News 2022
Mikko Äijälä. Photo: Marko Junttila.

Dissertation: Sled dogs transforming the tourist landscape


In his dissertation in tourism research, Mikko Äijälä, MSocSc, studies the agency of sled dogs in forming a local tourist landscape. His idea of multispecies trails helps us understand how the significance of animals can be included in the implementation of animal tourism services.

According to Äijälä, sled dogs are important for the image of Lapland and for tourism in the entire Arctic region, but their role has not been given enough thought. In tourism activities, for instance in planning and marketing tourism services, Lapland is turned into a tourist landscape that meets particularly the needs and expectations of tourists.

– Through tourism practices, businesses attempt to create a rather unchanging and easily controlled tourist landscape where people are seen as social agents whereas animals such as sled dogs are often regarded as mere tools in the production of tourism experiences, Mikko Äijälä notes.

While people control the creation of tourist landscapes, sled dogs must adapt to being part of a landscape planned by humans. At its best, the adaptation leads to good cooperation between people and sled dogs.

The activities of sled dogs, along with those of unexperienced tourists, can also break a previously planned tourist landscape and bring an element of suprise and even chaos into tourism services. A tourist landscape should therefore be regarded as a system that changes all the time through interaction between sled dogs, people, and the surrounding space.

According to the author’s conception of landscape, also sled dogs are seen as agents, as they play a central role in the continuous formation of a landscape.

A mushing landscape builds on interwoven multispecies trails

Mikko Äijälä describes the continuous interaction between various agents as multispecies trails that intersect and intertwine, forming a constantly shifting meshwork.

The theoretical description becomes apparent in winter from a bird’s-eye view of the safari starting area of a sled dog kennel: The area teems with dogs and people, criss-crossing footprints, and various tools such as tug lines, harnesses, and sleds. All this is engulfed in the almost deafening sound of dogs barking.

– A sled dog kennel and the activities therein should therefore not be regarded as a tourism landscape created, processed, and totally controlled by humans. Instead, it should be regarded as a continuously changing and unstable mushing landscape that is created and shaped through the cooperation and disrupted cooperation of not only sled dogs but also guides and tourists.

The author encourages us to approach the tourist landscape as a meshwork of multispecies trails also at a practical level. Instead of forming a polished and human-centred landscape, this enables us to construct deeper stories of animals as an important part of tourist landscapes.

– When we have a deeper understanding of the vivacious role that animals, such as sled dogs, play in tourist landscapes, we can better implement animal-based tourism services on animals’ own terms.

Mobile video ethnography as a tool for development

Mikko Äijälä carried out his ethnographic fieldwork in a sled dog kennel located in Rovaniemi. As a central part of the work, the author recorded life in the kennels using GoPro cameras attached to the body. In addition to him, video was shot by kennel guides, also known as mushers. The author went through the video material together with two mushers. The mobile video technology proved to be a useful tool.

– Through action cameras it is possible to capture both good and non-functional everyday practices that can even be performed subconsciously. Current technology could also help us to approach the perspective of sled dogs and thereby to develop more responsible tourism.

Information on the public examination

The academic dissertation Tourist Landscapes as Multispecies Trails: Storying a Mushing Landscape Through Mobile Video Ethnography by Mikko Äijälä, MSocSc, is publicly examined in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland on Friday 30 September 2022 starting 12 noon in Lecture Hall 2 (LS2, Yliopistonkatu 8, Rovaniemi). The opponent is Professor Phillip Vannini from Royal Roads University in Canada and the custos is Professor Outi Rantala from the University of Lapland. The language of the event is English.

The public defence can be followed online at

Information on the doctoral candidate

Mikko Äijälä, MSocSc, graduated from Vihanti upper secondary school. He earned his master in tourism research at the University of Lapland in 2015.

He has worked with research and development projects related to sled dogs at the University of Lapland since 2016. As of the beginning of 2022, he has acted as an external auditor in Green Key and Green Activities environmental tourism certification.

Mikko Äijälä has functioned as a doctoral researcher in the Northern Cultures and Sustainable Natural Resource Politics / The Arctic in a Changing World doctoral programme between 2018 and 2022. To finalise the dissertation, he was awarded the Esko Riepula grant by the University of Lapland.

Further information

Mikko Äijälä, mikko.aijala(at), phone +358 40 4844 481

Information on the publication

Mikko Äijälä: Tourist Landscapes as Multispecies Trails: Storying a Mushing Landscape Through Mobile Video Ethnography. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 343, ISBN 978-952-337-326-6, ISSN 1796-6310. University of Lapland 2022, Rovaniemi.

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