Kathrine I. Johnsen defended PhD thesis

February 14, 2019 • Svetlana AvelovaBlog, Reindeer Herders

On 4 February 2019 Kathrine I. Johnsen defended her doctoral thesis in Ås, Akershus county, at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Kathrine I. Johnsen’s doctoral thesis entitled “Conflicting knowledges, competing worldviews: Norwegian governance of Sami reindeer husbandry in West Finnmark, Norway” concludes that Sami reindeer owners’ ability to run reindeer is conditional on their ability to adapt to an ‘Norwegian’ form of reindeer husbandry.

Main supervisor is Dr Tor A. Benjaminsen, Noragric, NMBU, co-supervisor: Dr Inger Marie Gaup Eira, Sami University College. The committee that considered her scientific work was:
First opponent: Professor David Anderson, University of Aberdeen, UK Other opponent: Dr. Caroline Upton, University of Leicester, UK
Coordinator: Dr. Andrei Marin, Noragric, Faculty of Landscape and Society, NMBU


The overall aim of the study was to gain a deeper understanding of conflicts between the state and the reindeer owners related to the management of Sami reindeer husbandry. The state’s measures to rationalize reindeer husbandry and area conflicts in Western Finnmark constitute the backdrop for the thesis. Political ecology has been the theoretical framework for research.

The basis of the state and the reindeer ‘s narratives about the decision – making processes and the consequences of these decisions for Sami reindeer husbandry lies the two actors’ perceptions of what reindeer husbandry is and should be. The thesis shows that the government’s management of reindeer husbandry promotes a reindeer husbandry practice based on Western knowledge and a western worldview. This governance regime is in conflict with traditional Sami reindeer husbandry and worldview. Despite 40 years of politics to rationalize reindeer husbandry, a Sami worldview still continues to influence the reindeer owners’ understanding of the relationship between humans, reindeer and nature, and how this relationship should be managed. The study found that the state governance of Sami reindeer husbandry undermines the reindeer owners’ identity and rights, it displaces the power relationship between the state and the reindeer for the benefit of the state, and it creates winners and losers in the Sami reindeer husbandry.

The purpose section of the Reindeer Husbandry Act recognizes reindeer husbandry as an important basis for Sami culture and society. Nevertheless, this thesis reveals that the traditional knowledge and institutions of reindeer husbandry are not recognized in the practical implementation of the law. The power relations and the competing knowledge systems make it difficult for the reindeer to influence the decision-making processes that affect their reindeer husbandry and lower their confidence that the authorities will do their best. Sami reindeer owners’ ability to operate with reindeer and claim a right to grazing areas is conditional on their ability to adapt to an ‘Norwegian’ reindeer husbandry. The consequence of the practical implementation of the reindeer husbandry policy thus threatens the purpose clause and Norway’s international obligations to the reindeer husbandry as indigenous peoples.

At a time when conflicts between the reindeer and the state receive increased national and international attention, this thesis provides insight into why these conflicts arise and thus what can be done differently to increase trust between the actors.