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Resumé af Lærke Marie Kjeldgaard Futtrups speciale

Specialetitel: The Good Life in Tasiilaq: A qualitative study on the good life and development in East Greenland.

A focus on the good life in Tasiilaq

In this product thesis, I have investigated the good life in Tasiilaq. Tasiilaq is an East Greenlandic town with a population of around 2000 inhabitants. Tasiilaq is by many known as a town with major social issues. Much problem-oriented research and journalism have been done about Tasiilaq regarding suicide, excessive alcohol consumption, sexual assaults, violence, and financial vulnerability. These elements contribute to frame Tasiilaq as an unsafe and problematic town. Problem-oriented literature is primarily addressed and published by external actors. Likewise, external actors provide aid aimed at solving or diminishing these problems, in the name of developing the town and its inhabitants. A problem-oriented focus on the town and its inhabitants may entail a continued positioning of these inhabitants as those people who cannot work out problems and are people in need of help.

For more than three months, I conducted fieldwork in Tasiilaq while I interned for the NGO, Sustainable Now (SUSNOW) who is engaged in supporting a citizen-driven development of the Tasiilaq district. In these months I learned, that much of the population living in Tasiilaq do perceive their lives as good. Thereby, their perceptions on their lives are much different from the problem-oriented image painted by external researchers and journalists. From an interest from the population in Tasiilaq and as a response to the problem-oriented literature, I explored the good life among inhabitants of Tasiilaq in the thesis as well as in the product attached to the thesis. The guiding research question for the thesis is:

How is the notion of a good life perceived among inhabitants of Tasiilaq, and how might taking such local perspectives into account contribute to future development initiatives and projects?


The product of the thesis is named ‘Ajunngilanga’, a Greenlandic word that means ‘good’ or ‘I am
good’ and is related to the content. The product is the narratives of eight people living in Tasiilaq and depict what these people hope and wish for, dream about, thrive on, and love. Therefore, the product frames the good life in Tasiilaq and describes it through local inhabitants’ stories and pictures taken by the interviewees and me. The stories and pictures have been printed, bound as a book, and sent to the Ammassalik Museum located in Tasiilaq. Thus, the product will be available at the local museum’s library and archive consisting of books and documents about local history of East Greenland and Tasiilaq. It will serve as historic material about life in Tasiilaq in 2020, especially for those interviewees and the population or tourists to read.

The product will furthermore be available online on the Tasiilaq Touchstone website, where it will
serve as background information about Tasiilaq for development workers, who come to the town.
These workers are recommended to acquaint themselves with the background knowledge and documentation presented on the web page and implement it in their work. The product is related to both decolonizing research and participatory development. With this product, I have contributed to the understanding of how the notion of a good life in Tasiilaq is perceived. The product has been created based on local voices and it is my argument – as much as it is my wish – that this product shall be used by future development workers. Development workers may be inspired to continue the compilation of narratives or simply use the product to identify local inhabitants’ reality and life.

Addressing Development

Globally, development programs have changed dramatically since the 1950s, along with an ongoing debate on the topic. In the 1970s, post-colonial development programs were criticized for being ‘topdown’ and emphasizing expertise, monocratic hierarchy, and administrative autonomy. Furthermore, the way the developing countries were framed by the discourses and practices of economists, planners, nutritionists, demographers have been criticized for making it difficult for people to define their interests on their own terms and even in some cases, disabling them from doing so. Several participatory development methods have emerged due to changed discourses on development. Participatory development methods are concentrated around local knowledge and aim to convince people that they are active agents of history who can assume control over their own destiny. Several academics have contributed to the literature on empowerment and greater participation and described different methods which aim to enable local people and communities to take control over their own development. Yet, there are different discourses within participatory development. 

They all focus on participation and strive to look to civil society and ordinary people for development. The debates on and the development of development practices have theoretically encouraged the thesis as well as the product. 

With attention to the problem-oriented research and journalism about Tasiilaq and development, the primary aim of this thesis as a whole is to understand a specific empirical reality, which is how the notion of a good life is perceived among inhabitants of Tasiilaq through a qualitative method. Second, to argue that constructive and nuanced knowledge, presented as narratives on the good life in Tasiilaq, creates foundation for future participatory development projects and initiatives based on the inhabitants’ own understanding and interpretation of the good life. Thus, this thesis addresses the importance of local perspectives, local engagement, and participatory development

Addressing living conditions and the good life in the Arctic

In the early 2000’s, the Arctic Council called to produce an Arctic Human Development Report
(AHDR). This report aimed to initiate the process of developing a comprehensive knowledge base
for the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Program. The rationale behind this project was
related to future progress in the Arctic, identifying critical gaps in knowledge, providing a framework, and helping establish priorities. Lastly, and more generally, the project aimed to shed light on the concept of human development itself. The AHDR was the foundation of the Arctic Social Indicators (ASI).

The ASI project aimed at developing Arctic-specific indicators to track changes in key elements of human development in the Arctic over time. Six distinct domain areas were selected, and within these six, the first three domains are related to the UN Human Development Index (HDI). The remaining three domains were chosen because they were valued as important among the Arctic population. AHDR noted that residents of the Arctic – settlers as well as indigenous people – regularly emphasize the importance of a least three dimensions of human development over and above those included in the HDI. Those three dimensions are related to controlling one’s own destiny, maintaining cultural identity, and living close to nature. All six domains were further developed in the ASI project and given the titles: Health and Population, Material Well-being, Education, Cultural Well-being and Cultural Vitality, Contact with Nature, and Fate Control.

Research methodology

The study in this thesis employed a qualitative research design to explore how the notion of a good life is perceived among inhabitants of Tasiilaq. The thesis builds on an anthropological approach to research and ethnographic fieldwork, consisting of participant observation, ethnographic conversations, and semi-structured interviews. During the time I conducted fieldwork, I experienced that by engaging with the people that I encountered, I went from being an outsider to someone who received friend requests on Facebook and was invited to join, amongst other opportunities, badminton training in the sports hall, dinner parties, fishing in the fiords, and walks in the fells. Thus, I engaged with the local inhabitants to learn about their lives.

From engaging with the local population, I learned that the population in Tasiilaq know many stories. These stories may be related to the storytellers’ own experiences or the experiences of others. The stories are used for knowledge sharing. According to the research practice used to investigate the good life in Tasiilaq and conduct research, I wanted the thesis to be based on local knowledge sharing. Therefore, I chose to interview local inhabitants about their perception of a good life told through stories, among other things. Thus, the research practice stems from the thoughts behind decolonizing research.

Local Voices on a Good Life

In the analysis, the interviewees’ perceptions of a good life and my observations along with ethnographic conversations are presented in different domains. I have analyzed the notion of good life related to the six domains developed by the AHDR. I have furthermore analyzed the notion of a good related to three domains created particularly for this study. The result of the analyses is that a good life in Tasiilaq is related to having good health, being physically active, playing sports, and getting help to live a life without alcohol. It is related to having a house, and the town having a healthy age structure graph, which means that young people either do not leave the town or that they return to the town after having obtained an education. A good life is related to obtaining either education or a meaningful set of skills, which provide good future opportunities. It is related to practicing cultural activities, being in contact with nature, and self-determination. The good life is related to being happy in one’s everyday life. It is related to being around family and friends, spending time together, and sharing food. Lastly, it is related to community activities and social cohesion.

Summing up, the notion of a good life is among the inhabitants in Tasiilaq related to health, population, material well-being, education, cultural well-being and cultural vitality, contact with nature and fate control. All these domains are included in the ASI framework. However, the good life is furthermore related to emotional well-being, family and social relations, and community cohesion. Thus, the ASI framework is not equivalent to the life lead in Tasiilaq, despite it being more adjusted to the Arctic context than HDI. Neither the HDI nor the ASI framework are comprehensive methods if one seeks to encompass all aspects of the good life in Tasiilaq. Thus, this thesis highlights a gap in the ASI framework and recommends an exploratory qualitative approach when researching living conditions in Tasiilaq.

Further research

As Greenland is a part of the Danish Kingdom, researchers who conduct research in Tasiilaq are
likely to come from different parts of the Danish Kingdom. I argue that these researchers’ work related to human development and life in Tasiilaq should start with a qualitative explorative phase: speaking with, listening to, and observing the people living in the town and their reality. Thus, researchers shall not simply rely on universal and preconstructed domains and indicators to gain relevant information about Tasiilaq. Furthermore, further research should pay attention to what the population is interested in having researched. I constructed my research based on interest from a large part of the population concerning the framing of Tasiilaq and its inhabitant from a perspective where they can recognize the town and, thus, not solely a problem-oriented perspective.

According to the method, decolonizing research challenges the widely accepted belief that Western ways of knowing and conducting research are the only science. Holding on to and perceiving Western research methods as the true objective science while researching Tasiilaq may marginalize the inhabitants’ ways of knowing. The method I have used to explore the good life in Tasiilaq is chosen with attention to the knowledge sharing I observed in the town, which is storytelling based on people's own experiences. However, decolonizing research does not necessarily mean that researchers working in Tasiilaq should reject all Western methods and theories. Instead, they should consider the values within the town and adapt the methods and theories in the context of Tasiilaq. Thus, decolonizing research in Tasiilaq is less about the method and more about providing space for the population and their voices and include these in research. About human development, I found it beneficial to research what the people in Tasiilaq can do, what they love and thrive on, their potentials, and capabilities rather than what they cannot do, since human development is focused on creating an environment where opportunities can unfold. Thus, this research is a qualitative research and not a quantitative problem-oriented research categorizing the people in Tasiilaq into numerical values. Such an approach, however, can be efficient in some respects but stigmatizing in others. Researchers must be aware of their research practices and methods if the intention with the research is related to development initiatives and projects. Researchers should pay attention to the principles behind decolonizing research to avoid stigmatization and alienation. Thus, researchers should let the population in Tasiilaq participate in research on more levels because participatory research creates consciousness and knowledge and is one element in an ongoing process of development. In invite for more qualitative and decolonizing research to be done in Tasiilaq.

Future development initiatives and projects in Tasiilaq – relation to Denmark 

The countries within the Danish Kingdom are different according to population, area, culture, and
economy. An example of the latter is the annual block grant provided by Denmark to Greenland and the many development initiatives and projects in Greenland, which Denmark support financially. Whether such a development initiative or project in Tasiilaq are financially supported from other countries within the Danish Kingdom or from the Government of Greenland, my argument of the thesis is that no such development project or initiative should occur in Tasiilaq without paying attention to local techniques, knowledge, practices, and lifestyles. This way, local perspectives will be considered, and projects and initiatives will be based on desires, needs and wants from the local inhabitants, which can increase local control, empowerment, and the sustainability of development projects and initiatives, which is an important factor in ensuring long-term development. 

The population in Tasiilaq is not passive bystanders in the development process. They are active
actors who know what they want and who act accordingly. Therefore, the inhabitants in Tasiilaq shall not be treated as passive. Rather, development workers should include and cooperate with the local population and support them to oversee the development. Local perspectives describing values, hopes, dreams, opportunities, choices, capabilities, along with perceptions of a good life are the mean for ensuring long-term sustainable development. Thus, taking local perspectives into account may enable the people in Tasiilaq to participate in the process of development and, ultimately, take control over their own development and future.

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Senest opdateret 25. november 2021