The University of Arizona

Thinking through affect: Inuit knowledge on the tundra and in global environmental politics

Noor Johnson


Inuit residents of the Canadian Arctic balance a commitment to the land and to land-based traditions with full engagement in governance across different scales of decision-making. In this article, I suggest that thinking with and through 'affect' offers a promising approach to conceptualizing the dynamic role of Inuit knowledge across these different scales. Food sharing in remote Inuit settlements tangibly demonstrates the affective dimensions of Inuit knowledge, reflecting practices rooted in social and ethical relations with land, animals, and human community. Affect also informs the role of Inuit knowledge in international environmental negotiations. I explore this relationship in the work of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), an organization that advocated for a ban on persistent organic pollutants (POP) in the negotiations leading up to the Stockholm Convention. Facilitated by the gift of an Inuit carving, ICC shared a moral and ethical perspective that helped connect negotiators to the physical harms caused by pollutants. Drawing on the philosophy of former ICC Chair Sheila Watt-Cloutier and the non-capitalist framework of J.K. Gibson-Graham (2006), I examine the role this gift played in the POPs negotiations. I conclude that thinking through affect offers new ways of conceptualizing the emergent possibilities of environmental politics and practice.

Keywords: Indigenous knowledge, persistent organic pollutants, Stockholm Convention, environmental politics, the gift, food sharing, Gibson-Graham.

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