Meet REXSAC PhD students: Teresa Komu
Discover the second episode of our series of Q&A with REXSAC PhD Students. This time meet Teresa Komu, PhD student at the University of Oulu. Her research examines the dynamics of coexistence between reindeer herding and the extractive industries in northern Fennoscandia.
What drew you to the area/topic of your studies?
I had an opportunity to do my master’s thesis and doctoral thesis in collaboration with research projects that dealt with issues around reindeer herding and mining. I wanted to do research that feels relevant and could have practical implications, so this has been a rewarding process. The topic of mining on an area utilized by reindeer herding and nature-based tourism, is also a significant issue for my informants. This is what motivates me in my research.
What are the objectives of your work?
I examine the relationship between different livelihoods and the pursuit of the good life in the context of land use negotiations. I focus on the dynamics of coexistence between reindeer herding and the extractive industries and, to a lesser extent, nature-based tourism in the Torne River Valley by the Swedish-Finnish border region. The focus of my study is on competing livelihoods with different relationships to the environment, and how these livelihoods are connected to various understandings of how to be well and live well in the North. These differences come to the fore in land use negotiations. I regard land use negotiations as contention between different future visions of how to pursue and generate well-being within local communities, but also for society at large. The current discussions around mining in northern Fennoscandia are very polarised. However, the lived realities of local communities facing planned mining projects are not always as clear-cut or overtly contradictory as depicted in such narratives. Instead of highlighting the conflicting interests at play, I emphasise the common pursuit of the good life in my research. This takes different, and at times overlapping, manifestations for tourism entrepreneurs, reindeer herders and proponents of mining. In so doing, I aim to mitigate the current polarisation.
How does it support the objectives and work of REXSAC?
By dealing with the coexistence of various livelihoods, the historical background of resource conflicts, and expectations and fears related to mining, my research is related to several REXSAC research objectives, perhaps most closely to RT5 and RT4. I discuss how the coexistence of mining, nature-based tourism and reindeer herding in northern Fennoscandia is characterized by conflict as well as cooperation, and trace the various historical developments behind the current land use conflicts between the three livelihoods. I also discuss how various long-standing dreams and cultural constructions related to mining and to the North continue to influence present-day discussions around northern land use. I emphasize that the issues around mining are rarely black and white on a local level but rather characterized by ambivalence and multifacetedness.
What are your career aspirations?
I am having my thesis defense this January. After that, I hope to secure funding for my post-doc so that I can continue my career in research. I would also like to participate more in teaching at the university and in mentoring students. Teaching others is an opportunity for learning and self-growth. I aim to make my research findings more known to the general public in Finland and hope that I can offer new viewpoints to the public discussions around the topics of mining, tourism and reindeer herding. On the other hand, I have this humble aspiration to contribute to larger discussions within the field of anthropology in the future, while continuing to work with Finnish issues and cases.
Photo: Reindeer, Hugo Verweij