The robustness of reindeer husbandry – need for a new approach to elucidate opportunities and sustainability of the reindeer industry in its socio-ecological context (In Swedish with Summary in English)


  • Öje Danell



reindeer husbandry, robustness, socio-ecological approach, Sami land use, adaptive cycles, resilence


A series of transformations and adaptations in the Sami use of land for their subsistence over a long period of time has led to the reindeer husbandry of today. In Sweden the Sami rights to land and water are today legally connected to the practising of reindeer husbandry as a livelihood. Together with a few associated commodities, it has become considered is the only lasting Sami land-use. In the Sami culture, a central element is the association of the people with the land and the subsistence on what is provided in nature. Consequently, this association between people and land is today kept alive by the reindeer husbandry practiced as a livelihood, which thereby also produces and manages an essential base for the culture. The developments in the surrounding society are currently reducing the latitude for the reindeer industry at an accelerated rate and thereby also its capacity to handle new situations. In the complicated ecological, economic, social and institutional contexts, where reindeer husbandry is practiced, there is a large risks for sudden and unpredicted disintegrations and collapses at different system levels. The consequences thereof for the long term continuation and adaptability of Sami land use are largely unpredictable. If it leads to a collapse of reindeer industry as mode of land-use, the risks of additional deterioration of the Sami indigenous rights is also apparent and thereby the scope for new solutions as well. This will likely have serious negative consequences for the viability of the Sami culture concurrently with declining live dependences of the land. The situation of reindeer husbandry has similarities with management crises in many other integrated socio-ecological systems, which have led to sustainability failures and unpredicted consequences. These insights seem to be deficient in the treatment of the problems, which reindeer industry is facing. Scientists could probably make a very important contribution by elucidating these circumstances. This requires the adoption of a new approach based on complex systems thinking, where possible changes associated with internal and external conditions can be analysed across system borders, scales and disciplines. A possible conceptual framework for such analyses would be the theories evolved around adaptive transformations in integrated human and natural systems, now becoming a vital part of sustainability science. Fundamental in this framework is the integration of physical, ecological, economic, social and institutional systems via adaptive cycles. These are characterised by four consecutive key processes, which are repeated irregularly over time, namely growth and development, maturation with increasing vulnerability, gradual or sudden disintegration and collapse, and release of resources and values for controlled or uncontrolled reorganisation, growth and development. The connections span over temporal and spatial or social scales, the rate and magnitude of changes in different variables depend to some extent of the scale. Typical for such complex systems are a high degree of dynamics with simultaneous changes in different parts of the system, uncertainty and unpredictability, varying vulnerability over time, multiple stability domains, and inbuilt non-linearities which may cause the system to flip into another trajectories or stability domains when challenges exceed the ability of the system to absorb disturbances without loosing its functions (i.e. resilience). The latter typically happens after decreased resilience which may have many different causes. This may be due to different slow and maybe ignored losses of key resources or abilities to utilise them, slow accumulations of adverse circumstances such as external disturbances, losses of functional diversities, decreased capability to adopt novelties, loss of social capabilities, trust or ability of learning, rigid institutions, etc. It is generally suggested that the management of complex systems should promote the building and maintenance of resilience, creative self-organisations, learning and diversity, rather than strive for decreased variation and stability in the conventional sense. The complex system view is much closer the actual “soul” of reindeer husbandry, which by necessity is characterised by maintaining flexibility, living with uncertainty and continuously adapting to prevailing conditions. This stands in sharp contrast to the “control and command” type of management, which is usually investigated and imposed on the reindeer industry.




How to Cite

Danell, Öje. (2005). The robustness of reindeer husbandry – need for a new approach to elucidate opportunities and sustainability of the reindeer industry in its socio-ecological context (In Swedish with Summary in English). Rangifer, 25(3), 39–49.




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