The University of Arizona

We adapt … but is it good or bad? Locating the political ecology and social-ecological systems debate in reindeer herding in the Swedish Sub-Arctic

Gloria L. Gallardo F., Fred Saunders, Tatiana Sokolova, Kristina Börebäck, Frank van Laerhoven, Suvi Kokko, Magnus Tuvendal


Abstract Reindeer herding (RDH) is a livelihood strategy deeply connected to Sami cultural tradition. This article explores the implications of two theoretical and methodological approaches for grasping complex socioenvironmental relationships of RDH in Subarctic Sweden. Based on joint fieldwork, two teams – one that aligns itself with political ecology (PE) and the other with social-ecological systems (SES) – compared PE and SES approaches of understanding RDH. Our purpose was twofold: 1) to describe the situation of Sami RDH through the lenses of PE and SES, exploring how the two approaches interpret the same empirical data; 2) to present an analytical comparison of the ontological and epistemological assumptions of this work, also inferring different courses of action to instigate change for the sustainability of RDH. Key informants from four sameby in the Kiruna region expressed strong support for the continuation of RDH as a cultural and economic practice. Concerns about the current situation raised by Sami representatives centered on the cumulative negative impacts on RDH from mining, forestry and tourism. PE and SES researchers offered dissimilar interpretations of the key aspects of the RDH socio-economic situation, namely: the nature and scale of RDH systems; the ubiquitous role of conflict; and conceptualizations of responses to changing socioenvironmental conditions. Due to these disparities, PE and SES analyses have radically divergent sociopolitical implications for what ought to be done to redress the current RDH situation. Keywords: Reindeer herding, political ecology, social-ecological systems, resilience, interdisciplinary, ontological assumptions, conflicts/consensus, adaptation

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