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Events and public defences

Doctoral defence: Arctic politics: where knowledge meets power


Amid environmental changes, impacts of the global economy and the scramble for natural resources in the region, the Arctic has become a focus of interest worldwide. Keeping pace with these trends, Arctic politics has embraced an ambition to ‘know’ the Arctic, its resources and potential. Indeed, one distinguishing feature of that politics today is a strong commitment to and consensus on the need to produce knowledge on the region. A crucial consideration in the process – and the subject of Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen’s doctoral research – is the power of such knowledge in governing development.

Ms. Sinevaara-Niskanen’s thesis examines Arctic politics from the perspectives of knowledge, power and development. Previous studies on Arctic politics and knowledge have discussed the production of knowledge, its translation into practice and its political significance. Questions concerning the power that operates through knowledge have attracted less attention. By probing the content of Arctic politics, as well as its power in defining the region’s development and the agents of that development, the thesis argues that it is, indeed, through knowledge that Arctic development is made ‘into being’ and rendered governable.

As Ms. Sinevaara-Niskanen points out: “Despite the well-intended aims, knowing more has not and will not diminish or excise the power entailed in knowledge. On the contrary, the knowledge that seeks to inform the social development in the Arctic still produces rather traditional, essentialising and dichotomous understandings of the region, its inhabitants and development.”

The analysis in the thesis illustrates how accounts of Arctic development incorporate polarities such as global-local and modern-traditional. These take part in constructing understandings of those assumed to take part in discussing Arctic development; “global” comes to mean “Western”, and “local” “indigenous”.

The context of the study is the Arctic Council and, in particular, its Sustainable Development Working Group, which addresses issues of social development. The Council and its working groups have an acknowledged status as a producers and providers of knowledge on, for and to the region.

Partial inclusion of indigeneity and gender

The particular focus of the research is on indigeneity and gender and the ways in which the related issues are articulated or ignored in the accounts of Arctic development and of the agents of that development. The thesis reveals the way in which questions of indigeneity and gender have been only partially included in Arctic knowledge.

In this connection, Ms. Sinevaara-Niskanen notes: “As they stand, the treatments of gender and indigeneity fail to recognise these categories as diverse and socially (re)negotiated”. “Indigenous” is considered stereotypically to be a synonym for “traditional”, “local” and “communal”. She goes on to remark how gender is regarded as an issue and quality that is characteristically female and pertains only to individuals

The thesis points out the need both to study the politics of Arctic knowledge critically and to diversify existing understandings of Arctic region, its inhabitants and development.

With a view to future research, Ms. Sinevaara-Niskanen concludes: “We need more knowledge about the diverse developments unfolding in the Arctic. That knowledge should not, however, be driven by short-term political and economic goals, but be knowledge that recognises the multiplicity and complexity of Arctic phenomena and is aware of the power it entails for steering Arctic development.”

Information of the defence:

Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen’s doctoral thesis, Setting the Stage for Arctic Development: Politics of Knowledge and the Power of Presence, will be publicly examined in the Faculty of Education on Friday, 29 May at noon, in lecture hall 3, Yliopistonkatu 8, Rovaniemi. The Opponent will be Annika E. Nilsson, Senior Research Fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute, and the Custos Päivi Naskali, Professor in Women’s Studies, Faculty of Education, at the University of Lapland. Welcome!

Information on the doctoral candidate:

Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen (born 1980 in Kuopio) completed her matriculation examination at Kuopion klassillinen lukio Upper Secondary School in Kuopio in 1998. She graduated with a master’s degree in social sciences from the University of Lapland in 2005 and completed pedagogical studies in 2011.

Ms. Sinevaara-Niskanen has handled many administrative, teaching and research responsibilities at the University of Lapland since 2002. Among other duties, she has worked as a researcher in the Finnish Research School in Women’s and Gender Studies in (2007 to 2010), as a university lecturer in Gender Studies (2012 ̶ 2013) and as a university teacher in research methods (2014). Ms. Sinevaara-Niskanen is a member of the research group “Northern Political Economy” hosted by the Arctic Centre.

Currently she works as a grant-funded researcher in gender studies in the Faculty of Education.

Further information:

Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen
Tel. 044 5897 322

Press copies of the thesis are available from Lapland University Press, tel. 040 821 4242, julkaisu(at)ulapland.fi

Publication information:

Heidi Sinevaara-Niskanen: Setting the Stage for Arctic Development: Politics of Knowledge and the Power of Presence. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 304. ISBN 978-952-484-831-2. ISSN 0788-7604.

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