Framing the High North: Public Discourses in Norway after 2000

Acta Borealia, Vol 8, No 1, 2011, pp. 37-54.

The article presents an overview of the main public debates in Norway that can be said to have framed and defined the High North since the turn of the Millennium. It is based on a qualitative study of over 3000 articles published in four Norwegian newspapers issued between 2000 and 2006. Our discussion is structured around three overarching, interconnected narratives that we think capture the essence of the Norwegian public discourses on the High North between 2000 and 2006. These are “Fragments from the 1990s”; “The great narrative of the High North”; and “Mixing cold water with hot blood”. The first half of the 2000s is characterised by an almost total absence of the High North as a discursive and politically coherent concept. From 2004, however, usage grew fivefold, alongside an extensive, dynamic discursive mobilisation. When the Russians decided in 2006 to shelve the Shtokman project and critical voices were heard condemning Norway's environmental performance in northwest Russia, public opinion swung back again. A feeling of cold reality replaced the sense of optimism towards the energy potential of the north, and an exercise in collective soul-searching commenced – similar to that of the early years of the decade. We believe the type of discursive change we document in this article constitutes policy trends in connection both with the High North and with other sectors where policy is subject to intense public debate and appraisal. We hope that discourse analysis has enabled us to investigate and share how Norwegian public discourses on the High North are socially produced, framed and maintained but at the same time are always in flux and open to “new” directions which should be possible – at least in theory – to trace by going back in time.