Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Susan Vanek: The Cost of Independence: National Identity and Economic Autonomy in Greenland (Award# 1313762)

PI: Wilson, Thomas M (
Phone: (607) 777.2738 
Institute/Department: Binghamton University, Department of Anthropology 
IPY Project?
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ASSP
Program Manager: Dr. Anna Kerttula (
Discipline(s): | Social and Human Sciences |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
This project examines Greenland's independence movement through its nation-building efforts, particularly its Branding Greenland initiative, a process that strives to reconfigure an ethnic identity into a national identity. The Greenlandic Nation is a new phenomenon in world affairs as it is composed and led by an indigenous Inuit population, poised to become the first independent Inuit nation-state. As such it is one of the few contemporary examples of nation-building in the Arctic. This transition is reconfiguring the face of governance in the region, with Greenland's role in its own governance increasing as Denmark's wanes. Nation-branding in Greenland draws attention to the increasing role of culture and identity as tools for economic development and political recognition by indigenous and minority groups. Building on and contributing to scholarship on indigenous movements in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, the proposed project explores the transition from a primarily ethnic, Inuit identity to a national identity and the contention between various understandings of Greenland as a place and Greenlanders as a people embedded in this process. It examines how culture and identity have been configured and reconfigured through policy with the goal of attaining political and economic autonomy, and how they have increasingly been objectified and essentialized as tools for development by various interests in politics, business, and NGOs. This project also contributes to a more situated understanding of government and governance, moving it from a straight-forward top-down process focused solely on political actors to one characterized by multiple and intersecting social, cultural, political and economic interests and contested meanings. This project employs the notion of "bordering" to examine contemporary nation-building as an internally and externally focused process, highlighting the changing role of the nation-state in an increasingly global Arctic, facing climate change accompanied by growing international attention and increasing resource development.

Logistics Summary:
With support from this doctoral dissertation improvement award, researchers will continue ethnographic research begun under the pilot project NSF 1249247, and will examine Greenland’s independence movement through its nation-building efforts, particularly its Branding Greenland campaign, as a process that strives to reconfigure an ethnic identity into a national identity. Archival research will be conducted through semi-structured and unstructured interviews with governmental and professional personnel involved in Greenland’s nation-branding effort as well as local residents in the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk, Maniitsoq, and the eastern rural town of Tasiilaq. Locals will be employed to provide insight into the construction and reception of Branding Greenland and the contemporary nationalist movement. An analysis of nationalist discourses visible in media, such as television, the internet, and newspapers, and participant observation will complement this research. During one season of field work, in 2014, the Co-PI will spend about six months in Greenland. After arriving in Kangerlussuaq in June via the ANG logistics chain from Scotia, New York, she will proceed via commercial air to Nuuk, and lodge there for 4 months of work. She will then spend one month in Maniitsoq, and one month in Tasiilaq. The researcher will employ a combination of qualitative research methods to gather data including semi-structured and unstructured interviews, participant observation, media analysis, and archival research. When the work is finished, she will depart Greenland via commercial air.

CPS will provide ANG travel, KISS user days, and intra-Greenland travel via Air Greenland. All other support items, including food, lodging, and commercial travel from Greenland, will be paid for by the PI from the grant budget.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2014Greenland - Kangerlussuaq06 / 09 / 2014 06 / 21 / 20141
2014Greenland - Maniitsoq11 / 04 / 2014 11 / 25 / 20141
2014Greenland - Nuuk06 / 21 / 2014 11 / 04 / 20141
2014Greenland - Tasiilaq12 / 02 / 2014 12 / 16 / 20141

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