ASTK18429U Region, Identity, and Change: Theoretical lenses on the Arctic

Volume 2023/2024

Full-degree students enrolled at the Department of Political Science, UCPH

  • MSc in Political Science
  • MSc in Social Science
  • MSc in Security Risk Management
  • Bachelor in Political Science


Full-degree students enrolled at the Faculty of Social Science, UCPH 

  • Master Programme in Social Data Science
  • Master programme in Global Development


The course is open to:

  • Exchange and Guest students from abroad
  • Credit students from Danish Universities
  • Open University students

The Arctic is gaining increasing attention as a region where the contours of great power competition increasingly appear, while climate change accelerates visibly. The Arctic has until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine been a cause for cautious optimism regarding cooperation between Russia and the West through forums like the Arctic Council. Moreover, the Arctic is a place of post-colonial relations and grievances – something which is an important part of the ‘internal’ relations of the ‘Rigsfællesskab’/Kingdom of Denmark, i.e., Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. Finally, in the age of the Anthropocene, the Arctic presents particular and particularly challenging aspects of global climate change; change in the ‘Arctic’ climate will not stay in the geographical Arctic. In other words, the Arctic as a region presents many interesting aspects for international politics and for International Relations as a discipline.

This course takes a comprehensive look at the challenges and dynamics of ‘Arctic’ issues and relations. The course is structured in four thematic blocs: ‘1. What’s going on? The Arctic now and then’; ‘2. Ways of analysing what’s going on in the Arctic’; ‘3. (What) Is the Arctic a region (of)’; ‘4. Global Issues/Arctic particulars’. While the first bloc seeks to establish the basics in terms of geography, states, institutions and current political developments in an empirical way, the remaining three blocs use theoretical approaches from International Relations and neighbouring disciplines to look at these political dynamics. Bloc 2 applies concepts and approaches from core International Relations theories such as security dilemma, deterrence, interdependence, norms/rules and securitization, while bloc 3 ‘cuts the cake differently’ to deconstruct the idea of the Arctic as a region and understand how it is instrumentalized for a number of purposes, drawing on constructivism, post-structuralist and critical geopolitics. The last bloc takes a cross-cutting look at three globally relevant and salient issues – post-colonialism/decolonization, feminism & gender, and climate change/the Anthropocene – to understand their relevance and particularity in the Arctic in a way that seeks to go beyond the state-focused approaches.

As such, this course is a chance to critically apply IR theories and knowledge from previous courses, but the final bloc also invites the student to step outside these theoretical approaches, and through the empirics of the course, venture into texts and approaches from neighbouring disciplines to gain other perspectives on the top of the world. The student is expected to be curious about issues and concepts spanning military/strategic studies to post-colonialism and the notion than non-humans can also be analytically central.          

Learning Outcome


At the end of the course, the student will have:

  • Demonstrated knowledge of key theoretical approaches within International Relations and how they apply to the politics of the Arctic.
  • Gained a better understanding of the unusual state construction Denmark-Greenland-Faroe Islands.


  • Attained better understanding of how to apply theoretical approaches to a region, and ability to assess the limitations of such applications.
  • Ability to critically analyze how regions come to be, what the strengths and weaknesses of a regional perspective is, including the relation between theoretical developments and region as a case.



  • Critical thinking on the relation between theoretical approaches and empirical issues spanning identity, militarization, cooperation etc.
  • Using the empirics of the Arctic to apply and criticize International Relation’s typical focus on three levels of analysis.
  • Structuring, writing and presenting a coherent analysis and argument.

Preliminary reading list. A revised and complete list will be provided closer to the start of the course.

Albert, Mathias & Andreas Vasilache, “Governmentality of the Arctic as an international region,” Cooperation and Conflict 53, no. 1 (2017): 3-22.

Arctic Council, Ottawa Declaration (Ottawa, 1996).

Bruun, Johanne M., “Invading the Whiteness: Science, (Sub)terrain, and US Militarisation of the Greenland Ice Sheet,” Geopolitics 25, no.1 (2020): 167–188.

Bruun, Johanne M. & Ingrid A. Medby, “Theorising the Thaw: Geopolitics in a Changing Arctic.” Geography Compass 8, no. 12 (2014): 915-929.

Bruun, Johanne M. & Philip Steinberg, ‘ICE. Placing Territory on Ice: Militarisation, Measurement and Murder in the High Arctic,’ in Kimberley Peters, Philip Steinberg, & Elaine Stratford, eds., Territory beyond Terra. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018, 147-164.

Buzan, B., Wæver, O. and J. de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis, London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998, chapters 1 and 2.

Buzan, B. and Wæver, O, “Macrosecuritization and security constellations: reconsidering scale in securitization theory”, Review of International Studies, 35, no. 2 (2009): 253–276.

Depledge, Duncan, “Train Where You Expect to Fight: Why Military Exercises Have Increased in the High North,” Scandinavian Journal of Military Studies 3, no. 1 (2020): 288-301.

Dittmer, Jason, Sami Moisio, Alan Ingram, Klaus Dodds, “Have you heard the one about the disappearing ice? Recasting Arctic geopolitics” Political Geography 30, no. 4 (2011): 202-214.

Exnor-Pirot & Robert W. Murray, ”Regional order in the Arctic. Negotiated Exceptionalism,” Politik 20, no. 3 (2017): 47-64.

Finger, Matthias, “The Arctic, Laboratory of the Anthropocene,” in Lassi Heininen, ed., Future Security of the Global Arctic: State Policy, Economic Security and Climate. UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015: 121-137.

Gad, Ulrik Pram, “Greenland Projecting Sovereignty: Denmark Protecting Sovereignty Away,” in European Integration and Postcolonial Sovereignty Games: The EU Overseas Countries and Territories, Rebecca Adler-Nissen & Ulrik Pram Gad, eds., London: Routledge, 2012, 217–234.

Gad, Ulrik Pram “Greenland: A Post-Danish Sovereign Nation State in the Making,” Cooperation and Conflict 49, no.1 (2014): 98–118.

Gad, Ulrik Pram, “Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and Denmark: Unity or Community?,” in Peter Munk Christiansen, Jørgen Elklit, & Peter Nedergaard, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Danish Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020, 28–45.

Gorbachev, Mikhail, The Speech in Murmansk at the ceremonial meeting on the occasion of the presentation of the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star Medal to the city of Murmansk, 1. oktober 1987.

Herrmann, Victoria & Lillian Hussong, ”No UNCLOS, No Icebreakers, No Clue? U.S. Arctic Policy Through the Eyes of Congress” in red. Joachim Weber, ed., Handbook on Geopolitics and Security in the Arctic. The High North between Cooperation and Confrontation, Cham: Springer, 2020, 23-40.

Herz, John H., “Idealist Internationalism and the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 2, nr. 2 (1950): 171–201.

Inuit Circumpolar Council, A Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Sovereignty in the Arctic, Tromsø: Inuit Circumpolar Council, 2009.

Jacobsen, Marc, “Greenland’s Arctic Advantage: Articulations, Acts and Appearances of Sovereignty Games,” Cooperation and Conflict 55, no. 2 (2020): 170–192.

Jacobsen, Marc & Sara Olsvig, “From Peary to Pompeo: The History of United States’ Securitizations of Greenland,” in Marc Jacobsen, Ulrik Pram Gad, & Ole Wæver, eds., Greenland in Arctic Security: Entangled (De)Securitization Dynamics under Climatic Thaw and Geopolitical Freeze (forthcoming).

Jacobsen, Marc, Ulrik Pram Gad, & Ole Wæver, “Conclusion: Learning from Greenland in Arctic Security”, in Marc Jacobsen, Ulrik Pram Gad, & Ole Wæver, eds., Greenland in Arctic Security: Entangled (De)Securitization Dynamics under Climatic Thaw and Geopolitical Freeze (forthcoming).

Keil, Kathrin, “The Arctic: A new region of conflict? The case of oil and gas,” Cooperation and Conflict 49, no. 2 (2014): 162-190.

Keskitalo, Carina, ”International Region-Building: Development of the Arctic as an International Region,” Cooperation and Conflict 42, no. 2 (2007): 187-205.

Kristensen, Kristian Søby, “Negotiating Base Rights for Missile Defence: The Case of Thule Air Base in Greenland,” in Bertel Heurlin & Sten Rynning, eds., Missile Defense: International, Regional and National Implications. London: Routledge, 2005, 183-208.

Kristensen, Kristian Søby & Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen. ”Greenlandic sovereignty in practice. Uranium, independence, and foreign relations in Greenland between three logics of security” in Kristian Søby Kristensen & Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, eds., Greenland and the International Politics of a Changing Arctic. Postcolonial Paradiplomacy between High and Low Politics. London: Routledge, 2017, 38-53.

Larsen, Henrik, “The Arctic Exception: the Role of the EU in the Kingdom of Denmark’s Arctic Policy,” European Foreign Affairs Review 26, no. 2 (2021): 1-32.

Neumann, I.B., “A Region-Building Approach to Northern Europe”, Review of International Studies 20, no.1 (1994): 53-74.

Nilsson, Annika E. ”The United States and the making of an Arctic nation.” Polar Record 54, no. 275 (2018): 95-107.

Olesen, Mikkel Runge, “Lightning Rod: US, Greenlandic and Danish Relations in the Shadow of Postcolonial Reputations,” in Kristian Søby Kristensen & Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, eds., Greenland and the International Politics of a Changing Arctic. Postcolonial Paradiplomacy between High and Low Politics. London: Routledge, 2017, 70–82.

Olesen, Mikkel R., “The end of Arctic Exceptionalism? A review of the academic debates and what the Arctic prospects mean for the Kingdom of Denmark,” in Kristian Fischer & Hans Mouritzen, eds., Danish Foreign Policy Review. Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies, 2020, 103-128.

Petersen, Michael B. & Rebecca Pincus, “Arctic Militarization and Russian Military Theory,” Orbis 65, no. 3 (2021): 490-512.

Rahbek-Clemmensen, Jon, “The Arctic Turn: How Did the High North Become a Foreign and Security Policy Priority for Denmark?” in Kristian Søby Kristensen & Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, eds., Greenland and the International Politics of a Changing Arctic. Postcolonial Paradiplomacy between High and Low Politics. London: Routledge, 2017, 54–69.

Raspotnik, Andreas & Andreas Østhagen, “How Much is the Fish? When Foreign Policy Meets Fishing Interests in the EU’s Arctic Endeavour,” International Relations 35, no. 2 (2020): 1–21, https:/​/​​10.1177/​0047117820920915

Sørensen, Camilla T. N. ”Chinese investments in Greenland. Promises and risks as seen from Nuuk, Copenhagen and Beijing.” in Kristian Søby Kristensen & Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, eds., Greenland and the International Politics of a Changing Arctic. Postcolonial Paradiplomacy between High and Low Politics. London: Routledge, 2017, 83-97.

Wilson Rowe, Elana, ”Analyzing frenemies. An Arctic repertoire of cooperation and rivalry,” Political Geography 76 (2020), 102072.

Åtland, Kristian, “Interstate relations in the arctic: an emerging security dilemma?” Comparative Strategy 33, no.2 (2014): 145-166.

Åtland, Kristian & Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, ”When Security Speech Acts Misfire: Russia and the Elektron Incident,” Security Dialogue 40, no. 3 (2009): 333-354.

Completed and passed introductory courses to International Relations are a prerequisite.
The course will be taught as lectures with active participation from the students. Student presentations will also be part of the course, depending on the number of students attending. Group exercises and guest lectures will also be used as far as possible, and current developments will be incorporated and discussed.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination
Type of assessment details
Free written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

- In the semester where the course takes place: Free written assignment

- In subsequent semesters: Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner