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Circumpolar Governance

Circumpolar Governance

Many significant developments in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions stem from issues of governance. Current attempts to forge self-governing political regions and environmental management regimes raise profound questions about the relationship between community and territory. Traditionally, the competing ambitions and interests of nation-states have defined the structure and boundaries of the polar regions. These histories have tended to divide and stratify the regions.

The anthropomorphic Inuksuk has emerged as a symbol of Inuit self-determination in Canada
The anthropomorphic Inuksuk has emerged as a symbol of Inuit self-determination in Canada

Governance in the polar regions today is inextricably linked to debates bubbling beneath the surface about the future of international community-building and the credibility of different kinds of competing epistemologies or theories of knowledge. Stakeholders, previously marginalised from international discussions about governance, now play an essential role in debating the future of the polar regions. This was recently articulated in 'Social Sciences and Humanities in the IPY 2007-2008: an Integrating Mission' (2005), written by an international academic taskforce, setting out a practical agenda for planning the next International Polar Year. Unlike previous IPYs, this one will for the first time, aim to integrate a broad range of stakeholder participants (northern peoples, social scientists, natural scientists) around the circumpolar north.

My experience in Arctic governance developed in the early 1990s, a particularly important time for Inuit in Canada's eastern Arctic. Working closely with an indigenous-managed and -owned and film production company, Igloolik Isuma Productions, Dr Bravo was able to participate in Board meetings where the meaning and signficance of corporate governance was discussed and translated into practice.

Also in Igloolik, Dr Bravo was able to participate in the early stages of building one of the largest and most successful Elders' oral histories projects. The project's purpose was to build a database of local traditional knowledge that could be preserved, transcribed, and put into practice in new institutional settings like schools.

The challenge to promote traditional knowledge and governance today requires policymakers to understand how these projects can be replicated in other communities (this is more difficult than first meets the eye). To create policies that support traditional ways of knowing across a region raises further and different issues of how to scale up and translate knowledge without losing its inherent diversity. This is an issue Dr Bravo only began to write about for the first time in 'The Rhetoric of Scientific Practice in Nunavut' (2000). Now he is focusing on a number of dimensions of this problem more explicitly in collaboration with Dr. Robin Boast (Cambridge), Prof. David Turnbull (Deakin), Prof. Geoff Bowker (U.C. Santa Clara), and Dr. Ramesh Srinivasan (UCLA).


  • MLA Designated Challenge Fund Award (with Dr. Robin Boast, MAA)
  • Government of Canada/Foundation for Canadian Studies Faculty Enrichment Grant
  • University of Cambridge Smuts Fund Travel Award


Publications arising from this research programme include:

  • 2007 Boast, R., Bravo, M. T., and Srinivasan, R., 'Return to Babel: Emergent diversity, digital resources, and local knowledge', The Information Society Journal, 23(5) published at
  • 2006 Bravo, M. T. and Rees, W. G. 'Cryo-Politics: Environmental Security and the Future of Arctic Navigation', Brown Journal of World Affairs, Fall/Winter 2006 13(1): 205-215.
  • 2005 Bravo, M. T., I. Krupnik, Y. Csonka, et al., 'Social Sciences and Humanities in the IPY 2007-2008: an Integrating Mission', Arctic 58(1):89-96.
  • 2000 The Rhetoric of Scientific Practice in Nunavut. Ecumene 7(4): 495-501.