Arcticness as a home

By Alison Major, on 16 August 2017

Today’s excerpt, is from the Editorial Introduction of Arcticness, a multi-contributor volume edited by Ilan Kelman, UCL .

People and communities, lives and livelihoods. These define the Arctic, just as with all other populated areas on the planet. Is there, then, anything special, specific, exceptional or unique about the Arctic? To the peoples in the Arctic, the answer is ‘of course’.

Because it is home.

As Arctic literature is fond of stating, there is no single Arctic. Definitions abound, from being a region or place to being an idea or phenomenon. The Arctic is delineated by latitude, tree lines, national and subnational borders and indigenous territories, among many other suggestions. All these elements vaguely concentrate into the northern areas of Canada, Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden along with all of Alaska, Greenland and Iceland.

This is the Arctic as a place – and the Arctic as place. The Arctic is also characterised, perhaps more so, by its people. Depending on where boundaries are set exactly, the Arctic’s population is anywhere from approximately 4  million to approximately 13  million people. About 10 per cent of Arctic inhabitants are indigenous, belonging to 40 different groups, examples of which are Saami, Inuit, Nenets, Yakuts and Aleuts. In some jurisdictions, such as Nunavut and Greenland, indigenous peoples are the majority. All Arctic areas have comparatively low population density.

Arctic indigenous peoples are partly defined by the way in which they were colonised from the south. Iceland is the only Arctic country without designated indigenous peoples. The other seven countries have never fully addressed their post-colonial legacy which included active suppression of indigenous languages and cultures, forcing nomadic peoples to settle, and taking indigenous children away from their families for the purpose of ‘education’ and ‘acculturation’.

As part of aiming to re-connect Arctic peoples and places, and to redress past mistakes, each post-colonial Arctic country apart from Russia has, to a large degree, settled land claims with Arctic indigenous peoples. The settlements occurred in different ways and in different time periods, with implementation, monitoring and enforcement still not fully functional in many instances.

The generational context adds complexity. The generation of leaders who grew up under colonialism and who negotiated the settlements are now in the process of retiring. They are giving way to a new generation of leaders who did not experience similar difficulties or frontline fights for autonomy and the recognition of indigenous cultures. They face other challenges, such as low educational attainment, high rates of substance use and abuse, and high suicide rates.

They are also looking to connect to the world beyond their (mis) governing state through the internet and social media to define and re-define, and to be proud of, their indigeneity, their peoples and their places; that is, their Arctic. The battles are not over. Greenland’s independence is still a possibility. Racism against indigenous peoples remains. The peoples are not homogeneous groups, such as the Saami who have different livelihoods including reindeer herding, fishing, both and neither.

Non-indigenous Arctic peoples also represent the Arctic, not just Icelanders but also those born and/or living in the north but without an Arctic indigenous heritage. One class of Arctic peoples, most notably in Scandinavia, comprises immigrants from around the world, including refugees, who fully settled in the Arctic and who are now raising first-generation, Arctic-born families with diverse, international heritages.

Within this Arctic rainbow, what is the Arctic? How do Arctic peoples relate to their places? The ways include living, livelihoods, environments and movements. In many locales, movement means the typical commute by private or public transport to a nine-to-five office job. In many locales, it is the typical subsistence hunting, conversing with the wind, feeling the sea, traipsing the land and traversing the ice.

Water (solid and liquid) and wind flow, bringing with them life and death. The Arctic peoples flow with them. Movement, survival and thriving are choreographed within the elements and within the colours of the seasons:  blue, grey and white melding with brown, green and splashes of colour in summer flora and fauna. The ever-changing kaleidoscope of weather and skies, of animals and oceans, of plants and the Earth, creates Arctic flows and ebbs.

Transitions and boundaries are prominent but fuzzy. Snow melds into land shifts to water becomes ice, drifting lazily under the dazzling dome of the summer sun and the scintillating stars of the wild winter. When the ice roads thaw making transport difficult, inland communities are spoken of as being landlocked. When the ocean is too rough for boats and the wind is too dangerous for planes, island communities are seen as being entrapped.

What vocabulary suggests being icelocked? The ice can be too thin on the water or too crevassed on the land, or just too slushy everywhere. The transition between seasons can be harsh when the land ice and sea ice mixtures do not permit safe transport. Then, one’s Arctic place becomes evident, as an islander or not, as someone who enjoys being indoors or not.

Movement and entrapment mean that Arctic placeness is not contentedly fixed. In any case, the glaciers, the ice, the snow, the water and the wind are always in motion. The rivers and the seas emote ripples and waves. The tides breathe for the water and the wind for the air. Coasts erode and accrete – with both ice and sediment.

Arctic changes are expressed in other ways. From colonisation to self-determination, the Saami have created their parliaments, referenda supported autonomy for Greenland and Nunavut, and Russian regions and territories have various levels of self-governance. Exceptionalism identifies many Arctic place traits – including the internationally unique Svalbard Treaty and the central Bering Sea having its ‘donut hole’ which is an enclosed polygon of international waters surrounded by territorial seas.

The scale of Arctic territories is sometimes forgotten. From Murmansk to Chukotka, the time difference across Russia is nine hours. Alaska has only two time zones, an artificial construction, but as the largest American state more than twice the area of its nearest rival, it is almost as wide and as tall as the entire contiguous states. Ottawa– Iqaluit flights travel more than three times as far as the London– Edinburgh route and are still shorter than Greenland’s full north–south distance.

Current national borders across the Arctic are poorly reflective of indigenous cultures. The Saami are partitioned among four countries. Only modern politics draw a line between Alaska and Yukon. The Canada–Denmark dispute over Hans Island is meaningless for peoples who use the land, sea, ice and wind to live.

Many of these Arctic placeness discussions are characterised by islands and archipelagos including the Aleutians, Hans Island, Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard. Nunavut’s capital sits on Baffin Island rather than the mainland. Many of Norway’s principal Arctic settlements are on islands including Tromsø, Harstad and Hammerfest.

Island studies has evolved over the past generation, exploring the natures and personalities of islands, island communities and islanders. Much debate and critique has centred around what it means to be an island or an islander, defining and examining the essence of islandness. These and similar questions and explorations have emerged for the Arctic, Arctic communities and Arctic peoples.

Thus, we generate and query the term Arcticness through the chapters in this book.

Call for submissions: The Radical Americas Journal

By Lara Speicher, on 15 September 2016

The Radical Americas Network is delighted to announce a call for submissions for the brand new Radical Americas Journal.  Submissions from both early career and established scholars worldwide will be welcomed. Work in a number of different formats will be considered; in addition to peer-reviewed articles, the journal will run a variety of regular features,including opinion pieces, photo essays, reviews and archival notes.

In the first instance, please submit abstracts of 250-300 words to radicalamericas@gmail.com– when submitting, please indicate whether the work is to be peer reviewed as an article or whether you would like to submit something in a different format. Articles for peer review should be between 4,000 and 12,000 words; other pieces should be between 2,000 and 5,000 words. Please consiult UCL Press Guidelies for authors in advance of submission: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/publish/docs/Guidelines_for_Authors

About the Radical Americas Journal

The Radical Americas Journal explores the historical, political and social contexts that have underpinned radicalism in the Americas, engaging fully with the cross-currents of activism which connect North, Central and South America along with the Caribbean. The interconnected histories of power and protest are rarely contained within national boundaries. A full understanding of radicalism in the Americas, therefore, requires that we make the widespread rhetoric about the need for hemispheric scholarly approaches a reality. While we also offer articles, reviews and other content which focus on national or sub-national case studies, they are presented in a transnational framework.

Our definition of radicalism is broad. Taking inspiration from the words of José Martí, cited above, we understand radicalism to include any action or interpretation which “goes to the roots”, and we welcome all scholarship which takes a radical approach, even if it is not concerned with the study of radical activism per se. Any work which provides a truly systemic critique of existing structures of power, or challenges conventional interpretations of the past, will find a home at the Radical Americas Journal.

Despite disciplinary divides, scholarship on all regions of the Americas has recently been characterised by a preoccupation with culture and cultural analysis. This domination has come at the expense of interpretations which favour economic or social factors, though there are some signs that the impact of the global financial crisis has begun to reverse that trend. Our position is that the kind of holistic critique we hope to promote can never be achieved by isolating a single variable. For that reason we are particularly interested in work which attempts the difficult and painstaking task of fully integrating different facets of human experience, including economic, social, political and cultural factors.

Social media and Brexit

By Daniel Miller, on 28 June 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 14.22.03One of the common claims made about social media is that it has facilitated a new form of political intervention aligned with the practices and inclinations of the young. Last week I attended the launch of an extremely good book by Henry Jenkins and his colleagues called By Any Media Necessary which documents how young people use social and other media to become politically involved, demonstrating that this is real politics not merely ‘slacktivism’, a mere substitute for such political involvement.

And yet, currently I am seeing social media buzzing with young people advocating a petition to revoke the Brexit vote, which only highlights the absence of a similar ‘buzz’ prior to the vote. I await more scholarly studies in confirmation, but my impression is that we did not see the kind of massive activist campaign by young people to prevent Brexit that we saw with campaigns behind Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

The failure to create an attractive activist-led mass social media campaign to get young people to vote for Remain is reflected in the figures; although 18-24 year-olds were the most favourable segment towards Remain, only 36% of this group actually voted at all. As such, Brexit represents a catastrophic failure in young people’s social media, from which we need to learn. Being based in ethnography, our Why We Post project argued that we need to study the absence of politics in ordinary people’s social media as much as focusing on when it does appear. But the key lesson is surely that just because social media can facilitate young people’s involvement in politics doesn’t mean it will, even when that politics impacts upon the young.

One possibility is that social media favours a more radical idealistic agenda. By contrast, even though the impact of Brexit might be greater and more tangible, the remain campaign was led by a conservative prime minister, backing a Europe associate with bureaucracy and corporate interest, and was a messy grouping of people with different ideological perspectives, that made it perhaps less susceptible to the social media mechanisms of aggregated sharing.

At the same time I would claim that our work can help us to understand the result. My own book Social Media in an English Village is centred on the way English people re-purposed social media as a mechanism for keeping ‘others’, and above all one’s neighbours, at a distance. I cannot demonstrate this but I would argue that by supporting Brexit the English were doing in politics at a much larger scale exactly what my book claims they were doing to their neighbours at a local level: expressing a sense that ‘others’ were getting too close and too intrusive and needed to be pushed back to some more appropriate distance. And it is this rationale which may now have devastated the prospects for young people in England.

About the author

Daniel Miller is Professor of Anthropology at UCL and author of 37 books including Social Media in an English VillageThe Comfort of Things, Stuff, Tales from Facebook and A Theory of Shopping.  Find out more about the Why We Post series at  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/why-we-post.

This post originally appeared on the Global Social Media Impact Study blog, using the title ‘Social Media and Brexit’. It has been re-posted with permission.

Housing – Critical Futures: ‘a critical issue at a critical time’

By Graham Cairns, on 17 June 2016

research programme led by AMPS (Architecture, Media, Politics, Society) and supported by UCL Press

The Housing – Critical Futures research programme confronts a critical issue at a critical time. In London, a leading capital of global finance, there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing for those that service ‘the service’ sector. The crisis is at levels not seen since World War II. In Beijing, capital of the 21st century’s political powerhouse, the displacement of long-standing communities is a daily occurrence. In Mumbai, thAmps finale biggest health risk faced by the city today has been identified as overcrowded housing, while in São Paulo, football’s 2014 World Cup took place against a backdrop of community unrest and the chronic living conditions of the poor. The private sector, the state and residents themselves are searching for solutions. Whether housing refugees in conflict areas, providing safe water to the households in the developing world, or ensuring key workers can live in the cities they support in the West, the question of housing is not only global, but critical.

In addressing these questions AMPS (Architecture, Media, Politics, Society) has partnered with institutions, organizations, individuals, activists, designers, theorists and, of course publishers. Our key publishing partner is UCL Press which has been fundamental in ensuring that the work of those we collaborate with reaches a wide and relevant audience on an open access basis. UCL Press has worked with us in developing a book series on housing that allows AMPS to bring together the ideas of diverse players internationally around the issue of housing. The Press is supportive of our interdisciplinary agenda meaning together we are able to present an amazing array of perspectives covering a range of issues. Whether it be architects dealing with design-led ideas, residents analyzing participatory processes, planners critiquing models of development, economists explaining financial frameworks at macro and micro levels, or activists campaigning for changes on government policy, UCL Press has worked with us to find dissemination routes.

The AMPS journal, Architecture_MPS is also published through UCL Press and while this is open to an interdisciplinary body of authors and is open to a much wider range of topics, UCL Press has welcomed our use of the journal to promote our housing agenda. We have developed a series of SIPs (special issue publications) with them and our first special issue, which will be published in September 2016, is focused on housing.

About the author

Graham Cairns is Director of AMPS and Executive Editor of the associated journal Architecture_MPS. He is currently based at Columbia University, New York, and is Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

More details:

Architecture_MPS journal: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/uclpress/amps

Housing Critical Futures Book Series: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/series/housing-critical-futures