ARCTIC SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS AND RESILIENCE
Multifaceted change is transforming the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in unprecedented ways: climate change alters the physical conditions for human thriving, natural resource exploitation degrades environments and changes the economic base of entire communities, and globalization brings new kinds of ideas, hopes, fears, and contacts into local and Indigenous communities. To these challenges and opportunities, northern communities respond in multiple ways, including by migrating away from the North, re-imagining possible socio-economic futures in the North, and reinventing livelihoods in place that combine more traditional and newer, more globalized ways of life. My research and grant activity over the past five-six years has attempted to address and to increase scholarly understandings of how northern communities adapt to ongoing biogeophysical and socio-cultural transformations.
For me, understanding the full complexity of the intertwined issues affecting northern communities and their possibilities for sustainable, resilient futures has required (1) a systems perspective to grapple with the complexity and unprecedented rates of socio-ecological transformation in the North and (2) applied work with and in communities to appreciate their resiliences and the possibilities for sustainability. As a Principal Investigator or Co-principal Investigator on three multi-year grants, I have both led and participated in research and community workshops, in collaboration with other Arctic researchers, to grapple with the complex socio-ecological issues affecting communities in Alaska, Greenland, and Russia and to support communities in developing possibilities for greater resilience.
While created to inform urban ecological research that understands cities as emergent ecological phenomena, I use four guiding principles developed by the interdisciplinary Urban Ecology Program at the University of Washington (Seattle) in my work in the North, because I consider the “new” North—transformed by biogeophysical and socio-cultural change—to be an emergent socio-ecological phenomenon. These principles include (1) respecting the importance of locally informed research, (2) building collaboration between scholars and non-academic professionals, (3) pursuing problem-based learning, and (4) practicing appreciative inquiry, which is a research mode that seeks to inform the future through understanding what is possible instead of what is wrong with a system or an organization.
Photo above: Teriberka, Murmansk oblast, Russia, by J. K., Graybill
ENERGY GEOGRAPHIES OF RUSSIA AND EURASIA
Closely related to my interest in the resilience of northern places amidst socio-ecological transformation is my interest in the energy geographies of Russia and Eurasia. Many of Russia’s extractive energy projects are located in or planned for Arctic and sub-Arctic places, making an examination of energy transformations in these parts of Russia a continuing mainstay of my established research trajectory. From my earlier investigations of resource extraction in the Russian Far East, I have expanded my analyses to address not only how Russia’s network and nodes of energy extraction, mobilization, and production impact local people and places, but also to understand how the legacy of Russia’s Soviet-era energy networks continue to inform, or rupture, plans for future energy development across Russia and some neighboring countries.
My research on emotional and cultural geographies of energy continues, but I now address more than individual places in such work as my scholarship has deepened and broadened in this realm. This change is partially due to the continuation of diligent, independent research in energy-dependent (where projects already exist) and energy-hopeful (where energy projects are being planned) places in Russia, and partially due to exhilarating collaborative grant-related activities, such as community-based workshops and participation in specialized conferences in Russia and beyond. As I have increasingly become a scholar of the Arctic and not just of Russia, I have gained the ability to see past Russia’s energy geographies to understand what is unique to that country and what is shaped by more regional-global issues at the energy-society nexus regarding production, mobilization, consumption, and waste.
Photo above: Emplacement of an offshore oil rig, Sea of Okhotsk, by J.K. Graybill
Finally, I continue to engage in research in urban places and about urban phenomena. Often, this is because my research on socio-ecological systems, resilience, and energy geographies occurs in urban places. In Russia, research on socio-ecological systems, community resilience, and energy geographies requires working in large cities as well as in small, compact, urban-like settlements. Attention to energy and climate change-induced transformations in Russia requires concomitant attention to the post-Soviet condition, which is more often than not urban in form, function, and future. For these reasons, I have become a specialist in Russian cities, and find myself drawn to understanding the socio-ecological systems in and of them, noting how urban spaces and surrounding areas are transformed in the creation of hybrid socialist-capitalist and authoritarian-democratic regimes.
Other urban research includes ongoing engagement with cities and villages in upstate New York and in the Cities of the World textbook project. My interest in places in upstate New York remains, and I have worked closely with my students in courses and in individual projects on issues of (re)growth in declining places, such as the City of Utica and the Village of Earlville, bringing the focus on resilience that I have gained from my Arctic research. The textbook project, much like my grant activity, has widened my perspective about cities and the variety of urban research trajectories that could be followed. I hope to continue my involvement in this project both for future editions of the textbook but also to apply insights gained from it in consideration of, for example, the challenges to urban modernization or resilience across the multiple spaces experiencing urban decline, postsocialist conditions, or Arctic transformations.
Photo above: A downtown wall mural in Utica, NY, by J.K. Graybill.