Sámi salmon, state salmon: TEK, technoscience and care

Joks, Solveig and Law, John (2017). Sámi salmon, state salmon: TEK, technoscience and care. The Sociological Review, 65(2_suppl) pp. 150–171.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0081176917710428


How to think about salmon in the Deatnu River in northern Norway? Sámi local ecological experts and biological modellers respond to this question in quite different ways. Local people are embedded in complex and situated webs of relations which include people, salmon, different kinds of fishing, forms of salmon unknown to biology, the state of the river and its flow, and the activities of tourists. For the biologists salmon are known as populations, spawning escapements, stock-specific spawning targets and production potentials. The biologists argue that salmon populations are in decline, and seek fishing restrictions. Since they are close to state regulatory authorities their recommendations lead to policies which reduce fishing and seriously erode Sámi practices and ways of living. This article explores this difference and the controversies to which it leads by situating these historically in the long-term extension of colonial state power and the subordination of Sámi people. Then this difference is explored in terms of care. Arguably both scientists and local ecological experts care for salmon, but how they care and what they care for are also very different. So the biologists divide nature from culture as they care for salmon populations. Despite the fact that they are required to relate to traditional ecological knowledge, in practice population biology does not care for local people in ways recognisable to Sámi. In contrast, Sámi modes of caring simultaneously respond to salmon, to the river and to Sámi economic and cultural practices, but not to population projections. The study uses the STS focus on practice and Helen Verran’s attention to ‘going on well together in difference’ to explore how this power-saturated intersection between these two realities might be rendered more productive. It is argued that scientific ways of thinking need to be ‘softened’ while Sámi ways of knowing might be ‘hardened’ and made more transportable.

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