How to practically challenge ecomodernism? Social movement mobilisation around Sámi reindeer pastoralism, 2012–2022
A new wave of encroachments is set to transform the energy-intensive natural resource-based industry of northern Sweden with investments in renewable energy-based mineral and battery production; increasing the demand on land for mineral extraction, wind farms, intensive forestry, and their surrounding industrial complexes. This type of sustainability transition is not uncontroversial, as indicated by the long-standing debates on how to address trade-offs between economy and environment amongst proponents of weak sustainability, ecomodernism and ecological modernization theory on the one side, and proponents of strong sustainability, degrowth and (some) eco-socialist theory on the other. But if one seeks to practically challenge the ecomodernist position presented above, how does one go about?
The question is immediately relevant for many reindeer pastoralists among the indigenous Sámi people, whom already prior to the new wave of encroachments struggled to deal with the cumulative effects of past encroachments from industrial land uses, predator pressure and the impacts of climate change on snow conditions. For those seeking to practically challenge and eventually change the status-quo, it should be obvious that conceptual critique is not sufficient. Critique must be mobilised by some agent and operationalised in a strategy for social change, which includes assembling a broad social coalition in support for concrete reforms that can address grievances. In this seminar, I present my use-inspired, interdisciplinary, and participatory sustainability research that focuses on such agency.
My presentation unfolds in four parts. First, I show how I ground my normative position through a critical realist meta-theory, drawing on the extended case method and applying the method of immanent critique through engagements with reindeer pastoralist organizations and academic literature. Second, I introduce a conceptual framework informed by the contentious politics approach to social movement theory and ecological perspectives on natural grazing-based Sámi reindeer pastoralism that informs a media analysis of Sámi public service news media. Third, I provide an overview of current strategies for political change observed in claims-making instances and reflect on how they relate to one another. Here, I also present an overview of what demands are being made, who is making them, what kind of reforms these imply, and what changes in social relations to these reforms imply. Fourth, and finally, through the case of social movement mobilisation around Sámi reindeer pastoralism, I discuss the scientific problem for social movement emergence beyond ecomodernism in a global North-setting.
David Harnesk is a sustainability scientist with a thematic focus on land, climate change, and social movements. His research is interdisciplinary and use-inspired, currently focusing on the climatic and environmental conditions of Sámi reindeer pastoralism, and its surrounding social and political mobilization, in Sweden.