The objective of my thesis project is to explore how socio-cultural aspects of sustainability are currently understood and addressed, both in the literature and through community perspectives. My research has been in two main stages; an integrative literature review and a grounded case study.
Through the literature review, I sought to understand the social pillar as discussed in the field of sustainability, and to identify relevant concepts and discourse in other fields of study that may be relevant for an exploration of this topic.
My fieldwork, a case study of Hopedale, NL, aimed to gain a grounded understanding of the social and cultural dimensions of community important to sustainability in a northern Indigenous community. Through focus groups, I identified social and cultural aspects which support sustainability at the community level, and which should be included in future planning; specifically, the values, principles and norms of Hopedale, Nunatsiavut, and participants’ visions for the future of the community.
Overall, this study is predicated on the understanding that there must be a thorough appreciation of underlying socio-cultural principles in a particular context, as they inform interaction with the natural environment, and determine the capacity of communities to adapt to change and plan for future sustainability. This is particularly relevant in Arctic communities today; as current and future threats change the natural landscape, it is urgent that socio-cultural principles, values and structures be identified and understood.
My research addresses the need in research and policy to identify and validate key aspects of social sustainability in the context of Northern, Indigenous communities. These social and cultural dimensions of communities are foundational to creating appropriate, relevant and successful sustainability initiatives.
My research is in support of the Nunatsiavut SakKijânginnatuk Nunalik (Sustainable Communities) Initiative in cooperation with the Nunatsiavut Government and the five Inuit communities of northern Labrador. The SCI is a community- based project which seeks to inform best practices for sustainability in the communities of NunatsiavutIn particular, I work with the “Valued Places and Spaces” project in Hopedale,which focuses on community perspectives, documenting places, spaces and activities in the community that are valued by residents and building understanding of these aspects of communities that are seen as important to maintain for the future.
I finished up fieldwork in Hopedale, Nunatsiavut (Labrador) in the summer of 2013, and returned to the community again in the early winter to present my preliminary results and get validation of findings. After spending the winter analyzing, presenting and writing up my findings, I completed my thesis- Dimensions of Socio- Cultural Sustainability: Perspectives of Hopedale, Nunatsiavut (Labrador)– this past spring.
I am now busy finishing up final reports to the community, and turning chapters into journal papers!
I come to this research project after years working with community organizations and living in the North. My interest in sustainability developed through personal and professional experience, witnessing the effects of change without thorough consideration of socio-cultural impacts. Particularly in Indigenous communities, change impact may manifest in loss of traditional lifestyles, cultural health and social stability and represents an ongoing legacy of communities’ separation from the land in which they are culturally embedded.