Transforming space and society in Kiruna
24 March 2022
State and corporate ideas about nature, people and the future played a decisive role in the development of Kiruna as a mining town over a century ago. Since 2004, when 6,000 Kiruna residents were informed that they would have to move because of ground deformations caused by mining, these ideas have taken on new meaning. This is the focus of a new thesis in cultural anthropology from Uppsala University.
“Mining companies were a huge force in developing this part of Sweden at the turn of the last century. Business leadership proved important in developing not just a city for people to live in, but an attractive community perceived as being different, exotic and full of opportunity, like the American western frontier,” says Elisa Maria López, who has just completed her doctorate by defending an anthropological thesis titled “Transforming Kiruna: Producing Space, Society, and Legacies of Inequality in the Swedish Ore Fields”.
López notes, “The mining company that became LKAB (Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB) had an early influence on the development of not only the mine, housing, schools and infrastructure, but also social and economic policy. It remained strong even after the emergence of the welfare state, and this has created special social relations in the community.”
Network of contacts
Between 2012 and 2015, Elisa Maria López lived in Kiruna for 15 months to conduct her doctoral research. She built up a network of contacts and became acquainted with many different people, including some whose ancestors came to Kiruna in the early 1900s and some whose ancestors had long lived as indigenous Sámi reindeer herders in the mountains that became the mine and Kiruna city. In her thesis, she describes how some people see their lives in Kiruna today: They want to stay in their hometown and on their native lands. Working in the mine enables residents to do many things, such as travel, further their education and establish families, and to remain close their reindeer grazing lands. Many invest mine wages in reindeer husbandry, which has become necessary as grazing lands are reduced by the expansion of mining and urban infrastructure.
The complex historical, economic, and emotional relationships that most people have with the town and its surroundings have also forged strong connections to place that makes resettlement challenging.
“When you talk about moving Kiruna, you have to understand people’s attitudes in that context,” says López.
Relocation of thousands of people
Her aim in writing the thesis has thus been to describe residents’ relations to space and place in a community that has long been transformed by the mining industry. Similarly affected places exist around the world. However, she chose Kiruna in Sweden partly because of the ongoing social transformation, with the relocation of many thousands of people, but also because it is happening in the homeland of an indigenous population, the Sámi. While mining deformations are growing, posing a risk to nearby buildings and people, this also necessitates a major spatial expansion of infrastructure, housing, and other buildings, necessary to replace that which can longer be used in the future.
Elisa Maria López says she was both fascinated and surprised that this project was started with little reflection from both the state and LKAB and that it is “really interesting this is how it is done in Sweden”.
She describes the ongoing “urban transformation” as the latest of several mining-based social and spatial transformations in the Kiruna area, changes to not only physical space of its inhabitants but also their social relations to place and to each other. She uses scientific theories from anthropology and sociology (such as those of Henri Lefèbvre) to show how space is not only something physical but also conceptual and social, created through practices, ideas, and symbols. The study further highlights how Kiruna and its surroundings consist of many different spaces, such as the mine, the city, and the mountains, used both for recreation and Sámi reindeer herding. These spaces undergo continual change and are co-produced both humans and non-humans.
“Everyone in Kiruna has affected by the mining industry and the ongoing urban transformation, but in different and unequal ways,” she says. When the basic conditions of life – places to live, work and connect to – change, social relations are also affected.”
A significant part of the thesis is devoted to the experiences of the Čohkkiras (Jukkasjärvi) Sámi herding community (in North Sámi, čearru), on whose lands the town of Kiruna was built. The local Sámi have long been the object of unjust treatment linked to the establishment of the mine and the town, and ideas about the existing land around Kiruna being a “desolate wilderness” as their homelands were perceived by early settlers. The loss of Sámi land and rights that occurred during this time continues to affect the present, and causes many conflicts over who has the right to use Kiruna’s mountains, rivers and lakes.
But the urban transformation has also created opportunities for residents to imagine alternative futures for Kiruna. López also interviewed municipal urban planners and architects who are creating New Kiruna, to study how their work partially articulated local aspirations for a sustainable community.
“I hope that my research can lead to different kinds of questions regarding future extraction projects, and the long-term environmental and social consequences of resource extraction,” says Lopez. “How does economic development affect people’s everyday lives, connection to place, and social relations? Who is responsible for not repeating historical inequalities in connection with such projects? Who decides who should make sacrifices and what is sustainable? We need to be more critical of large-scale development projects and the promises and assumptions on which they are based so we can create sustainable solutions that benefit local people, those who are most affected.”
López, Elisa Maria (dissertation 2021) Transforming Kiruna: Producing Space, Society, and Legacies of Inequality in the Swedish Ore Fields, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Open access: http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1606243/FULLTEXT01.pdf
The names given to the clouds, an important part of the university's history
04 januari 2023
The book “Molnspanare– en meteorologisk historia” (Cloud spotters – a meteorological history) tells of the emergence of meteorology as a scientific subject. Among other things, you can read about how the Latin names and classification of the cloud...
The history of Easter Island can teach us about sustainability
08 december 2022
Tourism has exploded on Easter Island over the last twenty years – something that has led to both financial gain and major encroachments on the island's environment. Researchers from Uppsala are now studying how history can teach us to build a mo...
Nobel Prize-winning literature often published by small publishing houses
05 december 2022
During the Christmas trade period, books written by the latest Nobel Prize laureate tend to sell at least as well as the more traditional bestsellers. It is very important for publishers to have Nobel Prize winners on their lists, according to res...
Conference: 30 years of EU citizenship
21 november 2022
This year marks 30 years since European Union citizenship came into being. It will be highlighted at an international, interdisciplinary conference in Uppsala on 22–23 November. Both researchers and all those interested are welcome to attend.
New honorary doctors in the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences
03 november 2022
The faculties at Uppsala University have decided on the award of honorary doctorates for 2022. Among the new honorary doctors at faculties in the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences are researchers in economic geography, family l...
The vulnerability of surrogate mothers in a global market
17 oktober 2022
A new dissertation on surrogacy highlights Thai women's experiences of having acted as surrogate mothers. The dissertation shows the women's vulnerability in a global surrogacy industry, but also provides a more nuanced picture of what makes women...
Historical discoveries as Linnaeus Garden is excavated
07 oktober 2022
Unique pots, eighteenth-century porcelain and the bones of countless fish and birds: archaeologists who have been excavating part of the Linnaeus Garden have come across a wealth of exciting objects that can tell us more about the people and anima...
Popular 18th-century medicine in a new form
05 september 2022
Hello to Nils-Otto Ahnfelt, PhD pharmacist and visiting researcher at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences. Together with the historian of science Hjalmar Fors, you have developed a reconstruction of the 300-year-old medicine Hjärnes Testa...
Torgny Segerstedt Medal and Geijer Prize winners announced
05 september 2022
This year’s Torgny Segerstedt Medal has been awarded to Mikael Stenmark, professor in philosophy of religion at the Department of Theology. The Geijer Prize goes to Viktor Persarvet and Astrid Wendel-Hansen.
Digging from the present down to antiquity
30 augusti 2022
Welcome to the Viking Age! The archaeology students, with their trowels and their scrapers, have dug past the medieval layers and made their way down to the 11th century, approximately 30 centimetres below today's ground level. During the seminar ...
The sheep – Gotland’s symbol of sustainability
14 juni 2022
Sheep are the strongest symbol of sustainability on Gotland, according to Gurbet Peker. Not only do real ones graze all over the island, you can even find sheep sculpted in concrete in Visby. Peker researches the day-to-day lives of lamb farmers i...
Can democracy solve the climate crisis?
13 juni 2022
Hello Linda Wedlin, organisor and moderator of a panel discussion during Almedalen Week with the theme ‘What knowledge and what kind of democracy is needed for a successful climate transition?’ What are you going to be discussing?
Mapping people of the past by means of their bones
09 maj 2022
What is the best way to find out about a human being or animal that has been dead for perhaps several centuries? “Study the bones” is what Sabine Sten, professor of osteoarchaeology, would say. They can reveal an individual's age, body length, DNA...
Transforming space and society in Kiruna
24 mars 2022
State and corporate ideas about nature, people and the future played a decisive role in the development of Kiruna as a mining town over a century ago. Since 2004, when 6,000 Kiruna residents were informed that they would have to move because of gr...
New light cast on female pelvises in University collections
04 mars 2022
Many of the University’s museums currently hold preserved specimens of embryos, fetuses, newborns, and women’s pelvises. During the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, these formed part of embryological and obstetric collections at...
350 years old remains in a Stone Age site in Portugal
25 februari 2022
An African man who lived just 350 years ago was buried in a prehistoric shell midden in Amoreira in Portugal. This was very surprising because Amoreira and other midden sites in the Muge region are well known by archaeologists for the cemeteries o...
ERC Starting Grant for historian of ideas
31 januari 2022
The Starting Grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) in its 2021 call have been announced. The awardees include an Uppsala researcher: Ylva Söderfeldt, Senior Lecturer at the University’s Department of History of Science and Ideas.
Saying and doing are two different things
18 januari 2022
COLUMN. While more and more people say Yes and Amen when you ask them about the importance of living in a more environmentally conscious and sustainable way, few actually change their behaviour, writes Katarina Graffman, PhD in cultural anthropology.
Telling the story of Sweden’s Jews
11 november 2021
"There are many ways of being Swedish, and being Jewish is one of them." These words set the seal on Carl Henrik Carlsson’s history of the Jews in Sweden (Judarnas historia i Sverige). Carlsson is a researcher at Uppsala University, and his book h...
Campus Gotland students unearth Iron Age warrior
10 september 2021
Uppsala University archaeology students’ summer excavations on the island of Gotland turned up an exciting surprise: they found a warrior, with sword and spurs, in an Iron Age grave in Buttle Änge. Now the skeleton and grave goods will be analysed...