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Lassi Heininen

     ... Docent/Senior Scientist, University of Lapland. Dr. Heininen is a political scientist and senior faculty member. He is also Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Northern Research Forum. He is an international leader in studying the issues, concerns and promise of the 8 nations which comprise the “Circumpolar North.” Dr. Heininen has taught in a number of countries, published widely over many years and has received a number of prestigious grants and scholarships. His research fields include international relations, geopolitics, security-policy, environmental politics, Nordic and European Studies, Northern/Arctic Studies and political history. He was a leading author of the Arctic Human Development Report.


Where's the one place on earth that 2 oceans and 3 continents come together? Hint: It's rapidly becoming one of the most important regions on earth because it has a distinctly global aspect to it. Answer: The "Circumpolar North." (see map below)

A growing number of researchers, scholars, scientists, governmental and nongovernmental entities (NGOs), politicians, environmentalists, multinational and transnational corporations and indigenous communities around the world are focused on this bell-weather region. Finland's Lassi Heininen is among them, a political scientist with an expansive approach to understanding the region.

Analysis is still important, Dr. Heininen says, addressing particular aspects of his and others' studies of the Circumpolar North -- "simply" geopolitics, international relations or political history, "only" environmental politics, security-policy, Nordic and European Studies or Northern/Arctic Studies.

But analysis is just not enough, he says. Synthesis is required when addressing the regions' global aspects. Its geography necessitates this more holistic approach, he says, because the impact of globalization makes every element -- important as it may be -- much, much more complex. When globalization enters the mix, Dr. Heininen deepens the conversation.

We must begin to talk more about "flows," he urges. Flows of pollution. Flows of labor headed North. Flows of raw materials going the other way. Flows of capital going North and exercising control. Flows of information. Of technology. Of experience. Flows of knowledge particularly interest Dr. Heininen. When Western science of any variety goes to the North, he reports, it encounters another kind of knowledge entirely. Traditional knowledge.

Here lies enormous opportunity, Dr. Heininen believes. Whatever the subject matter, let the knowledge flow in both directions, he urges. There is much to be learned from this traditional knowledge if Western scientists can be honest and flexible, Dr. Heininen says. This applies alike to political scientists like himself, anthropologists and other social scientists as well as to researchers in the physical sciences. There are many fresh, new ideas to be had that can lead to genuine understanding, he believes. (Universities, he tells his students, are for understanding. You can get information and knowledge in libraries.)

Acknowledge that there are many knowledges, not just one, Dr. Heininen counsels. He has clearly demonstrated this truth in the Open Meetings he has led with the Northern Research Forum. Listening is as central to the success of these innovative gatherings as are the other two key concepts -- “forum” and “process.” Dr. Heininen also makes sure young people have a genuine voice there.

Today's North provides an excellent example for the possibilities now available of a more vital East-West relationship, Dr. Heininen believes. We’re experiencing a kind of renaissance of inter-regional cooperation in the East-West circle, he thinks, more like the full cooperation and strong personal connections between the two regions that existed 70 or 80 years ago. So North-South relations can also now be reconsidered. And the more holistic one's understanding when approaching the Circumpolar North, Lassi Heininen is convinced, the better.

[This Program was recorded March 5, 2005, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.]

Conversation 1

Lassi Heininen assures Paula Gordon and Bill Russell that even Northern Europeans often know little about the “Circumpolar North.” He describes the current era as “transitional,” with a renaissance of inter-regional cooperation in the East-West circle. He hypothesizes that this new relationship should be defined.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:43

Conversation 2

New approaches to globalization are considered, emphasizing synthesis as well as analysis, as Dr. Heininen describes his and his colleagues’ eagerness for a wide variety of decision-makers to use the knowledge being generated. Dr. Heininen promotes important new platforms and timeframes for encouraging open discussions and fresh ideas. He explains why “forum” and “process” are key concepts in the Northern Research Forum’s approach. The 8 circumpolar nations are listed. The importance of environmental issues is previewed.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:00

Conversation 3

Distinguishing between the “North” and “Circumpolar North,” Dr. Heininen focuses on the context of the Arctic/Northern Region. In this context, he demonstrates the vital importance of ongoing discourse between countries in the North and the South. He untangles some of the complexities of environmental issues -- like long-range air and sea pollution -- which begin in the South, but have profound effects in the Circumpolar North. He sets out some of the devastating results of the reality that the ocean is a “sink” for pollutants. We are still in a transition period out of the Cold War period, he believes, and describes the window of opportunities that presents for many sectors. The Circumpolar North is where many first indicators appear, he says, using climate change as a vivid example. He elaborates on the vital importance of international cooperation.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:12

Conversation 4

Not-Great Powers, including strong relations among the world’s indigenous peoples, play a vital role, Dr. Heininen demonstrates. He insists that it is important for Western scientists to be open-minded about traditional wisdom, and explains why he sees promising possibilities for growing respect for many knowledges, not just one. He addresses linguistic challenges across cultures, and the challenges academics face to be and remain flexible.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:45

Conversation 5

It is important for people, especially young people, to visualize the world, Dr. Heininen believes. He gives examples of why he tells his students that any map that is not a globe is simply not objective. Questions around “sustainability” and “sustainable development” are explored, using his homeland as one example. He chooses often contradictory perspectives on marine mammals between people in the South and the North to show the complexity of many issues around sustainability. He points out why it is vitally important to include humans in an ecology.

Conversation 1 RealAudio9:43

Conversation 6

Globalization’s many impacts on and in the North are addressed, starting with pollution. Instead of “globalization,” he says, think in terms of “flows” -- from pollution to labor to raw material to capital, information, knowledge, technology and experience -- in both directions. He champions understanding.

Conversation 1 RealAudio5:41


Dr. Heather Nicol, Director of the Center for Canadian Studies at the University of West Georgia, in Carrollton, Georgia, US, introduced us both to the idea of the “Circumpolar North” and to Dr. Lassi Heininen. We thank her.

Dr. Heininen and his colleagues did a splendid job designing and executing the Open Meeting, “Canada and the Circumpolar North: A Northern Dimension,” at which we were delighted to be very welcome indeed. We also thank Dr. Heininen for making it possible for us to produce an additional “Paula Gordon Show” with Finland’s Ambassador to the United States, T.H. Jukka Valtasaari.

We gratefully acknowledge the important role of the Canadian government, which, through their Embassy in Washington, D.C., funded the Open Meeting. And we enjoyed the hospitality of Georgia Institute of Technology where the event took place in March, 2005.

Finally, we thank T.H. Malcolm McKechnie, Canada’s Consul General posted in Atlanta, GA, who ignited a wonderful chain of events when he introduced us to Dr. Nicol and her husband.

The map below comes from the University of Connecticutt website.

Related Links:

You can learn more about the Northern Research Forum at their website.

If you are interested in learning more from the Arctic Human Development Report, which was produced when Iceland chaired the Arctic Council, visit the Stefansson Arctic Institute .

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