Examining the Potential of Inuit Art and Artistic Processes to Facilitate Knowledge System Bridging About Environmental Change
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Art and artistic processes have an important role to play to bridge knowledge systems about environmental change and to inform governance action. Inuit and western knowledge systems contribute to understanding and governance of Arctic sea ice in Canada. Siku, sea ice in Inuktitut, connects to Inuit identity and well-being via multiple dimensions, including for example, food security, mythology and origin stories, travel and mental health. Increasingly complex and unprecedented changes in Arctic sea ice, driven by global climate change, presents challenges for local communities and their efforts to respond to those changes. Of utmost importance is to build bridges between Indigenous and scientific knowledge systems to enhance decision making about environmental change, such as Arctic sea ice change, as well as between generations of Indigenous knowledge holders to maintain social-ecological resilience. Six months living in Pangnirtung and Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Canada enabled an embodied experience and the collection of rich qualitative data upon which this dissertation is based. Knowledge systems bridging is defined here as connecting two or more knowledge systems to arrive at novel insights about phenomena, and in ways that nurture the integrity of each participating knowledge system. In this dissertation, I demonstrate that art and artistic processes have an important role to play in the creation of compelling settings to respectfully bridge knowledge systems. In doing so, I provide a qualitative analysis that strengthens global understandings of how artistic approaches can enhance bridging diverse knowledge systems about environmental change and governance. To study how artworks and artistic processes facilitate bridging knowledge systems, I used complementary data collection techniques. A systematic literature review provided the foundation for a typology of settings that are used in the environmental change governance literature to bridge indigenous and scientific knowledge systems. Semi-structured interviews with thirty professional Inuit artists, one-on-one sea ice drawing projects, and a collaborative mural process provide rich qualitative data on the role of art in Inuit communities as it relates to environmental change (e.g., sea ice change). A collaborative mural and sea ice drawing projects with Inuit youth, artists and elders, helped narrow in on artistic interpretations of complex processes of environmental change. I outline below the three objectives that guided my research process, and I identify briefly how each of these objectives is addressed. (1) To create a typology of settings used to bridge Indigenous and scientific knowledge systems about environmental change, and situate art and artistic processes within the typology. This objective was addressed using a meta synthesis approach to identify the various settings in which bridging of knowledge may occur based on an analysis of the literature, how those settings function, and how diverse settings can act in synergy (see Chapter 4). This ‘typology of settings’ to bridge knowledge systems is the first framework of its kind. I organize the typology as four broad settings – epistemology, methods and process, brokerage and networks, and institutions and governance - and discuss how they relate to each other in theory and practice. The typology can be used as a touchstone for scholars and practitioners interested in knowledge co-production. In addition, two main insights are emphasized in this analysis: 1) the necessity of engagement with the philosophical dimensions of knowledge and knowledge systems (epistemology and ontology) when seeking to bridge knowledge systems; and, (2) consideration of how diverse settings can function to complement and/or contradict each other. Future efforts in the area of knowledge integration, or knowledge bridging for decision-making about the environment, must be cautious of settings chosen, especially since knowledge and power are related. The typology presented in this dissertation can help orient scholars towards the diversity of settings to bridge knowledge, and how to find synergies between them in ways that enhance research, governance and foster positive social interactions. One setting that stood out as potentially very robust, yet understudied, for bridging knowledge systems was art and artistic processes. (2) To study the underlying mechanisms through which art and artistic processes may contribute to efforts to bridge knowledge systems about environmental change. Participatory artistic methods are a novel ‘setting’ (See Chapter 4) to bridge knowledge systems. As an aesthetic boundary object in this space, artworks serve as a context in which to foster continuity between generations and as a shared reference point to connect different social worlds. I study how artistic approaches can enhance bridging of diverse knowledge systems about sea ice and climate change. To do this, I interviewed thirty professional Inuit artists, and facilitated three collaborative art projects (see Chapter 3). I identified six underlying mechanisms through which art and artistic processes support knowledge system bridging (see Chapter 5). (3) To identify how artworks and the artists reflect both tangible and intangible dimensions of knowledge about climate and sea ice change (e.g., reflections of lived experience, elements of emotion, values), and the implications for knowledge bridging processes. This objective was informed by a focused study of seven Inuit artists who created artworks specifically about sea ice and climate change (Chapter 6). Using a manual coding technique (see Chapter 3 for details), I examined how the artworks and artists use symbolism, metaphor and other aesthetic devices to convey messages about their lived experience of sea ice and climate change. Stories told by artists about their artworks emphasized the importance of adaptation and interconnectedness, and also embraced themes about transformation and renewal. The insights provided by the artists participating in this research are crucial in the context of bridging knowledge systems to enhance our understanding of, and potential responses to, environmental change. Connecting with the intangible aspects of knowledge systems is an ongoing challenge, yet accounting for these aspects of knowledge is a critical component of salient and legitimate environmental governance. Artists and their artworks can illuminate the less tangible aspects of knowledge about change, and hence, have an important role to play at the interface of diverse knowledge systems. The recent history of Inuit people has been one of change imposed from the outside. Contact with non-Inuit, and the period of forced settlement and assimilation represent significant transformations in the Inuit experience as does rapid climate and sea ice change. Today’s Inuit artists are telling stories of transformation while embedding elements of Inuit identity into artworks as a way to reflect social and emotional cohesion during these changes. Changes in sea ice and climate, the result of exogenous drivers that impact Indigenous communities, are similarly being captured in artworks. As with historical artefacts and other forms of expression, current artworks have the capacity to carry important narratives about environmental change and how to best approach environmental governance.
Cite this work
Kaitlyn Rathwell (2016). Examining the Potential of Inuit Art and Artistic Processes to Facilitate Knowledge System Bridging About Environmental Change. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/10701