Faculty of Social Sciences
Arctic Governance

The Arctic Is a «Living Laboratory» According to Aaron Spitzer

Assistant professor at UiB, Aaron Spitzer says his «life’s work» has involved seeking to understand, and trying somehow to be useful to, Arctic peoples and places.

Smilende mann med brun blazer og rutete skjorte foran SV-fakultetet.
Reality is much messier than it can seem on the news, Spitzer says.
Amanda Schei

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«If you look at a map of the globe, or watch the nightly news, you might see that the world is structured into a neat grid of states, with clear boundaries between inside and outside – between the foreign and the domestic, citizens and aliens, and so forth. This seems especially the case in wealthy, stable liberal democracies like Norway, or in my home countries of Canada and the United States,» associate professor of Arctic governance at The University of Bergen, Aaron John Spitzer says. 

But reality is much messier, according to him.

«Like being able to see into the in the future»

Spitzer says that this messiness is really evident – and probably intensifying – in peripheral regions such as the Arctic. 

«It is sometimes said that we are entering a period of «late Westphalianism» – a period where globalism, and the rights revolution, and climate emergencies, are breaking down that neat grid-like structure of states, blurring the line between inside and out, us and them. I think the Arctic is a «living laboratory» for studying late Westphalianism in action. Examining what’s happening there, now, is like being able to see into the future – or at least that’s what I think,» he says.

Worked As a Journalist

Spitzer’s «life’s work» has involved seeking to understand, and trying somehow to be useful to, Arctic peoples and places. Initially he did this as a journalist. 

«For nearly 20 years I was a newspaper, magazine, and TV-news reporter and editor in predominantly Inuit and First Nations regions of «Bush» Alaska and the Canadian Arctic. In fact, the magazine I used to run, called «Up Here,» was named Canada’s best magazine. But eventually I encountered a limit to what I could do with journalism, particularly with regards to comprehending and helping to negotiate clashes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous rights and interests – clashes that are extremely common in the Arctic,» he says.

Mid-career, Spitzer went back to school, to tackle those clashes from an academic perspective. He earned his M.A. degree in Arctic and Northern Studies at the University of Alaska in 2015 and then, the next year, he came to The University of Bergen as a Ph.D. fellow at the Department of Comparative Politics, as part of a project studying Sami and Canadian-Indigenous governance in a comparative perspective. 

An International Research Project

«Thanks to the help and support of my Ph.D. supervisor and a lot of people here in the department, and to UiB’s Nansen Initiative, my fellowship led to an associate teaching professor position, and then to my current job as an associate professor of Arctic governance», he says.       

Spitzer is now the co-leader of the international research project Indigenous Peoples and Governance in the Arctic. His research focuses on Indigenous governance, Arctic governance, and post-Westphalianism.