Paine, Robert: Camps of the Tundra

Paine, Robert: Camps of the Tundra

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Instituttet for sammenlignende kulturforskning/The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture (IFSK). Serie B, 129.

Camps of the Tundra, as with its  precursor – Herds of the Tundra, is based on Paine’s fieldwork  in the early sixties (before the arrival of the cellphone) with Saami reindeer pastoralists from Kautokeino in northernmost Norway; perhaps a couple of hundred families. Each spring, along with thousands of their reindeer, they leave the tundra hinterland on migration to the coast, and return in the fall.

The relation between the two books is the “journey” from ecological circumstances to sociological implications. The latter are embedded in the management and ownership of the reindeer; and the crucial point here is that whereas herding is a group responsibility, animals within a herd are individually owned and husbanded.

It is in the  camps – whose com-posi-tions change with the seasons – that Paine finds politics. He stresses how the circumstances of pastoral life do not easily lend themselves to exclusive relationships (marriage aside); instead, more often than not, they present alternatives of equivalent value; hence the importance of contract rather than status, of choice and complementarity rather than ascription in the shuffling  of herding partners.

All the while each individual is attending to their reindeer as reproductive wealth (capital). Aside from  the number of animals, their distribution respecting gender and age are important, and it is in the husbandry of living reindeer as capital (conversion to material goods is quite secondary)  that pastoral reputations are earned.

Beyond  the complementarity of pastoral relations, there are inequalities concerning both pastures and capital, and these can introduce strife. Here Paine looks for the emic meanings behind the appropriation of another’s pastures or animals, and how responses to appropriation may be communicated – in their turn – with carefully chosen reindeer as the message carriers.Throughout  Camps, then, one is aware of the crucial importance of knowledge in sustaining this society and its pastoral culture: knowledge of  the animals and their pastures, knowledge of one’s fellow pastoralists. Every pastoralist prides  her/him-self as knowledgeable; even so, intentionality and foreknowledge may be jeopardized through the unpredictables of this pastoral life – not least among which are the unfore-casteable changes in tundra ecology.


Robert Paine, Professor Emeritus at Memorial University of Newfoundland, is the author of  a number books including the companion volume, Herds of the Tundra (Smithsonian Institution Press).


ISBN 978-82-7099-486-1, 149 pp., hardcover

Format: 21x28 cm, weight: 0,9 kg, year of publication 2009, language: English


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