International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences Hits New Milestones

By: Andrey N. Petrov, IASSA Council Member and Director of the Arctic Social and Environmental Systems Research Laboratory at the University of Northern Iowa

The eighth International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences (ICASS VIII) was held 22-26 May 2014 on the main campus of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in Prince George, B.C., which is traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Canada. The International Arctic Social Sciences Association (IASSA) organizes this international congress every three years, bringing together scholars and others interested in the Arctic and sub-Arctic to share social science and humanities research. ICASS VIII was the largest congress in the history of the organization, attracting almost 500 participants from 26 different countries and at least 15 indigenous nations. The five-day event featured keynote speakers, plenary sessions, cultural activities, and over 100 thematic sessions covering the social sciences, humanities, and multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary topics.

The focus of ICASS VIII was Northern Sustainabilities. Use of the plural 'Sustainabilities' was inspired by Helena Omma, of the Sami Council, who noted the very diverse interpretations and understandings of the concept during discussions at an Arctic Council Sustainable Development Working Group meeting in 2012. Congress organizers also wanted to underscore different facets of sustainability, such as ecological, cultural, social, economic, and political. The theme of 'sustainabilities' was addressed in the talks of the four keynote speakers: Joe Linklater, Gwichin Council International, Canada; Henriette Rasmussen, Greenlandic Broadcasting, Greenland; Sverker Sorlin, Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden; and Alexander Pelyasov, Centre for Arctic and Northern Economies, Russia.

Susan Crate, Professor at George Mason University, poses a question to members of the discussion panel entitled, 'Arctic Futures, Sustainabilities and Strategic Environmental Research.' Photo courtesy of Alona Yefimenko.Susan Crate, Professor at George Mason University, poses a question to members of the discussion panel entitled, 'Arctic Futures, Sustainabilities and Strategic Environmental Research.' Photo courtesy of Alona Yefimenko.

During the three plenary discussion-panel sessions, researchers and Arctic community members examined a wide range of sustainability issues: definitions of sustainable development, the role of resources as sustainable development tools, and community-based sustainability initiatives at the local level. Conference attendees also participated in an International Conference on Arctic Research Planning III (ICARP-III) town hall event sponsored by the International Arctic Science Committee to further develop ideas on the future of social sciences and humanities in Arctic research for the upcoming ICARP decennial meeting in Toyama, Japan in 2015. The social program of the Congress included music performances, a feature film, a gala dinner, and various local tours.

For a moment, Prince George, B.C., became the headquarters of Arctic social sciences. The Congress's location on UNBC campus provided a picturesque and comfortable environment for both scholarly work and social interactions. Surrounded by the sea of spruce trees, it was a unique setting for 'seeing the forest behind the trees' on various issues in the Arctic social sciences—a rapidly growing interdisciplinary field of study. The Congress was of optimal size to allow participants and presenters to make personal connections. Kudos to co-conveners, Gail Fondahl and Gary Wilson, and to IASSA/ICASS Secretary Cherylyn Mazo on the success of ICASS VIII, its flawless organization, academic rigor, and comfortable atmosphere.

IASSA also bestowed awards on distinguished Arctic social sciences and humanities scholars: Julie Cruikshank, Canada; Igor Krupnik, U.S.; and Oran Young, U.S. Each, in their own way, made outstanding contributions to the development of social science in the Arctic/sub-Arctic.

The IASSA General Assembly, held during ICASS, elected a new Council and location for the next secretariat at Umeå University, Sweden. The newly elected Council includes Alona Yefimenko, Andrey Petrov, Diane Hirshberg, Florian Stammler, Gertrude Eilmsteiner-Saxinger, Grete Hovelsrud, Peter Sköld, Tatiana Vlasova, and Gail Fondahl, IASSA past president and ex-officio member. The Council then appointed Peter Sköld as its next president. New bylaws were passed which in the future will have the General Assembly electing the president directly.

More information about ICASS VIII is available here or by contacting Andrey Petrov (andrey [dot] petrov [at] uni [dot] edu).


Andrey N. PetrovAndrey N. Petrov Andrey N. Petrov is Assistant Professor of Geography and Director of the Arctic Social and Environmental Systems Research Laboratory (ARCSES) at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He is a member of the IASSA Council and a U.S. representative on the International Arctic Science Committee's Social and Human Sciences Working Group. Andrey's research is mostly related to economic geography, socio-economic impact assessment, human well-being monitoring, and sustainable development in the Arctic.