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1st Place

2020 Dissertation Award


"Constructing Indigeneity in the Narrative Networks of the Fosen Vind Controversy"

Elise Nyborg
Cambridge University

For confidentiality reasons, it has not been possible to make the full manuscript publicly available here. A synopsis of the study, penned by the author, can be found below.

Elise Nyorg

My undergraduate dissertation explored the controversy caused by Fosen Vind, a wind-power complex located in central Norway planned to be Europe’s largest onshore wind-project by the time of its completion at the end of 2020. Despite being backed by municipal approval, Swiss financial industrial investment, and the Norwegian government’s desire for a green energy shift, the project has had a polarising response. A diverse local coalition of resistance representing civilian interests, environmentalist organisations, and the Indigenous South Saami reindeer herding district (Fovsen-Njaarke Sïjte) have opposed the project through legal and direct action since development was announced in 2005. When physical construction began in 2016 the merits of the project experienced renewed national public debate. At the same time, the particular resistance of the Saami reindeer herders started attracting significant foreign attention from media and academia alike. International support for them grew after the filing of a UN-CERD complaint and later OECD complaint with the assistance of a Swiss human rights non-governmental organisation (publicity material from which is featured in the image above).

I chose this topic as I was interested in investigating the hidden costs of sustainable energy transitions, particularly in reference to Indigenous peoples already marginalised by a dominant global extractive energy sector. My theoretical underpinnings were informed by political ecology (PE), a broad field which uses a variety of analytical tools to reveal power dynamics in contested socio-environmental issues. Recognising renewable energy as a resource equally subject to the geographies of extraction as those of the extractive industries prevalently featured in PE, my dissertation can be understood within the growing literature on the PE of renewable energy (PERE). Identifying gaps in the existing PERE and extra-disciplinary Fosen Vind literature enabled me to contribute novel theoretical and analytical insights from poststructural and postcolonial theory. This developed through an adapted version of the idea of ‘narrative networks’ from Raul Lejano, Mrill Ingram and Helen Ingram’s 2013 book “The Power of Narrative in Environmental Networks” with interpretations of PE Dianne Rocheleau’s rooted networks and relational webs as ‘shot through with power’ (2015, pg. 70).

Applying this theoretical framework, I complicated the binary media representations of a purely local controversy by exploring the discursive struggles of actors networked in and across space to control the narrative and lay claim to the Fosen Vind case, and identifying the disparate ways in which ideas of indigeneity are deliberately presented, performed, or even erased in order to do so. I found that conflicting narrative understandings of the controversy were grounded in fundamentally opposing ontologies of nature, which were at the root of the moral economies and value systems actor-groups had in regards to the wind-park and its controversy. Additionally, these ontologies determined how indigeneity could simultaneously be both a tool of emancipation and governance for the Saami, with Indigenous strategic self-conceptualisation not aligning with the representations of indigeneity invoked not only by the wind-park proponents but also by Indigenous allies.

Although Fosen Vind ultimately completed construction despite substantial public criticism and legal opposition, practical future insights as well as a better understanding of wind-resistance beyond reductive ‘nimbyism’ can still be gained from its investigation. This dissertation attests to how embracing complexity and multiple perspectives is necessary for more successfully negotiating energy resource conflicts between different stakeholders as well as managing a just energy transition. Although this wind-complex may exist in our geographical ‘outskirts’, its relevance is central to the consequences of our shifting energy needs as well as the future self-determination of Indigenous communities. Similar disputes to that of Fosen Vind are now regularly appearing throughout Sápmi with the progression of Norway’s green shift, parallel to the renewable energy conflicts advancing in Indigenous peoples' traditional territories across Latin America and elsewhere.  

Finally, I would like to emphasise that I was guided by decolonial and Indigenous methodologies throughout this project. I therefore emphasise my own positionality as a non-Indigenous, Norwegian-speaking outsider; I am aware of the limitations of my research. I thank all research participants for their generous time and input; I will be donating the prize money from this award to the Saemien Sijte (the South Saami Museum and Cultural Center in Snåsa, Norway) or similar relevant organisation. Due to confidentiality agreements with my research participants, I cannot make this dissertation publically available. However, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions regarding this dissertation.

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