WEBINAR: Webs of Meaning Revisited; Conservation, Cultivation and Dispossession in the North

How might attention to worlds of meaning extend beyond the human, and how may this matter for conservation?  In this lecture, Marianne Lien, Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo, explores how worlds, such as specific landscapes, are sustained through reciprocal and ongoing practices and affordances.

An old fashioned, red and rusty plough stands in tall grass

Photo: Syltefjord, Finnmark, credit Marianne Lien

In the early 1970’s the anthropologist Clifford Geertz famously wrote that ‘man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun’. His concern with cultural meaning shaped anthropology for decades to come, but largely ignored that spinning is a more-than-human practice, involving not only women, but other-than-human animals too.  I take this invitation as an opportunity to explore how attention to meaning might extend beyond the human, and how this matters for conservation.  I am particularly interested in how worlds, such as specific landscapes, are sustained through reciprocal and ongoing practices and affordances, as captured by the Sámi word meahcci.  Drawing on long-term ethnographic and archival fieldwork in Finnmark North-Norway, I describe how cultivating people and cultivating land went hand in hand as part of the colonizing efforts of the Norwegian nation state. In this context, questions of conservation quickly become questions of dispossession, while ‘webs of significance’ are fragmented, multilayered and steeped in colonial legacies.


Marianne Lien is professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo. She did her first fieldwork on eating habits in Finnmark, North Norway in the 1980’s, and has now returned to the region with a focus on domestication, colonization, reindeer herding and agricultural cultivation. Her interest in domestication was sparked by her research on farmed salmon, and she has done fieldwork on aquaculture in Tasmania and in Norway.  Lien is inspired by STS, and has explored the interface of STS and anthropology with John Law and Marisol de la Cadena. She has been the director of a research group at the Center for Advanced Study in Oslo, called ‘Arctic Domestication in the era of the Anthropocene’. Her recent books include Domestication gone wild; Politics and Practices of Multispecies Relations, co-edited with Heather Swanson and Gro Ween (Duke University Press  2018), and Becoming Salmon, Aquaculture and the Domestication of a Fish (University California Press 2015).

Tags: IKOS, Environmental Humanities, HF
Published Mar. 9, 2021 9:32 AM - Last modified Apr. 21, 2022 11:33 AM