Globalization and the Circumpolar North

Globalization and the Circumpolar North


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As the circumpolar North emerges as a significant presence in world affairs, it becomes increasingly exposed to globalization. This is the first book to describe those effects-political, economic, and cultural-in all their complexity. Gathering literature by leading political and social scientists, Globalization and the Circumpolar North is both a foundation for understanding this important source of change in the North and a call for further investigation.

A must-read for scholars and students of political science or northern studies, arctic residents, and policy makers, this is sure to be an invaluable resource in a growing field.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781602230781
Publisher: University of Alaska Press
Publication date: 07/15/2010
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,197,387
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Lassi Heininen is a political scientist and senior scientist at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland. Chris Southcott is professor of sociology at Lakehead University on Thunder Bay, Ontario and associate researcher at the Northern Research Institute, Whitehorse, Yukon.

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Globalization and the Circumpolar North

University of Alaska Press

Copyright © 2010 University of Alaska Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60223-078-1

Chapter One


Lassi Heininen and Chris Southcott

A new region has recently emerged in the world. Its geographical components have always existed, but its identity as a region is quite recent. It does not have a fixed border but is loosely defined as Alaska, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and the northern areas of Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Canada. It has had, and still has, many names. To some it is known as the Arctic; to others it is a combination of the Arctic and Subarctic and is referred to as the circumpolar north. Until recently it has been a frontier rather than a region. Since the 1970s, however, the notion of frontier has been pushed aside and replaced with the notion of homeland. The world outside this region has started to realize that people live here and that these people have aspirations to control their destiny in the same way that people in other regions have.

Until recently this northernmost region of the globe was rarely mentioned or considered in the context of world affairs. Despite this, the circumpolar north has been an integrated part of the global economy for many years. Northern fishing grounds, whaling, and the fur trade were all global operations oriented around a European market. Mining and other resource exploitation operations were more often than not initially developed and organized as international operations by foreign companies to meet the demands of markets outside the region.

Politically, the area was often the subject of conflicting national and international aspirations. It was the scene of some of the earliest global negotiations and, as seen in the Spitsbergen Treaty of 1920, some of the most innovative international political arrangements. With the end of the Cold War, the circumpolar north often finds itself at the center of world politics. Present indications are that this international attention will only intensify. At the same time that this new region is seen to be emerging onto the international stage, it is being exposed to an increasingly globalized world. Indeed, its recent development cannot be understood without reference to the influences often referred to as "the forces of globalization." Despite this fact, there is surprisingly little written about the relationship between globalization and the circumpolar north.

This book is an initial attempt to change this. The contributors describe the varying ways that globalization is transforming the region. By examining changes in the economic, political, and cultural aspects of communities, they point to changes that can be seen to have both negative and positive effects on northern communities. The impacts are highlighted in a manner that attempts to isolate not only the problematic aspects of globalization but also the potentially constructive opportunities.


The circumpolar north is many things to many people. It is a place that few people have visited but in which many people have an interest in-one interest based on a particular image they have of the region. When discussing the circumpolar north we have to deal with the many, often conflicting, notions that exist of the region (Young and Einarsson 2004). One important image sees the region as being primarily frozen, extreme, and exotic; another perceives the North as a sparsely populated frontier, a wild North, with new opportunities for settlers, or newcomers; yet another sees the circumpolar north metaphorically as a Klondike with rich natural resources and poor capital-a region to be exploited for the benefit of the nation. Until recently the region was seen by some primarily as a military theater and target area of military strategies. More recent images are related to the environmental importance of the region: as a "sink of pollutants" for long-range sea and air pollution, and recently as the first victim of global climate change. Correspondingly, the circumpolar north is also an object, either a laboratory or workshop, of the global scientific community.

These visions emphasize that the circumpolar north is a periphery, albeit a strategic periphery, from the point of view of the major arctic nation-states. Recently, these types of visions have been countered by one that sees the circumpolar north first and foremost as a homeland for indigenous peoples with a long tradition, rich cultures, and resilience. In large part it is this last vision, helped no doubt by the decline in importance of the military vision, that has helped create the new vision of the circumpolar north as a platform for international and interregional cooperation and an area of region building.

While it is relatively simple to list the metaphorical definitions of the circumpolar north, it is less easy to describe its geographical definitions. In this book, the authors do not take a definitive position on the region's geographical limits. As mentioned above, for the purpose of this book, it is loosely defined as Alaska, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and the northern areas of Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Canada. The region is characterized by several important physical and social conditions that affect the lives of the people who live there and make the region unique. While these conditions vary from place to place within the region, an overlap of many key characteristics have enabled this region to recognize itself as a unique entity. A cold climate, high latitudes with low levels of solar energy, limited biological diversity, the presence of ice and snow, and limited precipitation are key physical and biological elements used to define the region; isolation, limited forms of agriculture, dependence on natural resource exploitation, and lack of a diversified economy are key social elements (Hamelin 1979; Graham 1990). More recently, the importance of the indigenous population has emerged as a key factor in defining the region.

The newly articulated visions stress that the circumpolar north is a distinctive and coherent international region with a policy agenda. New regional actors, lead by indigenous organizations, have helped bring this policy agenda to the world since the 1980s. Concerns relating to climate change, sustainable development, and indeed the impacts of globalization have helped bring circumpolar regional concerns to the global consciousness.


Globalization is often mentioned as an important issue facing the circumpolar north. When experts discuss the impacts of climate change on the region, they often note that climate change and globalization are perhaps the most important stressors in the region (IPPC 2001; ACIA 2004). It is not unusual to see declarations that all recent social, economic, and cultural change in the region is being influenced by, or is the result of, globalization. Yet very few studies have actually tried to look at the impact of globalization on the region in any sort of depth. For one, most academics involved in the region are engaged in the more practical aspects of environmental damage, political devolution, and economic development and as such have less time for abstract theoretical debates. Add this to the relatively recent period of time that academics have been considering the region as a whole, and the dearth is even more understandable. However, another reason may be that it is not a very well-defined concept. Arctic researchers may shy away from a term that, while important and popular, lacks analytical precision.

As many commentators have already noted, globalization is perhaps the dominant new theoretical concept of the social sciences in the last fifteen years. As early as 1998 Zygmunt Bauman (1998, 1) was calling it a "fad word fast turning into a shibboleth, a magic incantation, a pass-key meant to unlock the gates to all present and future mysteries." The term is not without its critics. Some deny the existence of globalization. According to Anthony Giddens (2002, 8), there are those who believe "the global economy isn't especially different from that which existed in previous periods. The world carries on much the same it has done for many years." Giddens himself counters these arguments by noting that the level of world trade is much higher than it ever was before and that it involves a much wider range of goods and services (9). This trend, influenced heavily by changes in communications technologies that started in the 1960s, is having important technological, cultural, political, and economic impacts (Giddens 2002, 9-10; see also Castells 2000).

In part, the term's recent popularity is related to its vagueness. While there appears to be a general overlapping agreement that globalization is related to the compression of time and space and increased global interaction, there is considerable disagreement about the essential components of the trend, and even more disagreement about the impacts of the trend on nations and communities. Every month sees the publication of several books noting the positive impact that globalization is having on society, along with several books noting its negative impacts.

Globalization refers to phenomena and systems that are truly worldwide in scale, such as the information and communication systems and technologies of the World Wide Web, or the development of world trade into global free markets and a global economy. Similarly, worldwide movements against global markets, as well as general changes such as global climate change and global economics, are also evidence of "globalization." Thus, there are several types, or aspects, of globalization, including economic, political, cultural, and socioeconomic globalization and globalization of the environment.

Interest in globalization as a concept developed quickly during the 1990s and does not seem to have faded over the past few years. The Social Sciences Citation Index records few mentions of the term in the 1980s but a rapid increase in use starting in 1992 (Sumner 2005, 15; Giddens 2002, 7). One could, however, argue that as a phenomenon globalization is not so new, since many things developed within a global scale prior to the coining of the word. These include, to name only a few, colonialism, the Second World War, television, pop music, Coca-Cola. What might be new about globalization at the beginning of the twenty-first century is the intensity of the trends and, correspondingly, the constant mobility on a global scale that accompanies this phenomenon-the seamless movement, crossing both time and place (including borders) without breaks (Heininen 2005, 95-96).


As pointed out earlier few, if any, existing works have as their main objective to isolate the impacts of globalization on the circumpolar north. At the same time many works suggest potential impacts or discuss globalization as part of several forces affecting the region, without identifying the specific impacts caused by globalization. These statements have served as the backdrop for much of the discussion contained in this book and, as such, are deserving of some attention. Rather than list all of these works, it is perhaps more effective to borrow a general typology from others, and attempt to summarize the main points as they apply to potential impacts on the circumpolar north. While many different typologies exist, for our purposes we note that there are three main types of globalization: economic, political, and cultural.


Theories that stress the economic aspects of globalization appear to be the most common. One of the best summaries is provided in a brief prepared by the International Monetary Fund. According to this brief, economic globalization "refers to the increasing integration of economies around the world, particularly through trade and financial flows" (IMF 2000/2002, What is Globalization?, section 2). This integration is the result of the extension of market forces. "It refers to an extension beyond national borders of the same market forces that have operated for centuries at all levels of human economic activity-village markets, urban industries, or financial centers" (section 2).

While noting a debate about the issue, the IMF is one of many international economic and business organizations that see this extension of market forces as being positive for society.

Markets promote efficiency through competition and the division of labor-the specialization that allows people and economies to focus on what they do best. Global markets offer greater opportunity for people to tap into more and larger markets around the world. It means that they can have access to more capital flows, technology, cheaper imports, and larger export markets. (section 3)

Circumpolar economies have often been seen as being under the control of national economic and political forces; northern societies have often been seen as internal economic colonies of national states and as having suffered because of this. Some see globalization as the continuation and extension of these forces. In the Arctic Human Development Report, Young and Einarsson (2004) mention that globalization has intensified the volatility of world markets for raw materials (e.g., oil and gas) and as such has intensified boom- and-bust cycles in many arctic communities. The narrow economic base of most arctic communities has made them vulnerable to actions on the part of outsiders who may not understand the impacts of their actions on northern communities. In this same report, Duhaime's chapter on the state of the economic system discusses the negative impacts that the "forces of globalization," such as recent neoliberal economic policies and privatization, are having on the Arctic (80). Lyck (2001) observes that for circumpolar regions to compete and be economically successful in the era of globalization, they have to develop sustainable competitive advantages. Aside from a few areas, it will be extremely difficult for circumpolar communities to develop these sustainable competitive advantages. Other works have pointed to the negative effects on northern regions of the globalization of the oil and gas industry (Standlea 2006).

Some see the impact of economic globalization in even more negative terms. In a course module written for the University of the Arctic, Kailo and Sunnari (n.d., 5) state that

the dominant discourse surrounding free market globalisation emphasises economic growth, consumer based development, and the alleged trickle-down effect of wealth creation. The discourse conceals the fact that the corporate agenda behind globalisation concentrates power in unprecedented ways in the hands of multinational corporations and their predominantly North American and European, white male elite.

For another researcher, Canada's "northern settlements ... are reeling from resource depletion, corporate consolidation, government cutbacks, and industry shutdowns. The reality for many in 'the Majority World' is grim, with little relief in sight. All in all, the consequences of corporate globalization are becoming a global disaster" (Sumner 2005, 30).

While the negative aspects of change are acknowledged, others have a more nuanced vision of the impacts of economic globalization on the region. Some see globalization as an opportunity to break internal national colonialism and be better connected to the benefits of international markets (McMichael 1996). Others in the region, notably in the Russian North, have seen international economic forces as a positive event. In her analysis of socioeconomic changes occurring in rural Sahka, Crate (2003) notes many disruptions and problems linked to globalization. At the same time she stresses the capacity of the local population to use local resources in a manner that enables them to manage these changes. In his research on Russian reindeer herding in the post-Soviet economy, Anderson (2006) notes that while reindeer herders have had to adapt to the new economic situation, the "relationship between people and reindeer is a very sensitive indicator of globalisation." At the same time, he argues that they have been able to use their unique skills to adapt to the influences of the new global economy.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

1 Globalization and the Circumpolar North: An Introduction Lassi Heininen Chris Southcott 1

2 History of Globalization in the Circumpolar World Chris Southcott 23

3 Globalization and the Economies of the North Lee Huskey 57

4 Changing Forms of Governance in the North Jerry McBeath 91

5 Community Viability and Well-Being in the Circumpolar North Larisa Riabova 119

6 Epistemological Conflicts and Cooperation in the Circumpolar North Mark Nuttall 149

7 Globalization and Traditional Livelihoods Elina Helander-Renvall 179

8 Globalization and Security in the Circumpolar North Lassi Heininen 221

9 Circumpolar International Relations and Cooperation Lassi Heininen 265

Index 307

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