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The NOMAD Expedition builds upon experience that the Principal Investigator has gained during previous work in the Kola Peninsula:
- A ten-year long period of research on post-Soviet transformation of reindeer husbandry in the Kola Peninsula (1995-2005) launched with the support of the Norwegian Research Council (NAVF, subsequently NFR) through co-operation with the Department of Social Anthropology at Tromsø University and the Roald Amundsen Centre for Polar Research, supported through grants from the International Northern Sea Route Program (INSROP) and the Swedish Riksbank Jubilee Fund, led by Yulian Konstantinov.
- Participation in Workpackage 9 of the EU-supported scientific project "The Challenges of Modernity for Reindeer Management", which was an example of the advantages offered by interdisciplinary research between the natural and social sciences in respect of human-Rangifer interaction.
The project also benefits from collaboration and consultation with related projects recently or currently conducted in several parts of Russia, Scandinavia and Finland, the United States of America and Canada.
Assessment of the state of the art
Current literature examining human-Rangifer (reindeer or caribou) interaction, within the disciplinary concerns of the social sciences, tends to show variation in focus and themes between the three main human-Rangifer regions -- the Russian Eurasian; Fennoscandic; and North American. The variation reflects regional preoccupations following local specifics, disciplinary histories, social, economic and political priorities. The Russian Eurasian zone is currently drawing interest in the context, primarily, of post-Soviet changes (Anderson 2000; Donahoe 2003; Gray 2001; Habeck 2005; Konstantinov 2005; Ssorin-Chaikov 2003; Stammler 2005; Ventsel 2005; Vladimirova 2006; see bibliography), while the Fennoscandic area is dominated primarily by Sami issues and the discussion of ethnicity (Beach 1981; Paine 1994; Thuen 1995). In the North American context, social science studies are mostly concerned with issues of preservation or integration of traditional ecological knowledge and the problematic of co-management of first-nation territories. Overviews would either follow again regional specific divisions (i.e. Jernsletten and Klokov 2002), or be concerned with general adaptive patterns (Krupnik 1993), or with with the perception of the environment and human-animal relations from a more theoretical point of view (Ingold 2000). With the advent of the debate about climate change, still further rifts appeared as the North American regional literature has responded with much greater alacrity and re-orientation to interdisciplinary approaches, while the situation in the Russian Eurasian region is usually described and discussed in the light of the socio-economic problems of the numerically small indigenous peoples of the Russian North.
The state of the art is thus characterized by deep fissures and regional fragmentarization. A great deal of this is to be connected with shortcomings of currently practiced fieldwork methods. These shortcomings can be briefly summarized in the following way:
- Underused comparative potential
While the use of monitoring stations in natural science research of arctic and subartic regions has become a permanent feature, qualitative social science has, as a rule, relied on mostly individual and temporary inclusion. The result is fragmentarization of effort and lack of a firm basis for longitudinal comparison between regions.
- Diminished, fragmented and limited contact with the Human-Rangifer link in field conditions
As a rule, the Human-Rangifer link is observed from the vantage point of the Human, and not of the Rangifer part of the linkage. On many occasions, humans as hunters/ herders may have only sporadic seasonal contacts with rangifers, and even during these encounters may not be able or willing to take researchers along. In this way, researchers' contact with rangifers and direct observation of human-rangifer encounters is taken for granted inside and outside the academic community, but, upon closer scrutiny, may turn out to be often a sporadic, limited, or chance affair.
- Absence of field-contact with the whole picture
Limitations on the field of vision grow, additionally, due to lack of field-contact with the larger picture. For a season-specific event like calving, for instance, a researcher may benefit enormously if he/she could compare with what is being done at that very moment in other parts of the Human-Rangifer universe and thus be able to form conclusions about systemic patterns of response connected with overarching fields of force, overriding local peculiarities, or idiosyncratic features. Currently, the search for universals is hampered by the very pronounced individualization of anthropological research.
The NOMAD Project is an attempt towards overcoming such shortcomings. By creating a mobile station, following the migration of Rangifer and humans, and intended for long-term multi-site use, NOMAD will increase the comparative potential of social science research by gaining experience for examining different situations over sufficiently long periods of time. Choosing to study the picture form a vantage point of close contact with a Rangifer herd -- as in traditional methods of reindeer husbandry -- the human-Rangifer link will be examined in greater depth in comparison to existing methods. The mobile station method will enhance the breadth of observation of the variety of human and non-human presences with whom the species shares its fragile northern habitat -- mainly through its interdisciplinary possibilities. Through the website, the NOMAD Blog and Forum and other outreach activities, we invite experts, researchers as well as educational establishments with interests in subarctic pastoralism, biodiversity, global change and environmental issues, to get back to us and share with us their ideas and opinions.
(Yulian Konstantinov, August 2006)