Political geographies of the ‘changing’ Arctic: perspectives on the interface between politics and the region as a process

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Remote Connection: https://oulu.zoom.us/j/61333696263

Topic of the dissertation

Political geographies of the ‘changing’ Arctic: perspectives on the interface between politics and the region as a process

Doctoral candidate

Master of Science Vesa Väätänen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Science, Geography Research Unit

Subject of study



Professor Klaus Dodds, University of London


Docent Kaj Zimmerbauer, University of Oulu

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Transforming conception of the region as the driver of Arctic policy and politics

The Arctic region has recently been at the center of considerable attention. This has been apparent in academic research and the media that have discussed Arctic-related issues, as well as in the Arctic strategies and policies drafted for numerous states. Whether it has been about the climate, the environment, the economy, indigenous cultures or politics, a focal issue driving the discussion has been the change of the Arctic region. This thesis shows that we can best understand the recent political discussion on the Arctic by foregrounding how the Arctic came to be conceived as a “changing” region in the first place. Additionally, the thesis argues that the political discussion on the Arctic region is characterized by the mobilization of different regional definitions. Therefore, the political nature of regional definitions and conceptions, as well as their transformation, should be brought under increasing attention. This thesis focuses on the transformation of regional conceptions and how it relates to politics. This relationship is approached particularly through the Arctic strategies and policies of Finland, France, Japan and Alaska.

In the context of Finland, the key result is that the state’s Arctic strategy emphasizes economic competitiveness. Within the strategy documents, this is illustrated by the dominance of ideas connected to Finland’s Arctic expertise and its logistically attractive location. These emphases demonstrate that the “changing” Arctic has been approached in the Finnish policy-making circles primarily in economic terms.

In the context of France and Japan, the key result of the thesis is that regional conceptions can themselves become politically meaningful issues, especially when considering from the perspective of who gets to decide on the guidelines of regional governance. By reflecting the Arctic policies of France and Japan with the Arctic Council’s division between members (the “Arctic states”) and observers (“non-Arctic states”), the research shows that power relations in supranational regional organizations are built on, but also contested through, geographical definitions of the region in question. In this regard, especially questions that concern regional boundaries and the interconnectedness of the region with global processes are essential when considering power relations.

In the case of Alaska, the thesis shows that the Arctic policy of the state of Alaska can be seen as a response to federal Arctic policies. The research demonstrates that the state-level policy is predicated on the economic development of the Arctic region, while federal Arctic policy addressed climate change and environmental issues during the presidency of Barack Obama. The Arctic policy of Alaska thus illustrates how conflicting conceptions regarding a region can emerge as a politically relevant issue between actors. Concurrently, it reflects the historical relationship between the state of Alaska and the United States federal government which has been characterized by Alaskan discontent with federal policies.

Together, the above results contribute to existing research on how the Arctic region has emerged at the forefront of political discussion and policy-making during the past few decades. By interrogating the process through which the conception of the Arctic region has transformed through the utilization of qualitative research methods, this thesis foregrounds the relevance of regional knowledge production as the driver of political discussion and policy-making processes. The thesis seeks to emphasize that the Arctic should not be seen merely as a region in which processes of change occur, but that we should increasingly critically interpret how change has itself emerged to define the region. Simultaneously research should focus on the political, economic, cultural and environmental implications that this transformation of the conception of the Arctic region has. This way researchers, too, can take part in the political discussion on the Arctic region, and have an influence on its future.
Last updated: 1.3.2023