Joonas Vola. Photo: Marko Junttila.

Dissertation: The concept of the Arctic is often taken as a given

13.4.2022 9:30

In his dissertation, Joonas Vola investigates Arctic change and the way in which it is described in science, art, and popular communication. The author’s results provide grounds for a novel, a more radical, and a more critical way to address the Arctic region and the Arcticness.

Rather than being the target of research of a single discipline, the Arctic region has captured the attention of numerous disciplines, scientists, and artists. Owing to its geographical form and many aspects, it could be described as a quilt made of patches of different materials.

When studying and interpreting the Arctic as a region, natural phenomenon, or political issue, it is important to critically assess the concepts used. However, this critical stance hardly ever relates to the starting point of the research: “the Arctic” as a term.

According to Vola, we may even question whether the Arctic even exists without the actors and activities that construct it. We might be dealing with yet another case of “the emperor’s new clothes”, that is, a non-existent issue is made real through imagination, language, and social interaction. It raises the question, what lies underneath the veil of the Arctic?

Built on dichotomies

The Arctic is associated with change that manifests in many ways for instance in exhibitions organised at Arktikum Science Centre in Rovaniemi, Finland. Concurrently, descriptions of the change build a picture of the permanence of the Arctic. In addition to human activity, change and permanence originate from the agency of artefacts, animals, and natural phenomena.

The Arctic also entails the idea of periphery and centre.

– When for instance discussing people living in the Arctic, we should bear in mind that the region is not a single entity. Furthermore, “Arctic” as a term does not originate from the areas that are defined as being part of the Arctic. “Arctic” thereby refers to something that is distant or external, regardless of the latitude in which the word is uttered, Vola notes.

While the Arctic and Arcticness are studied and presented, the observer is always defined as “us” and the observed as “them”, which generates otherness.

The Arctic truth

It is not possible to answer the question, what is truly and genuinly Arctic? The Arctic is continuously defined through belonging and unbelonging, or being part of something and being apart. The defining is not necessarily conscious action, rather it is part of a long history that entails various glossaries, imageries, acts, and bodies of knowledge.

– Sometimes this historical load is treated with unbearable lightness, forgetting the political forces and interests invested in it, Vola adds.

According to Vola, attention should be paid to how “the Arctic” and “arctic” are written. The capital “A” of the noun should be crossed out and the marking left visible. The marking refers to both the invalidity and the necessity of the word. When using the adjective “arctic”, the initial “a” should be italicised. It denotes the elusiveness and alienating quality of the word.

– This has to do with our own collective and political desires, be it wealth, crime or love. We must notice our self-image concealed in the Arctic and anything that is arctic, in all its beauty and dreadfulness, Vola concludes.

Information on the public examination

The doctoral dissertation ”Homunculus: Bearing Incorporeal Arcticulations” by Joonas Vola, M.Soc.Sc., will be publically examined in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland on Friday 22 April 2022 at 12 noon in lecture hall 2 (Yliopistonkatu 8, LS2). The opponent is Associate Professor Michael Bravo from Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge. The custos is University Lecturer Mika Luoma-aho from the University of Lapland.

Coffee will be served in Restaurant Felli after the session.

The public examination can be followed online at

Information on the doctoral candidate

Joonas Vola (born 1986 in Pielavesi) received his high school diploma from Iisalmen lyseo in 2005. He earned his master’s degree in political science in 2012.

Vola has completed his doctoral dissertation in the doctoral programme Culture Based Service Design / The Arctic in a Changing World between 2018 and 2021. The research has been funded by the Lapland Regional Fund of the Finnish Cultural Foundation, Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse sr, and the Foundation for Economic Education. To finalise the work, Vola was awarded the Esko Riepula grant by the University of Lapland.

Vola has worked in several international research projects at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland, Umeå University, and the University of Turku. He is also a member of the research groups Northern Political Economy and Intra-Living in the Anthropocene.

Further information

Joonas Vola
+358 40 484 4066

Information on the publication

Joonas Vola: Homunculus: Bearing Incorporeal Arcticulations. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 334. ISBN 978-952-337-309-9, ISSN 1796-6310. University of Lapland, Rovaniemi 2022.

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