By Helena G. Lindberg, PhD Candidate in Political Science, Lund University, Sweden. Interested in politics, narratives and alternative future visions for the Arctic region. Also see: http://www.svet.lu.se/en/helena-gonzales-lindberg
The talk I looked forward to the most today was the keynote “Stewardship in the global Arctic: Between Private and the Global” by Philip Steinberg, Professor at the Department of Geography, Durham University. His work has been very inspirational and influential in my work, and I can recommend a look in the book “Contesting the Arctic: Politics and Imaginaries in the Circumpolar North” (Steinberg et al. 2015). I find his way of writing accessible and easy to read, also for those who normally do not read this type of academic literature.
Steinberg actually started his talk with some self-promotion of the book and its six narratives/imaginaries which shape the understanding of the Arctic: Artic as a “no mans’ land”; the image of the frozen ocean; Indigenous Statehood; Resource Frontier; Transcendent Nationhood; Nature Reserve; and the image of the Arctic as a Nature Reserve. Additionally, Steinberg presented a seventh narrative that has become more prominent after the publication of the book: “Normalisation”. This is something I also have encountered, mainly among politicians in the Arctic five (Russia, USA, Canada, Norway and Greenland/Denmark), who stress the need for managing the Arctic according to rules and regulations existing everywhere else. While others argue that the Arctic is special, politicians in the Arctic five want to downplay its’ uniqueness and emphasises the Law of the Sea and the sovereignty of nation states to rule its territory. Steinberg sees stewardship as a part of this normalisation narrative.
In the definition of stewardship, Steinberg identified three important elements: The empowering of authority, the steward, and things to be stewarded. While being related to management, stewardship is also about power (politics): What is the source of authority? Who picks the steward? Who picks what gets to be stewarded, and who picks the goals? Here the actors are emphasised, showing that the meaning of stewardship and its effects are not exempted from individuals’ (political) understandings, opinions and priorities. This is central also in my own work, as I think that the way we understand something entails what we think ought to be done about it. Thus, narratives matter as they shape our understanding. Perhaps, as Steinberg et al. (2015) writes in their book, imaginaries matter even more in the Arctic than other places because the main policy makers most often are located in the capitals far away from the Arctic region. Their imaginaries of what the Arctic is will affect their policies, even though it does not relate directly.
Steinberg also talked about the lack of a commonly agreed definition of where the Arctic is; even different working groups in the Arctic Council define the geographic scope of the Arctic differently, and the difficulty of defining who is an “Arctic citizens”. While not refraining from the use of the term “stewardship”, Steinberg warned that while stewardship is inclined towards management, it could also lead to domination. He made clear that future of the Arctic still rests on stewardship, but instead of the Arctic peoples being stewarded they should be empowered to be the (main) stewards.
His keynote talk did meet my expectations (it is the first time I see him speak), and I will definitely continue to read his writings (and I recommend you to do the same).