Institutt for sammenliknende politikk


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Arctic research comes in from the cold

How SAMPOL is on the frontier of polar political science

Sami activist and artist Andy Somby, Aaron John Spitzer and Per Selle, UiB
Sami activist and artist Andy Somby, Aaron John Spitzer and Per Selle, UiB
Siri Gloppen


The High North, long considered peripheral to the study of politics, is now a geopolitical hot spot, due to climate change, Arctic sovereignty, demand for remote resources, new transportation routes, militarization, and Indigenous “decolonization.” Academia is taking note and turning north – and the Department of Comparative Politics (SAMPOL) is in the lead.

For five years, SAMPOL has been home to the international research group Indigenous People and Governance in the Arctic, exploring international, domestic, and regional polar politics through a comparative lens. Led by professor Per Selle, along with professor Kristin Strømsnes, lecturer Aaron Spitzer, and stipendiat Elin Monstad, the group has found itself at the forefront of a dynamic field of study.

– The High North is like a laboratory of political science, says Selle and continues: 

– There, state-making is not history but rather current events, happening right in front of our eyes. It’s such a salient, exciting place to do research.

The group’s achievements have been noteworthy. They have published nearly a dozen scholarly articles, in journals such as Postcolonial StudiesCanadian Journal of Political Science, International Journal of Minority and Group Rights, and, just this month, the Journal of International Political Theory. They have furthermore published two books, including the just-released Finnmarksloven – en milepæl?, exploring achievements and controversies in the governance of Sami land. 

The group’s undertakings have been earning attention. This month UiB, through its Nansen Initiative to foreground High North research, awarded Selle NOK 200,000 for his research project “A Sami land-claims settlement?” At the same time, the multidisciplinary project “Visions of the Arctic,” based at UiB’s Faulty of Humanities and with Strømsnes among the principal investigators, won NOK 195,000.

That was not the only good news for Strømsnes and UiB. This month, the Norwegian Research Council advanced “Visions of the Arctic” to its final round of consideration for a 2022 Centre of Excellence award, which would give the project funding of up to NOK 20 million annually for 10 years.  

SAMPOL’s Arctic researchers also remain committed to sharing polar knowledge with students, peers, and the public. In the past five years, Spitzer and Selle have developed and delivered two new courses, the B.A.-level SAMPOL 203: Comparative Arctic Indigenous Governance, and the M.A.-level SAMPOL 323: Nye styringsformer i nordområda.

As well, with collaborators at the universities of Tromsø, Stockholm, Lapland, Montreal, Laval, and Northern British Columbia, they have hosted conference sessions and presented at workshops, seminars and conferences in Canada, Sweden, and Norway – including in the northern communities of Bodø, Tromsø, and Longyearbyen. 

Moreover, they have been active in disseminating knowledge to the broader community, for example publishing plain-language commentaries in newspapers such as Nordlys and Bergens Tidende.