This winter and spring we hear again disastrous news from sudden temperature rises and falls, leading to thick ice-crusts on reindeer pastures that block reindeer’s access to their pastures. While the most famous of these events happened in 2014 in the Centre of the Yamal Peninsula, West Siberia, the phenomenon is known probably to reindeer herders all over the Arctic, and several of our colleagues have extensively published on this. In Yamal, however, this does not endanger reindeer herding as a livelihood altogether. The scale in the world’s number one reindeer herding region is different from more marginal regions, which also have less possibilities to help with emergency measures in comparison to the Yamal government that is one of Russia’s richest financially. The winter/spring 2021 icing event in northernmost Yamal raises to me a new question on how we study the movement of adaptation-knowledge between wild animals, domestic animals and humans. Read below how.Continue reading “Rain on snow – how do people and reindeer learn to survive?”
Piers Vitebsky and Roza Laptander are going to give an interesting example on how to de-provincialise Arctic social sciences. This time on a topic that could hardly be more timely: they refer to their elaborate ethnographies of indigenous Siberians’ communications with the fire spirit to explain why apps to track the corona virus may fail.
They hold their talk virtually on May 4, 2021, 4.30-6.00 PM (London time) in the University of Cambridge MIASU seminar series. The link was sent to the email list of MIASU only. If you want to listen to their talk, please contact one of the authors ask them if they can share the link with you directly. The event is announced at the MIASU website here
Below is their abstract. I have read a draft paper and can only recommend it. It’s thought provoking for its link of two so contrasting settings, and for its reflections on theories of subjectivity, privacy, anonymity and – of course – spiritual encounters.
Abstract: “We contrast how the UK’s Covid-19 track and trace system gives warnings about exposure to infection, with how the domestic fire in a nomadic reindeer herder’s tent crackles warning about dangers of the Siberian landscape. This is an issue less of epistemology than of signalling, trust and coherence. We locate differing configurations of trust and suspicion in social and political context. The technocratic Covid app de-personalizes tracing, as individualism and concerns about privacy block channels of knowing and narrativity, and encourage non-compliance and conspiracy theories. In its sociality and acute attention to the environment, the nomad’s fire evokes not the epidemiological model of the besieged bounded body but a divinatory openness to space, time and event which ironically resembles an alternative model of the viral encounter.”
It has been one year since the coronavirus pandemic became a part of our life and changed it in a very radical way. We follow the rules of the government, we developed some rules for ourselves – and every one of these is made to stay safe and alive. From the beginning of the pandemic until today, people all around the world are shocked by the high number of deaths.
Here is an interview with the Nenets writer Anna Nerkagi. She has contracted covid and has since recovered. Anna lives in the little village of Laborovaya near the Polar Ural Mountains. She was the only person there who got the virus, and was taken to the regional hospital. But Anna does not remember how she was taken there. For her this was equal to “a little death”, as if she was symbolically killed. Even when she was unconscious, she had heard a voice. She understood perfectly what it was telling her, without any words. This voice told her that Life and Death are two brothers. They have one mother, they have the same blood. They live in the same chum [tent]. Anna is familiar what a chum is, since she has lived in the chum for many years.
“Life and Death live in the same chum. They have one fire. They love each other. But most of all they love people and they work to serve them. Life and Death – they are like two banks of the same river. That is why they are concerned that people die when it is their time. People must remember this while they are still in their bodies. People should remember this… I can’t say that I love death. Because this is the highest state of a saintly person, to love death and to be ready for that death. Although our ancestors, our fathers, were taught how to be prepared for their death. For example, I remember my grandmother, she died quite calmly, without any panic. That was the first time I realized that death can be quiet and calm. This voice told me that Life and Death are brothers. They have one mother. They have one fire. They have the same blood. And they do one job. They prepare people for death. Because after our human lives we will die. What awaits us is Death. And this death we must later learn to love, understand and accept. And besides knowledge that you must die one day, you should think how you should appear in front of the angel of death. There is a belief that the angel of death is an old ugly woman with a scythe. On the contrary, it is a beautiful angel. But the people to whom it comes, should not be ugly: they should not be drunk, should not be killed, should not use drugs, but should die their own natural death. I must have been given this knowledge to tell people that Life and Death are brothers. They love humans. They want people to live beautifully and die when they are too old to live any more. In the world of the dead people, this person is loved. All their ancestors are waiting for them there. And God awaits them, too.”
This was told to Anna, in order to pass this knowledge to you. Because everyone is going to die, but when it is their own time. People should die but not because of covid, or any other diseases. And not at a young age, because of drugs and alcohol. They should not be killed. Children should also live their lives long and beautifully. Well, the Angel of Death and the Angel of Life, I think, have a lot of work to do right now. And this work is not always joyful.
This has been a long journey and a lot of work several years: jointly with a number of interdisciplinary colleagues, we published our article on the ranking of Arctic extractive industries in terms of environmental responsibility. We might think “how is this related to Arctic Anthropology?”, but it actually is a lot, both because of the content the method we applied are anthropologically inspired. On top of that, we also run an applied agenda with this article, and will be happy if readers further disseminate it in their own networks and make this ranking an “influencer” for the extractive industries, motivating them to perform better for the sake of the environment and the people inhabiting it.Continue reading “The Arctic Environmental Responsibility Index – oil and gas better than mining?”
Now my lecture at the Enerpo programm of the European University at Saint Petersburg is available online.
klick here for the video on https://youtu.be/umcjBkjCrhM
In the lecture I concentrate not only on resource extraction and potential conflict with local forms of livelihood and the cultural dimension behind it (extractivism versus reciprocity) but also on other phenomena social anthropologists study in the Russian North, like e.g. human-animal relations, forms of sociality, oral history, the history of people-state relations, changes in gender arrangements, cultural practices like the use of psychotropic substances (alcohol) or religious rituals and their change. All of that are aspects that one would not automatically associate with the well-known conflict between large corporations and indigenous peoples.
The ENERPO Workshop Series hosts prominent representatives from the fields of academia, business, and politics. ENERPO program guest speakers share their knowledge and experience by touching upon a variety of topics related to Energy Politics…
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The European University at Saint Petersburg will host a seminar on the Northern Sea Route at its research Center for Arctic Social Studies. The seminar will be held in Russian and English and is organized in collaboration with Tyumen State University.
The seminar will take place in St. Petersburg 23-23 November 2021. Please apply with an abstract (up to 500 words) and a short biography (150 words) until the 31st of May 2021 at firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be a limited number of travel grants available and you might indicate your need and potential costs. The results of the selection of speakers will be announced until 30th June 2021.
The participants will be asked to submit a manuscript of their paper until 1st November 2021 (around 5000 words) to be circulated among participants before the seminar. See more detail below in Russian
On 14th of February 2021 in her 94th year of life a great person, colleague in Arctic Anthropology and professor emerita of ethnology, Ulla Johansen passed away. Born in Estonia she grew up in a multicultural environment, moved with her parents to Germany, where she studied anthropology after the war in Hamburg. It was her early interests in nomadic and Turkic speaking communities that let her turn to do research on the Sakha and the Soyot cultures and shamanism. Especially in the Republic of Sakha/Yakutia she became a leading figure of scientific exchange and founded in 2012 a scholarship hosted by the German DAAD and named after her. It allows Sakha doctoral candidates specializing in the areas of ethnology, musicology, social sciences or linguistics to receive a six-month research grant and gain experience in Germany. As head of the institute of ethnology at University of Cologne she had a profound effect on generations of German anthropologists, among them some of today’s leading Arctic anthropologists.
This is dedicated to a long term and very good friend, Konstantin Ochepkov, who passed away in Siberia way too early yesterday, just a little over 50 years old. His body was not able to retain victory over covid-19. I have known Kostya (how most of us called him) since I first came to Yamal in the late 1990s, when he lived in the then small village of Yar-Sale, the administrative centre of the Yamal Peninsula.
Just found out from the local news that in the Novyi Urengoy hospital two Nenets elders survived covid-19 and recovered from pneumonia, at the age of more than 100 years! These elders are so tough! I have also had the honour of meeting quite many people over 100 years old in the tundra particularly during our oral history project, who lived most of their lives with minimal imported stuff: eating mostly meat and fish, bread and tea. Little sugar, being outdoors 24/7 in Yamal, or in the chum, which in terms of fresh air is basically also outdoors:) . This shows that a lifestyle like that is perfectly healthy for the human body, much more so than a life in towns, let alone apartment blocks in skyscrapers… I dedicate this entry to all elders friends I have encountered throughout my field trips since the 1990s, and thank them for their openness, cooperation and their teachings.
Dear readers, the University of Lapland offers four full-time PhD positions in an open call. So basically any topic in Arctic Social Sciences go. I would very much hope that we get many really good candidates from Arctic Anthropology to these jobs, and can fill some of these positions with anthropologists. The positions are probably tied to moving to Rovaniemi, full or at least part time. Please read the job ad here and hopefully compose a good application. If any interested anthropology candidates have background questions they can contact Florian Stammler too.