of scientific and artistic practices, an entanglement of discursive traits that have been put together’. Following the terminology of Karen Barad: What if the Arctic is rather cut together than being a part of the same unity.

In writing my doctoral dissertation, I replaced the research questions with a research outcome, an answer towards which to navigate through different questions and research tasks. A unified research object “the Arctic”, under critical study and alternative ways of writing led to a portmanteau word “Arcticulation”, blending together the words Arctic and articulation. This term emphasises the critical approach towards the unifying features of the Arctic, and emphasises the heterogenous and actively connected differentiated parts joined (articulated) together. Here it is critically important to recognise the role of the research, where the research concerning the Arctic in change is articulating and constituting both the Arctic and its conditions.

The single most defining feature of the Arctic currently, is the permanency of this continuous change, that makes it the only constant, the only unifying feature of the Arctic.
A quote from J. D. Salinger’s book The Catcher in the Rye: ‘I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes’

While one contributes to the Arctic research, the given statements becomes part of the Arctic discourse, bearing its weight and carrying it further. For a critical scholar, one has to bear this in mind, not to turn a blind eye to the history of the terminology or involved scientific practices.

Umberto Eco’s term: an open text, for future re-workings, to follow Karen Barad’s words.
While working in a textorium [Max van Manen], in accordance with Jean Paul Sartre, writing really is the method.

Since we can consider arctic as a scientific and political discourse, where discourse should be considered both linguistically and materially, a word incarnated, any repetition or rewriting either re-establishes a status quo or radically challenges the current status of the subject under study. Therefore, the research does no only take place in a specific territory as a research field, or due to implicated policy briefs, but begins to change in the moment when the studied phenomenon is pinned or written down. The research subject has another related live in the textual landscape. 

So(?), is the Arctic in Change, a fact or a work of fiction?

Because the understanding and image of the Arctic is constituted from different descriptions and recordings, utilising the means and methods of both science and art, and since it has historical, mythological and modern meanings, one has to ask whether the research topic is factual or fictional. To state this radically, the Arctic is not a research object or field, it is an outcome of research; in other words, it does not precede research, but becomes in the process. Here the mimesis (art imitating nature) and anti-mimesis (nature imitating art) have to meet in a synthesis (the art of nature-making).

This most obvious constancy, is the one we should most carefully observe, since the obvious is the one that hides the extraordinary.
Applying the literal work of Milan Kundera, I would state that the Arctic is an intelligible lie, and an unintelligible truth.

It is common to find the Arctic from spectacles, such as declarations, strategies, works of art, and vast scale crisis, “natural” or “political”. These occasional performances are intelligible moment where the Artic is underlined, but which nevertheless disregard the constant state of relations in alteration. That is the unintelligible part of the Arctic, arcticness or arcticality. The critical thought should be targeted to the most obvious and mundane things, where the Arctic ‘takes place’. They are source where the Arctic hides and resides, and may bear fruit for critical inquiries and radical thought.

This is not about the hat, this is about digesting and incorporating a paradigm constituted by science. This is about bearing incorporeal arcticulations.

The scientific practice for developing critical Arctic studies, must recognise what the paradigm which it both feeds into and emerges from has eaten and what keeps its literal body running and growing.   

Joonas Vola is a scholar of political science in the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi. Vola has concentrated in Arctic research context and has an interest in politics of aesthetics, post-humanism, new materialism and political economy.


Barad, Karen (2010). Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come. Derrida Today 3(2), 240–268.

Barad, Karen (2012). What Is the Measure of Nothingness: Infinity, Virtuality, Justice. 100 Notes,100 Thoughts. Documenta Series 099.

Eco, Umberto (1984) [1979]. The Role of the Reader. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Kundera, Milan (1984): The Unbearable Lightness of Being. London: Faber and Faber.

Palmer, Kent (2002). Intratextuality: Exploring the Unconscious of the Text. [Accessed 1.2.2022].

Salinger, Jerome David (1951). The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Sharrock, Alison (2019). Intratextuality. Oxford Classical Dictionary. [Accessed 25.6.2021].

van Manen, Max (2014). Phenomenology of Practice: Meaning-Giving Methods in Phenomenological

Research and Writing. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Vola, Joonas (2022). Homunculus: Bearing Incorporeal Arcticulations. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 334. ISBN 978-952-337-309-9, ISSN 1796-6310. Lapin yliopisto, Rovaniemi.

A tale of an Arctic cod

Text: Sohvi Kangasluoma

Photo: Juho Karhu

As we enter a harbor on a calm winter night in northern Iceland, the distinct smell of fish welcomes us. The scent of a fish greets us in almost every harbor, as the small boat harbors are often surrounded by fiskkaup — fish plants where the fishermen bring the fish to be processed.

The scent of fish has followed our journey all the way from northern Norway to Faroe Islands and finally here to Iceland. Fishing has been, and still is, the backbone of these North Atlantic nations: fish and its importance are seen and felt within all these societies and cultures. The towns were born around good fishing grounds and safe harbors, where the fish factories were built. In a way, these marine societies emerged around the beautiful Arctic cod, majestic fin whales and mysterious routes of the herring.

In all the harbors, small or big, you still see few of these traditional small two-person boats, fishing for their quota of Arctic cod, or the little bit bigger longliners. However, the nature of fishing has changed. Each year there are fewer small boats and more huge trawlers owned by a few companies, while fewer people earn their living from the fish. The bottom trawlers catch many sorts of fish: cod, haddock, saithe, redfish, and Greenland halibut. The changed, some might say evolved, technologies give little to no chance for the fish (or any other living creatures) to escape from the monsters scraping the seafloor.

Photo: Juho Karhu

The amount of fish allowed to be caught is determined by nationally defined quotas for each species. The operation, division and practice of the quota policies vary a bit within these Nordic nations, but the development of the ownership structure of the quotas is increasingly shifting towards the big actors. For example, in Iceland, in 2015, 70% of the quota was owned by the 20 largest companies, while in 1992 only 36% of the quota was owned by the 20 biggest companies. This means that there are fewer and fewer small boats and actors, while the remaining vessels (and companies) get bigger and bigger. (Chambers, Helgadóttir & Carothers 2017; Icelandic Directorate of Fisheries 2016.)

Besides the changes in the equipment and quota policies, also these odd-looking circles in the ocean have emerged: fish farms. As we glide along the northern waters and northern coastlines, the little fish signs found on the navigation maps have become more and more common, notifying the tired sailors to keep an eye for these out-of-place looking sea circles.

In all these North Atlantic marine nations, Iceland, Faroes and Norway, fish farming (interestingly, also called aquaculture) forms a vast part of the fishing industry nowadays. Huge amounts of fish, usually salmon, are first grown in hatcheries, and then released and kept in sea cages, attached to the sea bed in calm fjords.

The concept of fishing, in its traditional sense, is quite hard to find within the large-scale trawling — and especially in the fish farm industry. The ecological harm caused by trawling is well-documented, as well as the damage to the seabed and water quality, caused by fish farming. The philosophy behind fish farms seems odd, at least to me. The stock of fish is approached like a bag of seeds grown to make bread, even though the fish are living creatures, with a proven ability to feel pain.

Our attachment to the non-humans and the environment is crucial in defining what we value and what we care for. Laura Kaikkonen and Ingrid van Putten (2021) examine the attitudes people have about deep-sea mining. They note that the symbolic value people place on the deep sea, or other remote areas, shapes how people feel about extracting it. The emotional association, more than knowledge, determines people’s attitude about extracting it. Personal experiences are crucial also in relation to fisheries. In her research, Andrea Nightingale (2013) explores the attachment of fishermen to the sea, the subjectivities and emotions they have towards the environment and the communities, and how it affects the management of fisheries. She shows how the emotive reactions and the wish to sustain the local fish ground are connected to the sense of belonging to a place, to a community.

Photo: Juho Karhu

Chambers, Helgadóttir & Carothers (2017, 4) note that after the changes within the Icelandic quota system, “entitlement to fish became detached from place and became the property of individuals who were free to sell their quota outside the community”. The personal connection to the fish is different when the creature in question is swimming far away from your home. To understand and preserve the relationship of humans to the sea, and to the fish, the role of emotions and affect must be understood and acted upon. The circle in the middle of a distant fjord, or the huge trawler sailing the faraway seas, is inaccessible and thus invisible from the people it is all grown and caught for, us consumers — making it also harder to feel connection or empathy towards the fish.

For me, Critical Arctic Studies means looking at things from a different viewpoint. It means deconstructing what has been constructed, questioning the unquestioned, and challenging the unchallenged. Being able to look at the Arctic environment from the level of a captivated salmon, and perhaps, challenge the capitalist ontology the modern societies work on.  In practice, paying attention to the patterns and practices in the northern minds and societies, that are not always considered as meaningful, or don’t always get a say — just like the Arctic cod.

Sohvi Kangasluoma is a PhD candidate at University of Helsinki. Her dissertation focuses on the production of oil and gas in the Arctic, and its entanglements with gender, emotions and human security. She lives in a sailboat in the northern waters, currently in Iceland, and observing fishing boats is her daily hobby.


Chambers, C., Helgadóttir, G. & Carothers, C. (2017) “Little kings”: community, change and conflict in Icelandic fisheries. Maritime Studies 16, 10 (2017). DOI: 10.1186/s40152-017-0064-6

Kaikkonen, L. & Van Putten, I. (2021) We may not know much about deep sea mining, but do we care about mining it? People and Nature vol 3, issue 4. DOI: 10.1002/pan3.10224

Nightingale, A. (2013) Fishing for nature: the politics of subjectivity and emotion in Scottish inshore fisheries management. Environment and Planning vol 45, p. 2362 – 2378. DOI:10.1068/a45340

Icelandic Directorate of Fisheries (2016) Available:

ICES Fisheries overview (2019) Available:

Arctic winescapes

Text: Iana Nesterova

Winescape is a term used to describe the interplay of “vineyards; wineries and other physical structures; wines; natural landscape and setting; people; and heritage, town(s) and buildings and their architecture and artefacts within, and more.” (Johnson and Bruwer, 2007). The Arctic region is not the first region that comes to mind when we contemplate wine production. While regions such as Rheinhessen in Germany and Alsace in France have traditionally been associated with wine production, speaking of wine in relation to, for instance, Northern Finland and Northern Sweden provokes disbelief, astonishment, curiosity, and, of course, further questions. In this blog post, I will briefly introduce the notion of Arctic winescapes and invite a critical approach to them.

Defining Arctic winescapes

Arctic winescapes are winescapes of the Arctic region. Wine production is possible and is unfolding in this region, though for such production not grapes, but (mainly) blueberries and lingonberries are used. Such berries grow naturally in the Arctic forests without the need for cultivation, fertilisers, pesticides, or other human interference. These berries are natural and integral features and living beings of Arctic landscapes and cultures. Oftentimes, berries such as blueberries and lingonberries are seen as an underexplored and underutilised resource of the Arctic region. While indeed it is believed that only 5 % of berries are used, by both humans and non-human beings, to view wild berries as merely a resource to be utilised may not be the best phrasing and approach. Contemplating Arctic winescapes specifically as opposed to wild berries-as-resource opens new spaces for novel and critical approaches.

Wines made from local blueberries and lingonberries are artisanal rather than mass-produced by corporations. Companies crafting such wines recognise their dependence on nature and embeddedness within both natural and social ecologies and take time to develop their products while paying attention to the journey of the product from a story, to a more concrete idea, and finally to consumption.

Visit to an Arctic winery

Recently I had an opportunity to visit and converse with Idunn, a wine-producing company in Norsjö, a locality in Swedish Västerbotten county. I learned that developing a wine made of local wild berries is a long process that took the company several years of trial and error and a long path from making the wine for consumption at home to a product that is available for others to buy. The company uses local frozen berries which allows wine production to take place throughout the year. Combining them with water, sugar and yeast in large vats and allowing them to ferment results in wine. Even though the production of berry wine is local in many senses, such as the company itself being local and berries coming from the local area, there is also a global outreach. For instance, the equipment used to produce wine in the case of Idunn comes from Tuscany, while the expert who helped this wine to be made commercially available came from Canada. Moreover, there is interest in Arctic wine elsewhere in Europe.

Features of Artic winescapes

Idunn is one of several companies which are features (amongst others) of Arctic winescapes. For instance, there are ca. 25 wineries in Finland (Suomen Viiniyrittäjät, 2022), Ranua-Revontuuli in Finnish Lapland being the most northern one while the rest are located in the South of Finland (Suomen Viiniyrittäjät, 2022). It is essential to note that Arctic wine-producing companies themselves and the wines they produce, as well as the companies (such as restaurants) purchasing these wines, are not the only features of Arctic winescapes. Perhaps the main features are the ones that in the first place make such production possible, i.e., ecosystems including forests and plants on which berries grow.

It is likewise important to remember the participation of multiple humans in the process of wine production. Apart from owner-managers of businesses and employees involved in, for instance, labelling and packaging of wine bottles, many humans are involved in wild berry picking. Such employment in the capitalist society often opens spaces for exploitation, especially that of migrant women (Hedberg, 2016). This may provide a starting point for a necessarily critical exploration of Arctic winescapes. In other words, not only Arctic winescapes themselves is a concept that challenges our thinking, but the processes of production themselves should be subjects to critical evaluation.

Deep transformations

The unfolding of Arctic winescapes can be viewed in the light of deep transformations (Buch-Hansen and Nesterova, 2021), that is, intentional transformations in society aimed at harmonious co-existence between humans and nature as well as within humanity. Contemplating deep transformations of Arctic winescapes means asking questions about the intra and intersubjective, relational, social, cultural, political, and geographical aspects of being and becoming of the winemaking industry in the Arctic region. Some of the questions may include reflecting on the possibility of Arctic winescapes being post-growth. Some features of post-growth thought are in fact growth in nature-connectedness and care (Buch-Hansen, 2021) as well as growth in opportunities for localisation of production, innovation and creativity.

Dr. Iana Nesterova is Postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Geography at Umeå University, Sweden


Buch-Hansen, H. (2021) Modvækst som paradigme, politisk projekt og bevægelse. Nyt fokus: Fra økonomisk vækst til bæredygtig udvikling, (17),

Buch-Hansen, H. and Nesterova, I. (2021) Towards a science of deep transformations: Initiating a dialogue between degrowth and critical realism. Ecological Economics, 190, 107188.

Hedberg, C. (2016) ‘Doing gender’ in the wild berry industry: Transforming the role of Thai women in rural Sweden 1980–2012. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 23(2), pp. 169–184.

Johnson, R. and Bruwer, J. (2007) Regional brand image and perceived wine quality: the consumer perspective. International Journal of Wine Business Research, 19 (4), pp. 276-297.

Suomen Viiniyrittäjät (2022) Finnish country wineries. Available at:

Critical Arctic Studies  –  A short introduction to the idea and its background

Text: Monica Tennberg, Marjo Lindroth and Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen

Photo: Arctic Centre/Risto Viitanen

In the discussions in the early 2010s in the Northern political economy research group at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland, we identified with our colleagues a need for critical analysis in Arctic research. We found problematic the ways in which questions, such as, gender, indigeneity and development were conceptualised and constructed in contemporary Arctic political and scientific discourses. For us, critical research on the Arctic means looking at issues that have been disregarded to date, studying intersecting developments and analysing afresh the ways in the Arctic, its peoples and development are perceived.

These discussions materialized in the first session ever about Critical Arctic Studies, known also as CAS, which was held in connection to the VIII International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), Prince George, Canada, in 2014. The session welcomed presenters that identified with a critical approach to topical research, concepts and phenomena in the Arctic. The aim of the session was to foster a dialogue between research disciplines, researchers and approaches in order to grasp the current Arctic developments more fully, and to see beyond the short-term political needs and desires. The session was chaired by Marjo Lindroth and Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen from University of Lapland, Finland.

In the Northern political economy research group, annual Northern political economy symposiums provided a forum to develop our critical approaches to Arctic research with an increasing participation by junior and senior scholars from the region and beyond. In the symposiums, we have recently discussed, for example, the nature of development, governance and power relations in the Arctic. Also, these discussions led to a joint book by the research group members to discuss Arctic resources in the context of social and cultural sustainabilities (Tennberg, Lempinen & Pirnes 2020).

In this book, on the one hand (natural) resources, their value and importance are understood as socially and culturally constructed and on the other hand, there is a conscious effort in the book chapters to shift the focus from the natural resource-focused perspective to address issues of social, human and cultural resources and capabilities in shaping Arctic sustainability. The book advances the understandings of complex entanglements between resources, peoples and development in the Arctic and also contributes to debates about sustainable development in an increasingly globalized world.

The year 2021 was an important year for promoting the CAS idea within the larger Arctic research community. A UArctic thematic network Critical Arctic Studies was established then with partners from University of Copenhagen, University of Cambridge, St. Petersburg state university, Ural Federal University and University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and new members, University of Umeå, University of Iceland and Kola Science Centre, joined the thematic network in early 2022. The thematic network aims at strengthening critical approaches in Arctic research, advance critical research and education and facilitate discussion on ways of doing critical research in/about the Arctic. During the first year, for example, a roundtable was organized to discuss language hegemony in Arctic research in collaboration with the Association for polar early career scientists, APECS.

More activities are planned, and updates will be posted in the CAS websites and facebook. You are most welcome to join our activities. 

What is your view about critical approaches in Arctic research?

Monica Tennberg, research professor, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland
Marjo Lindroth, university researcher, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland
Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen, university researcher, Faculty of education, University of Lapland


Tennberg, M., Lempinen, H. & Pirnes, S., eds. (2020). Resources, social and cultural sustainabilities in the Arctic. Routledge.