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Acta Borealia
A Nordic Journal of Circumpolar Societies
Volume 36, 2019 - Issue 1
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Institutionalization, neo-politicization and the politics of defining Sámi research

Pages 1-22 | Received 11 Jan 2019, Accepted 12 Feb 2019, Published online: 02 May 2019


This article critically examines recent changes in the social terrain of Sámi research in Finland, where the research field is subject to a new wave of academic institutionalization, and where questions regarding “Sáminess” have become particularly prominent. The article argues that in this conjuncture of institutionalization and neo-politicization, definitions of Sámi research which emphasize its political and ethical qualities (“Sámi research” as research done from a “Sámi perspective” or “taking it into account”) appear increasingly problematic and can actually end up doing the opposite of what was originally intended. Instead of bringing questions regarding the politics of perspective, location, representation and power/knowledge to the fore, presenting the research field in these terms might turn attention away from a variety of interests and political desires that currently are projected onto Sámi research, and hence depoliticize understandings of Sámi research and its complex interdependence with the state and society.


I thank warmly all those who have helped me think through the topics covered in this article, however I alone carry responsibility over the final text. Particular thanks go to Antti Aikio, Marjut Aikio, Pekka Aikio, Ivar Bjørklund, Lydia Heikkilä, Outi Korpilähde, Hanna Laako, Veli-Pekka Lehtola, Mikko Lehtonen, Darryl Leroux, Anni-Siiri Länsman, Tiina Seppälä, Tomi Tuominen, the anonymous reviewers of Acta Borealia and all researchers in the Sodi-Sámi research project which is based at the Tromsø University Museum, UiT Arctic University of Norway.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.


1 According to the founders of the programme, the aim was to “prepare students for work positions which relate to Lapland and the Calotte areas, to Sami issues, to Indigenous people, and to Nordic and broader international cooperation”, and secondly, to “satisfy the general, in part scientific, interest that is felt towards the Sami also abroad” (Kulonen, Pentikäinen, and Seurujärvi-Kari Citation1994, 10–11).

2 The notion of “Sámi washing” was first coined by Dr. Tiina Seppälä in the context of an informal conversation in Spring 2011.

3 MGDS stood for “Meahcce-, guolásteaddji- ja duottarsámit” in Northern Sami, meaning “Forest, Fishing and Mountain Sami.” When it was discovered that the word “meahcce” was semantically incorrect in this context, the word was replaced by “vuovde” and the acronym changed to VGDS.

4 Title translated from the Finnish original by the author.

5 Title translated from the Finnish original by the author.

6 Title translated from the Finnish original by the author.

8 Views adopted by the Committee under article 5 (4) of the Optional Protocol, concerning communication No. 2668/2015, available online at [accessed 22 March 2019].

10 Yle Sápmi (online) 13 May 2013, “Suoma Sámesearvvit vuostalastet Ruong-balkkasupmi geigema Sarivaarai” (in Northern Sami); (in Finnish) Retrieved 4 October 2018.

11 Yle Sápmi (online) 4 June 2013. “Säätiöhallitus ei ollut täydellinen Israel Ruong - stipendistä määrätessään” Retrieved 7 January 2019.

12 Yle Sápmi (online) 6 November 2013. “Saamelaisen korkeakoulun kärkitutkijat eivät hyväksy Israel Ruong – menettelyä.” Retrieved 7 January 2019.

13 This view came across quite frequently in the context of private discussions I have had with other scholars associated with the Sámi research community in Finland, especially during the period between the years 2012 and 2015.

Additional information


This work was supported by Norwegian Research Council [grant number 270629].

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