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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Finger-Stich and Finger
institutional processes, our objective is to encourage respective stakeholders to take a perspective
that helps them better evaluate their constraints and margins of freedom for engaging more effective
institutional transformations, aimed at sustaining present and future generations.
We indeed believe environmental problems as well as the current situation of the Arctic should not
only be considered in the classical pressure-state-response framework (Omann, Stocker & Jäger,
2009), but also be considered from the perspective of social agency analysis. Defining the various
actors, their interests, their power relations, their influence, their strategies, and the institutional
context in which they interact, can offer a critical analysis of current environmental governance of
the Arctic. While reckoning the essential authority of science in environmental policy making, the
outcome of environmental policy-making processes hinge on far more complex interactions between
various state and non-state actors of multiple and often conflicting interests (Bocking, 2004).
Considering environmental governance as a social system of interacting agents is a perspective that
allows us to better address potentials and constraints of actors to adapt and transform some of their
attitudes, behavior and social structures of collective actions (Crozier & Friedberg, 1977)
Environmental agency is thus considered as being a process of institutionalization, or more precisely
in Gidden’s terms of “structuration”, whereby social interactions are not only the product of rational
behavior, where individuals and organizations pursue their interests, but also of culture and partly
unconscious patterns of behavior. These more or less formalized patterns of behavior or institutions
are constructed, not only to respond to problems but also to reproduce the social system from which
both actors and problems emerge. To recall Giddens, “institutions are practices, which stretch over
long time-space distances in the reproduction of social systems” (Giddens, 1995: 28). Indeed, even
though environmental institutions are often carried forth by strategies and related discourses
pertaining to social change, they are also reproducing social structures that are foundational to the
issue or problem and not necessarily sustainable in socio-political, economic, cultural and ecological
terms. We thus consider environmental issues as being co-constructed by social agents deliberating
about various perceptions and interpretations of social conflicts and values (Finger-Stich, 2005).
Issues are framed out of complex time and place bound social and ecological interactions. Framing
alternative strategies to address social – including environmental – issues is always a political exercise,
in which authority and legitimacy are negotiated around conflicting interests, which outcome will
redefine (or reaffirm) a certain configuration of power relations.