Article: Misreading the Arctic Landscape (2015)

Sámi reindeer pastoralism in Norway is said to be in a state of crisis that has lasted for several decades and is due to excessive numbers of reindeer. A general overstocking of the range is believed to cause widespread pasture degradation, poor economic performance, and increasing land-use conflicts. These are the main assumptions of a dominant narrative shared by key government and non-governmental actors, most scientists, and the media. The resulting policy focuses on reducing reindeer numbers to set carrying capacities in order to promote ecological sustainability and improve economic performance through the means of increasing carcass weights. The article presents a critical review of the ecological evidence behind the dominant narrative. The authors conclude that the narrative and the associated policy lead to a misreading of the Arctic pastoral landscape that neglects both alternative scientific evidence and interpretations in line with non-equilibrium ecology as well as the indigenous knowledge of the reindeer herders. Hence, such alternative perspectives generally remain invisible to the government institutions that regulate the practice of reindeer management. Further, the authors’ study resonates with wider theoretical debates about state governance within political ecology and development studies in general.

Keywords: Norway, pastoralism, political ecology, reindeer

Link: T Benjaminsen, H Reinert, MN Sara, E Sjaastad. 2015. “Misreading the Arctic Landscape: A political ecology of reindeer, carrying capacities, and overstocking in Finnmark, Norway”. Norwegian Journal of Geography, Vol 69 No 4, 219-229.