Modeling tradeoffs in a rural alaska mixed economy: Hunting, working, and sharing in the face of economic and ecological change

Shauna B. Burnsilver, Randall B. Boone, Gary P. Kofinas, Todd J. Brinkman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Scopus citations


In the Circumpolar North, mixed subsistence-cash economies are a livelihood form that is geographically widespread and culturally important for indigenous peoples (Nymand Larson et al. 2014; Poppel and Kruse 2010). Despite many ecological, subsistence, and political-economic differences, these economies have three components in common. People a) engage in market-based activities (e.g., employment for cash), b) carry out some form of subsistence production (harvesting, contributing, and processing), and c) share and cooperate, so that harvested foods, money, and other critical resources flow among households and interlink cash and subsistence activities (Natcher 2009; Nymand Larson et al. 2014). Social relationships of sharing and cooperation both anchor cultural identities and contribute to food security and broader well-being (Poppel and Kruse 2010; Schweitzer et al. 2014). While research shows mixed livelihoods have persisted through time (BurnSilver et al. 2016; Forbes et al. 2009; Harder and Wenzel 2012; Kruse 1991; Langdon 1991; Wheeler and Thornton 2005) policy discussions around how future changes will occur in northern economies often assume opposing outcomes. Either mixed livelihoods will inexorably give way to market dynamics, or they are persistent, flexible, and robust under conditions of change. The subtext of these conversations is often sustainability. That is, are arctic mixed livelihoods sustainable? Are they able to persist while maintaining material, cultural, and ecological resources for present and future generations, or are they in decline (McCarthy et al. 2005)? The processes and dynamics of adjustment associated with either market transformation or persistence outcomes are poorly understood, and the polemical arguments on both sides obscure important decisions and tradeoffs for people that could characterize mixed northern livelihoods in the future. Decision making at individual, household, and community scales within the context of political-economic structures all contribute to important outcomes for people and arctic landscapes. The emerging literature on tradeoffs emphasizes that there are costs and benefits associated with the strategies and preferred outcomes of different actors associated with any given human-resource-governance scenario (Brown et al. 2001; Campbell et al. 2010). But in the context of mixed economies, these costs and benefits are often framed in economic terms, and focus on maximizing economic utility rather than collective decisions that act to support the common good (Bates 1994; Plattner 1989). For example, common economic currencies for evaluating benefits (i.e., economic growth) are per capita income or village-level unemployment rates (Nymand Larsen and Huskey 2010).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Give and Take of Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationArchaeological and Anthropological Perspectives on Tradeoffs
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9781139939720
ISBN (Print)9781107078338
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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