Abstract: State Transformation in the High North (PhD thesis)

ABSTRACT: State Transformation in the High North – Cases of environmental justice struggles

PhD thesis by Helge Hiram Jensen, European University Institute,
Submitted 30. May 2014 (not yet defended)

This is a study in the art and science of fundamental systems transformation. It is hypothesis-generative, based on qualitative research. The cases are selected from an ongoing process of state transformation at the Arctic fringe of Europe. The study is a contribution to ongoing re-thinking of concepts and methods in European Political and Social Sciences.

The indigenous rights struggle feeds into the ongoing re-constitution of the body of law (1). The struggle for rights is also a struggle for proofs, which feeds into ongoing re-constitution of the body of knowledge.

“Positive findings” is my attempt to observe some possible causal mechanisms whereby the indigenous human rights movement has had some limited success in their effort to decolonize the four states that have divided and conquered Sápmi, the homeland of the Sámi (formerly known as Lapps), the only people within the EU that is recognized by the UN as an indigenous people.

“Negative findings” is my attempt to observe some limitations of my own observational capacity. Many questions of relevance to subaltern interest groups remain under-researched and under-documented: There is loads of colonial bias that remains to be beaten, not only within European political science at large, but also in my limited contribution to overcome such bias.

Seven empirical chapters inquire two single-case studies: Alta Watershed, ca. 1970-1980, and Deatnu Watershed, ca 1980-2012. I used qualitative data from field observation and historical archives, contextualized with some quantitative data from official registers. The different chapters operate within different disciplines: two are geographical, two are sociological, one is historical, one is anthropological and
one is traditional political science. Being multi-disciplinary, my empirical research still continues what I call the major research tradition in the field, which takes interest in collective action and social ecology, and informs human rights policies.

The theoretical discussion addresses observations by colleagues within another, rival tradition, which emphasizes coercive force and geo-strategy, and serves public security policies. Transformative social movements need to be aware that both traditions remains limited by a heritage of colonial bias, but also that they may be used in a complimentary manner, to help overcoming either fatalism or over-optimism. I conclude that transformative social movements need to avoid the dual pitfalls of naïve idealism and naïve realism, and pursue critical realism.


1) The change in international law is profound. §1 of UNs human rights declaration ICECR implies that Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia must stop denying that they have suppressed the indigenous people, and instead they must try to heal the harm they have inflicted, by sorting out both state-sovereignty and indigenous self-determination in Sápmi. In other words: the established states must end their separatist (unilateral) way of dealing with shared cultural and natural heritage.


Prof. Donatella della Porta, European University Institute (supervisor)
Prof. Steinar Pedersen, Sámi University College
Prof. Paul Routledge, University of Leeds
Prof. Olivier Roy, European University Institute

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