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29 January 2019

Writing an Introductory Textbook on the International Politics and Governance of the Arctic

Image by Jaredd Craig

Writing an introductory book on the international politics and governance of the

Arctic region turned out to be much more difficult than my co-authors, Kathrin Stephen and Golo M. Bartsch, and I had previously anticipated. This had much to do with the format of a textbook-style introduction, but also with the current state of the art in Arctic international relations research. Like in many other regions of the world, interest and curiosity in the Arctic has also captured an emerging community of students, scholars, practitioners, and many ordinary people in Germany. Thus, we felt – being personally involved in many discussions on many levels and different arenas for several years – that there was a need and the time to provide everybody interested with elementary background information, a guide to the most pressing issues and analytical tools to better understand and contextualize regional processes.


For us, the textbook should fulfil three basic criteria: We wanted it to be comprehensive in terms of topics and developments covered in the book to give a broad picture of the international politics of the Arctic. We wanted it to be comprehensible also to the layperson but at the same time not bore the advanced reader. And we wanted it to be a short, concise, and easy read instead of a lengthy book filled with jargon. Keeping it short, simple, and interesting is a challenge to most academic writers, and so it was to us.


Having these three aims in mind, the writing process was further complicated mainly by two trade-offs in which we had to take sides and make a deliberate choice between alternatives.


The first was the tension between change and continuity in Arctic affairs. Change is what usually triggers scientific conduct in most academic disciplines, and the field of Arctic social sciences is no exception. Most researchers are interested in the causes and consequences of change (of the environment, social structures, institutions, etc.) in and of the Arctic region, and less in patterns of continuity, inertia, and stability. There is nothing wrong with this focus. The difficulty for authors lies in producing an introductory book that provides central insights into regularities, drivers, and ramifications of change and continuity without becoming outstripped by actual events. We have tackled this issue by highlighting the steadiest features of Arctic politics and the actors, institutions and governance structures involved in it, and pointing towards trends and developments that have had or should be expected to have a lasting impact on the regional order.


The second trade-off concerned the scientific explanation of change and continuity in Arctic international relations. Instead of pushing for any particular theory or theories that we find most convincing from our own empirical work, we intended to present and describe the core of a diverse list of analytical approaches in all clarity and without judging them on their respective utility to understand and explain the processes and outcomes of Arctic governance. There is no single theory that would be capable of doing so in any satisfactory manner. With theoretical debates ongoing and the regional governance structure constantly changing, we decided to provide the reader with a toolbox of analytical concepts and theoretical angles from across the disciplines of political geography, area studies, international law, international relations, and governance from which s/he can choose to evaluate past developments but also make sense of whatever the future Arctic order might look like.


The result is a book that we as authors have written with pleasure. And we hope the reader will share some of our enthusiasm – for the book, and even more so for the Arctic region and its people.


The book is only available in German. For more information, please see the website of the publisher Springer here.

Sebastian Knecht is a PhD Candidate at the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies (BTS) at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science from Freie Universität Berlin and an M.A. degree in Contemporary European Studies (Euromasters) from the University of Bath. He has further worked as a research associate with the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. You can find more information on his BTS profile.

Most recent publications:


  • Knecht, Sebastian and Jennifer Spence (Forthcoming). State Observers and Science Cooperation in the Arctic Council: Same Same but Different? In: Shibata, Akiho et al. (Eds.). Emerging Legal Orders in the Arctic: The Role of Non-Arctic Actors. London: Routledge.

  • Keil, Kathrin and Sebastian Knecht (Eds.) (2017). Governing Arctic Change: Global Perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Knecht, Sebastian (2017). The Politics of Arctic International Cooperation: Introducing a Dataset on Stakeholder Participation in Arctic Council Meetings, 1998 - 2015. Cooperation and Conflict, 52(2): 203-223.

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