© Lotta Luhtala, Photographer Lotta Luhtala

The Changing Environment of the North

Cultural Representations and Uses of Water (CEN)

About the CEN Project

The Arctic has become a new centre in recent global discussion, and the Northern environment is in a rapid and threatening process of transformation. We need new ways of discussing and representing that changing environment. Natural sciences, politics, economics, and technology and the strategies they produce have not focused enough on the changing conditions of human and non-human lives in the North. A more differentiated knowledge of the environment is required to anticipate and face the risks concerning the region’s sustainability. The CEN project contends that both human experiences and natural spaces are part of the Arctic reality, and both should be analysed with the tools and methods provided by interdisciplinary humanist studies, including literary theory, linguistics, history, and environmental studies.

Geographically, our project covers the area identical to the “Nordic Dimension” between the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean and it investigates the dynamic interrelations between the Northern environment, non-human lives, and human activity. The project makes use of the concept of aquagraphy, which includes an analytical means of exploring multiple northern waters turned into glaciers, ice, snow, and floods. It highlights questions of power and representation, the relationship between real and imaginary spaces, and utopian and dystopian visions concerning the North. The project asks what the North and the Arctic look like when we investigate them through water rather than land.

We will investigate multiple Norths, covering Finnish, Scandinavian, Russian, and Anglo-American representations. We will equally contribute to the cultural knowledge of the northern ecosystems mediated by the ethnolinguistic documentation of discourses about water and the role of water landscapes in former and current cultural practices among northern indigenous people. Accordingly, the conception of an abstract “environmental crisis” is questioned, for ecology itself is shifting and being contested.

The project The Changing Environment of the North: Cultural Representations and Uses of Water (CEN) is funded by the Academy of Finland. The funding period is 1.9.2017–31.8.2021.