NEO-BEAR –  Neoliberal governance and sustainable development in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region

Map of the Barents Region

Leader: Monica Tennberg
Schedule: 2012- 2013
Project is funded by Nordic Council of Ministers’ Arctic cooperation programme


Within the NEO-BEAR –project, neoliberalism is understood as a particular mode of governance based on the extension of market relations in society. In this context, the aim of sustainable development becomes a particular governmental reason to introduce economy into political practice, that is, a governmentality. In neoliberal approach, communities and local peoples are to become more active, engaged and responsible for their own economic development and wellbeing. Neoliberal governmentality invokes “a community as a means to collectivise and organize subjects of government in ways that facilitate ethico-political governance” (Summerville, Adkins & Kendall 2008).  The word “community” here is understood very loosely, as a combination of peoples, resources and practices that form a space- and time bounded place. Most importantly, governmentality produces three kinds of communities as governmentalized, regulated and subjectified. Firstly, communities as “governmentalized localities” are places of transforming state-community relations historically; secondly, new regulatory spaces emerge within such governmentalized localities as combinations of political, legal and administrative practices, and thirdly, the constitution of new local subjectivities take place - people who come to think and act in new ways in relation to their community (Adapted from Agrawal 2005).

The aim was to  study the role of neoliberal governance, the changing relationship between states and communities, as a catalyst for sustainable development in the Barents region by combining multidisciplinary knowledge about ongoing and expected future economic, social, and environmental changes and governance practices in the Barents region; to highlight local communities’ perspectives on the current and expected future changes and governance practices from the perspective of sustainable development in the region through local case studies; to synthesise macro and micro level knowledge about the role of the state as a catalyst of sustainable development through joint workshop and publication activity; and disseminate knowledge about the research activity through a travelling exhibition and website development.

Research strategy

The research sites are Sør Varanger, Norway; Ust- Tsilma,Russia; Inari, Finland; Teriberka, Russia; and Pajala, Sweden. These local communities have several issues related to governance of sustainable development to tackle representing different development paths in the region focusing on mining, tourism and development of infrastructure.

Research was done by analyzing local and regional policy documents and plans as well information on national and international development policies relevant to the study region to identify the key discourses and practices of sustainable development concerning the region and communities inside it. Research continued as participatory process in selected communities, local discourses and practices of sustainable development were studied. A series of meetings in five communities in the Barents Region were organized to exchange ideas of sustainable development between local stakeholders and researchers. Interviews and participatory observation were conducted in the selected research sites in the Barents Region to deepen the understanding of sustainability issues in local communities.  The aim of the research strategy was to denaturalise sustainable development as a neoliberal ‘technique of governance’ and to question the existing ways of understanding “unsustainability” as a problem for local, national and  regional governance. The aim of the research was also to expand the understanding of sustainability and emphasise local understandings of sustainable development.

The research group

The collaboration covers the four states in the Barents Region: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Northwest Russia.
  • Monica Tennberg, Research professor of the sustainable development research group of the Arctic centre, University of Lapland is the coordinator of the project. Tennberg is an expert on Arctic and Russian environmental politics.
  • Julian Reid, Professor of International Relations, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Lapland, specialized on biopolitics and global development studies, participates in the project.
  • Aileen Espiritu, director of the Barents Institute, Norway, is a specialist on border politics, comparative studies of quality of life of northern residents, regional political economy and the impact of industrial development on populations and their environment.
  • Nils-Gustav Lundgren, Professor from University of Umeå. His expertise covers forest policy in northern regions, and recently he has been involved in projects related to the growth of the mining sector.
  • Larissa Riabova, PhD (Ec.) is a Head the Department of Social Politics in the North. Riabova’s area of competence is research on socioeconomic aspects of regional and local development in the Circumpolar North, particularly in the Russian Far North.
  • Elena Tonkova, PhD, is the Director of Social Technologies Institute (STI) at Syktyvkar State University. Tonkova is a specialist in political philosophy, particularly in social justice theories, and in social sustainability in the context of cultural plurality. Also Irina Kozyreva PhD in political theory, Head of social work department, Institute of Social Technologies, participates in the project.
Contact person

At Home in the Barents

The five case studies are featured in the web presenation "At Home in the Barents".