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Art and artistic processes bridge knowledge systems about social-ecological change: An empirical examination with Inuit artists from Nunavut, Canada

Kaitlyn J Rathwell, Environmental Change and Governance Group, University of Waterloo; Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience, University of Waterloo
Derek Armitage, Environmental Change and Governance Group, University of Waterloo


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The role of art and artistic processes is one fruitful yet underexplored area of social-ecological resilience. Art and art making can nurture Indigenous knowledge and at the same time bridge knowledge across generations and cultures (e.g., Inuit and scientific). Experiences in two Inuit communities in northern Canada (Cape Dorset and Pangnirtung, Nunavut) provide the context in which we empirically examine the mechanisms through which art and art making may bridge knowledge systems about social-ecological change. Art making and artworks create continuity between generations via symbols and skill development (e.g., seal skin stretching for a modern artistic mural) and by creating mobile and adaptive boundary objects that function as a shared reference point to connect different social worlds. Our results indicate how art and artistic processes may bridge knowledge systems through six mechanisms, and in so doing contribute to social-ecological resilience during change and uncertainty. These mechanisms are (1) embedding knowledge, practice and belief into art objects; (2) sharing knowledge using the language of art; (3) sharing of art making skills; (4) art as a contributor to monitoring social-ecological change; (5) the role of art in fostering continuity through time; and (6) art as a site of knowledge coproduction.

Key words

Arctic; art; bridging knowledge systems; knowledge integration; knowledge systems; resilience; social-ecological change; traditional ecological knowledge

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087