Arctic Social Sciences Program | 2001 Workshop Summaries
The themes and working groups were:
- the role of humans in northern environmental history and pre-history;
- institutional development in the Arctic, such as self-governance, common property management, and informal decision-making;
- linkages between identity and socioeconomic transitions in the Arctic; and
- traditional knowledge and the intersection between the social sciences and the humanities.
The questions addressed in each working session were:
- What is the ìstate of the artî in this area of research? What are the critical unknowns (the gaps in knowledge that prevent further inquiry in these areas)?
- With regard to these unknowns, which are most tractable and mature (ripe) for research efforts?
- What are the impediments to the conduct of this priority research?
- What unique lessons can be learned from the arctic environment? How can comparative research be designed to help sort out the unique contributions of the arctic?
- What research questions would benefit from more extensive collaboration between academia and agencies? How?
- What research questions in the identified thematic area intersect with other fields, either within or beyond the social sciences disciplinesói.e., in the natural sciences and the humanities?
- What is needed to move research in this area forward and how could that best be accomplished? (i.e., improved interagency collaboration, a focused research initiative, better links with scientists of other disciplines, more international research collaborations, more dedicated funding.)
- What planning mechanisms will best support these actions (i.e., small focused workshop or a series of workshops, a large conference, a single proposal, other?) Is planning needed?
Following is a brief summary of the discussions in each working group. This is by no means a comprehensive statement of what was discussed.
The study of human-environment interactions is inherently interdisciplinary, as researchers examine the web of natural and social factors that define the relationship between humans and the environment. Studies to date have offered insights into abrupt ecological changes and human responses, the environmental impacts of human settlement, and the ways that social and technological changes have altered resource use over time.
While our knowledge is increasing, gaps exist in chronological and geographical coverage of arctic populations. In addition, researchers need to look beyond the Arctic to identify similar patterns or critical differences. Today, a number of areas are particularly ripe for research. These include integrative diachronic and synchronic studies, the inclusion of local knowledge and perspectives in interpreting findings, and the development of data repositories. The area of data archiving and dissemination represents a crucial need. Efforts to define appropriate scales of resolution for data, analysis, and dissemination are only beginning.
Three vital areas of current institutional development in the Arctic are self-governance, common property arrangements, and informal decision-making. Many indigenous and some other groups throughout the Arctic are asserting their preferences for self-government in various forms and at various geographic scales, from village-level governments to Sami Parliaments to Nunavut. The institutions being developed to carry out these functions blend modern government forms with traditional societal practices, though how such structures will function in the long term remains to be seen, especially in their interactions with the nations of which they remain part.
Common property management, long a topic of fascination for political scientists, is an important topic in the Arctic as groups seek new ways of managing resources that reflect customary patterns of resource use and access, often held collectively rather than individually. Underlying evolving Arctic institutions is a system of informal decision making operating as a parallel and at times dominant means of addressing societal issues. The relationship between formal and informal systems is of critical importance to our understanding of the effectiveness and resilience of Arctic institutions in the face of major challenges such as those posed by rapid social change. The diversity of conditions, histories, and experiences around the Arctic makes comparative research especially promising in this area.
People identify themselves according to gender, age, family, community, region, ethnic group, nation, and perhaps even international groupings. The relationship among these forms of identity affects the way individuals perceive all forms of societal issues and conflicts, from governance and resource management to cultural development and mental health. The range of possibilities in self-identity can provide opportunities, but it often produces tension both within and between individuals. Conducting research in this area requires special sensitivity to community interests and views, including the fact that perceptions of identity are likely to vary across generations. Comparative research offers promise. This area of research also needs to develop collaborative networks of interested people in Arctic communities and among researchers.
Working Group 4: Traditional Knowledge and the Intersection between the Social Sciences and the Humanities
Traditional knowledge encompasses a vast array of disciplines and interests, from natural history to nomenclature, from archeology to philosophy. With such a breadth of approaches, research into traditional knowledge is hard to compress into a unified framework or methodology. In recent years, a great deal of progress has been made in terms of recognition of the value of traditional knowledge and its applicability to a range of research, management, and social questions. In addition, the richness of what is lumped together as ìtraditional knowledgeî is appreciated more and more, for example through the growing role of the humanities in exploring the philosophical, literary, artistic, and spiritual aspects of traditional ways.
One result of these developments is a more sophisticated approach to the use of traditional knowledge by researchers in different fields. Building on these advances, further research is needed in several areas. The perpetuation of traditional knowledge within Arctic communities is of great concern. Comparative reviews of the study and use of traditional knowledge can identify what works and what doesnít. A summary of available literature can illuminate critical problems in concepts, methodologies, and outcomes. In other words, those active in this area need more opportunities to learn from one another and to recognize the larger implications of their work.