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The Future of Arctic Social Science

Perceptions of the Arctic as an extreme environment with a unique history, coupled with limited research funding, have produced a tendency toward exceptionalism in arctic social science or, in other words, a propensity to focus on unique cases rather than generic processes. Moreover, at first glance, issues such as the failure of the centrally planned economies of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, environmental degradation, and persistent racism seem far afield from the Arctic. But as the preceding chapter demonstrates, arctic studies have already contributed significantly to our understanding of mainstream social science issues, and the potential for additional contributions is great.

The U.S. Congress recognized this potential by including the behavioral and social sciences in its call for basic and applied research on arctic issues to address national interests relating to security, weather and climate, natural resources, transportation, communications, environmental protection, health, culture, and socioeconomic issues (U.S. Congress, 1984). Science policymakers at the National Science Foundation (NSB, 1987) and the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC, 1989) also have noted the opportunities and needs for arctic research in the social and behavioral sciences to advance our national interests.

In 1990 representatives of national scientific organizations from the eight arctic countries signed founding articles establishing the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC, 1990). The founding meeting identified



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ARCTIC Contributions to, Social Science and Public Policy 3 The Future of Arctic Social Science Perceptions of the Arctic as an extreme environment with a unique history, coupled with limited research funding, have produced a tendency toward exceptionalism in arctic social science or, in other words, a propensity to focus on unique cases rather than generic processes. Moreover, at first glance, issues such as the failure of the centrally planned economies of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, environmental degradation, and persistent racism seem far afield from the Arctic. But as the preceding chapter demonstrates, arctic studies have already contributed significantly to our understanding of mainstream social science issues, and the potential for additional contributions is great. The U.S. Congress recognized this potential by including the behavioral and social sciences in its call for basic and applied research on arctic issues to address national interests relating to security, weather and climate, natural resources, transportation, communications, environmental protection, health, culture, and socioeconomic issues (U.S. Congress, 1984). Science policymakers at the National Science Foundation (NSB, 1987) and the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC, 1989) also have noted the opportunities and needs for arctic research in the social and behavioral sciences to advance our national interests. In 1990 representatives of national scientific organizations from the eight arctic countries signed founding articles establishing the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC, 1990). The founding meeting identified

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ARCTIC Contributions to, Social Science and Public Policy issues relating to humans in the arctic region as one of four priority areas in which the committee should endeavor to take the lead. The National Science Foundation has assumed the role of lead federal agency for U.S. social science research on arctic issues and has created the position of social science coordinator in the Division of Polar Programs with a mandate to establish and develop the Arctic Social Science Program. This program received an initial $1 million in funding for fiscal year 1991 to be used in support of competitive research projects. The new program has, in turn, adopted program guidelines based on recommendations set forth in the National Research Council report Arctic Social Science: An Agenda for Action (NRC, 1989). The 1989 report, which is attached as an appendix to this report, recommends that priority be given to funding research related to three interdisciplinary themes: human/environmental relationships, community viability, and rapid social change. Today, arctic social science is in a position to make important contributions to the intellectual concerns of mainstream social science disciplines. While we have chosen examples related to the organization of production, environmental protection, and the preservation of cultural diversity, similar opportunities exist in many other areas. The fact that analogous issues arise not only in the North American Arctic but also in Fennoscandia and Russia opens up numerous avenues for international collaboration in the interest of conducting comparative studies based on common research designs. Research in this field can also help with the search for appropriate responses to urgent applied issues, such as continued comparative interdisciplinary research on how arctic communities and other Third World communities cope with a variety of problems, including declining financial resources for social services, cultural survival of communities, and a complex pattern of intergovernmental relations, regulations, and conflicting expectations. The time has come for arctic social science to be viewed as having come in from the cold and to begin to make sustained contributions to broader understanding of human affairs.