Robert W. Jarvenpa

Office: Arts & Sciences Building, Room 201
Ph: (518) 442-4700
Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1975           Curriculum Vitae

Robert W. Jarvenpa

Interests: Socio-cultural anthropology, ecology, social change, interethnic relations, ethnographic methods, Circumpolar societies, Native North Americans

Areas: Northern Europe, Central America

Research Statement

As an ecologically-oriented sociocultural anthropologist I am concerned with understanding the material bases of social and symbolic forms. Much of my research explores relationships between resource use, socio-spatial organization and decision making processes in hunter-gatherer and agrarian societies. A related area of interest is the environmental and economic contexts for inter-group and inter-ethnic relations. Recently I have developed political ecology frameworks for understanding how people negotiate tensions and contradictions between processes of production, reproduction and exchange within local ecosytems, on the one hand, and the macro-institutional constraints of regional, national and international markets and polities, on the other hand.

Related areas of research include technological and social change, middleman minority theory and the fur trade, behavioral bases of conflict lore, political economy of Native American identity, colonialism and factionalism, pilgrimage dynamics, commoditization and culture in tourist economies, food and culture, and food pattern change.

I am committed to intensive, long-term fieldwork as the empirical backbone of our discipline and an indispensible grounding for theory. I regularly bring students into the field for training in ethnographic methods, both on my own projects and in the context of formal field schools, most recently in Costa Rica. At the same time, I have attempted to develop new methodological approaches, particularly in the areas of active participation techniques and ethnoarchaeology.

Since the early 1970s I have organized and co-organized 12 major field research projects. Many of these have involved Native North American communities, particularly Canadian and Alaskan subarctic Dene or Athapaskan-speaking peoples like the Chipewyan and Han, but also northern Algonquian-speaking communities of Western Woods Cree and Metis. I have conducted extensive fieldwork in rural communities in both Finland and Costa Rica. Along with Hetty Jo Brumbach and several foreign colleagues, I am currently embarking on a new phase of comparative research in the Circumpolar world which will involve ethnoarchaeological interpretations of gender dynamics and susbistence systems among Finnish Saami, Bering Strait Inupiaq, and Siberian Khanty groups.

Key funding for my research has derived from the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Institute for General Medical Sciences, National Museums of Canada (now the Canadian Museum of Civlization), Canadian Embassy, Finnish Ministry of Education, SUNY, and SUNY-Albany. Published results appear in five books and over 70 journal articles, book chapters, and essays.


Click on the headings below for selected project highlights:

  • On the Trail of Northern Hunters
  • Along the Chipewyan-Cree Interface
  • Ethnoarchaeology of an Inter-Cultural Frontier
  • Farming on the Fringe
  • Political Ecology of an Agrarian Frontier
  • Ethnoarchaeology and Gender
  • Comparative Ethnoarchaeology of Gender and Subsistence

Select Publications Since 2000

Edited volumes

In press:
Jarvenpa, Robert, and Hetty Jo Brumbach (eds). Circumpolar Live and Livelihood: A Comparative Ethnoarchaeology of Gender and Subsistence. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Articles and Book Chapters

Chipewyan. In Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World’s Cultures , Vol. 1. Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember (eds). Pp. 371-379. New York: HRAF and Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Silot’ine: An Insurance Perspective on Northern Dene Kinship Networks in Recent History. Journal of Anthropological Research 60(2):153-178.

Collective Witnessing: Performance, Drama, and Circulation of Valuables in the Rural Auction and Antiques Trade. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 32(5):555-591.

Brumbach, Hetty Jo, and Robert Jarvenpa. Gender Dynamics in Native Northwestern North America: Perspectives and Prospects. In Many Faces of Gender: Roles and Relationships Through Time, in Indigenous Northern Communities. Lisa Frink, Rita S. Shepard and Gregory A. Reinhardt, eds. Pp. 195-210. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.

Finland. In Countries and Their Cultures, Vol. 2 . Melvin Ember and Carol R. Ember (eds). Pp. 779-790. New York: HRAF and Macmillan Reference USA.

Jarvenpa, Robert, and Hetty Jo Brumbach. Gender Roles Shed Light on Ancient Subsistence Cultures. Witness the Arctic 8(1):10.