“Linnaeus in Sápmi: Generating Knowledge in Transit”

The Anthropology Research Team is very happy to welcome you all at the Arctic Centre for a joint presentation by Professor Elena Isayev and Professor Staffan Müller-Wille, both from the University of Exeter, UK, on the 28th of May at 14:00 in the Thule seminar room.

Look at or download a poster of the talk on the “lectures and events, Rovaniemi” page.

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Drawing by Linnaeus, illustrating various episodes from his journal. From the manuscript ‘Oeconomia Lapponica,’ Linnean Society of London, Library and Archives, Linnaean manuscript collection, Call no. GB-110/LM/LP/TRV/1/4/1. Accessable online at http://linnean-online.org/157546/

Elena Isayev is Professor of Ancient History and Place and Staffan Müller-Wille is Associate professor at the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology.

In the summer of 1732, the Swedish botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus journeyed through the Northern provinces of the Swedish Kingdom, including parts of Sápmi, known to him (and most English speakers today) as Lapland. His travel journal is often cited as the earliest account of Lapland by a naturalist and ethnographer. We are in the planning stages for a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award application that uses the journal to create a platform for public debate about issues ranging from sustainability and wellbeing to indigeneity and sovereignty. Linnaeus’s travel diary allows to explore how knowledge was created “in transit”, that is, in encounters among people, like Linnaeus himself, who were multi-lingual and moved between cultures: guides and servants, settlers, priests, merchants, reindeer herders. In order to bring out this aspect, we plan to create a new online translation of the journal while re-enacting his journey. Discussing the translation at gatherings with local experts and audiences – a form of collective learning while the journey unfolds – will be our vehicle for exposing the meshwork of interactions through which the North and its supposed healthiness have been, and continue to be, constructed.

 

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Vienna anthropology days

VANDA is an international conference, first to be held in Vienna in fall 2018, aimed at bringing together scholars from various fields of anthropology and ethnology, as well as other social sciences and humanities. While there is a certain regional focus, by proactively addressing researchers and students from Central and Eastern Europe, the conference is open to all from near and afar.

VANDA wants to be more than a mainstream science conference; its intention is to serve as a place where young researchers and early career scholars find a welcoming environment. Therefore, this International Conference also includes a Young Scholars’ Forum, where aspiring graduate students can network, can receive mentoring and practical advice, and have a chance to meet experienced colleagues and profit from their know-how.

VANDA is a joint effort by three anthropological institutions in town – the Institute for Social Anthropology (ISA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Weltmuseum Wien (formerly the Museum of Ethnology), and the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna.

The keynote is going to be by a scholar from Poland Michal Buchowski . The call for papers is now open, and we are all warmly invited to contribute. More details are here 
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Do young people need their own law?

Our new Finnish-Russian co-financed research project “Live, Work or Leave? ” looks at young people’s understanding of wellbeing compared between Finland and Russia. So far one of the differences between the two countries was that in Finland there is a law on young people (nuorisolaki), in force since January 2017. In Russia so far there are youth policy programmes on different levels. This may change in 2018, as the Russian Federal parliament discusses the adoption of such a law. However, so far the Russian government is opposed to such a law.  The main problem that this law should solve is a problem of definition: in Russia there is no law defining who counts as “youth”, what is the object of youth policy, what is a young family, what is a youth organisation. In our project we shall keep track and find out the fate of this law project. Most importantly, we will find out what are the conditions that young people would like to have for feeling well in Arctic industrial cities. On top of that, we hope that we can compare Finnish and Russian youth policies in its specific implementation in Arctic industrial cities.

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Assessing damage to indigenous cultures by industrial development with maths?

I just read an interesting post by the Russian news agency TASS (in Russian) announcing proudly the launch of a new method for assessing damage to indigenous culture and livelihood during industrial development of the Arctic. Russian scholars in this field know that there has been long a discussion about how the only Russian law on the anthropological expert review (etnologicheskaia expertiza) in Sakha (Yakutia) does not duly consider damage to culture and instead has a clear focus on compensation of material damage to natural resources that indigenous people use, as Ivanova has shown (2016:1237).

Now it seems that the working group of scholars and parliament committee members that want to push ahead with a Russian-wide law on the etnologicheskaia expertiza want to focus on assessing impacts with a participatory method that bases on a mathematical model. However, from the one article that I found by one of the authors it remains unclear to me if there would be aspects considered such as loss of spiritual knowledge, language, values and other aspects where indigenous cultures differ from the dominant societies of the state they live in.

While this is certainly a timely discussion, I wondered from reading that news post how the new scientific method advertised there wants to reliably assess such damage using mathematical formula only? The text says that researchers from the Russian Economic University and Kuban University have developed a mathematical formula allowing to consider the interests of all stakeholders around investment projects in the Arctic. In the text, economics Professor Violetta Gassiy is quoted as advertising this new method as a good replacement, because the method according to which damage has been assessed so far considers 101 criteria and therewith would be “very complicated”. But I wonder, isn’t it dangerous to simplify impact on local and indigenous cultures according to a ‘one fits it all’ formula? Countless anthropological research has shown that cultures are hugely diverse and function in a very tightly integrated reciprocal relationship between people and their specific environments.

I don’t want to dump the method of our colleagues prematurely, but I want to raise awareness of the fact that just by considering what local people express as their immediate interest in an industrial project may not necessarily be the best assessment of its possibly detrimental effects to culture. So far I thought that one of the advantages of the etnologicheskaia expertiza model in Russia is that it actually relies on trained anthropologists to assess JOINTLY with local experts the long-term impact of an industrial project on culture. This, I think, goes BEYOND the hopes of members in a community to get one-off payments as compensation or employment in the industry during the project life-cycle. I am not arguing that the hopes and opportunities for local people from industrial development projects are not important to consider. It is great if colleagues in Russia have come up with a good formula to do so.

All I am saying is that by no means does this replace the need for thorough assessment of cultural impacts by trained anthropologists together with local practitioners using our main method of participant observation.

A fair impact assessment must consider hopes, opportunities as well as threats and dangers of industrial development for indigenous societies. It must not be limited to assessing compensation payments for damage that occurs on the way, but should show avenues for PREVENTING such damage to happen in the first place. Together with colleagues we have highlighted this need for going beyond damage compensation towards damage prevention in social and cultural impact assessment more than a decade ago. With continued exploration and extraction of energy and mineral resources in the Arctic, this need did not diminish but increase, but the prevalent extractivist approach to natural resource governance does not always consider this need, as we have shown recently in a special volume on the topic.

I really welcome if this new method in Russia, if it becomes applied, is going to be seen as a tool to meet the need for participatory action together with local people in assessing their immediate needs, but that it would not replace our longer term joint challenge of trying to maintain culturally specific lifestyles of local and indigenous peoples in the Arctic basing on their unique adaptation to the Arctic environment and their knowing how to use the renewable natural resources in it in a reciprocal and sustainable way.

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Воспоминания коренных жителей Севера о национальных и вспомогательных школах-интернатах – Testimonies about boarding schools among indigenous people in Russia’s North

Текст на русском языке см. ниже

In this contribution, which will be mainly in Russian, I want to give the floor to the numerous voices about boarding schools among indigenous people in Russia and the former Soviet Union, which I have collected during the past years during my oral history research. The discussed period is mainly the 1960s to 1980s.

At the native boarding school in Lovozero –
Национальная школа-интернат в Ловозеро

This is complementary material to my research articles on the oral history of boarding schools (references below) and to a discussion on facebook, which I came across recently. To this day, in Russia there have been far less public discussions on the past of residential schooling among indigenous children than in Canada, Alaska and the Nordic countries. The mentioned discussion on facebook, which gathered over one hundred reactions and thirty comments within the first three days, shows, however, that there is a need to sort out the matter.

At the native boarding school in Lovozero –
Национальная школа-интернат в Ловозере

There seems not to be a demand for a discourse coined by the concept of “survivance”, contrary to for instance Canada. Such a terminology would seem inadequate to most former pupils in Russia as it would preclude the widespread recollections on the positive sides of the system. But this doesn’t mean there is no demand for talking about those schools, which heavily changed the lives of individuals and communities to this day. In my research in Lovozero, Murmansk Region, North-West Russia (also known as Russian Lapland) one of the most negative aspects of the Soviet boarding school system among indigenous children was the local, so-called remedial school for mentally disabled children, which officially had no ethnic dimension whatsoever. It existed from 1970 to 1994. The bigger school though in the village was the native boarding school, which was opened in 1959 and closed a few years ago. This was a general school with some additional elements focusing on (mostly visual and material) features of the local indigenous cultures. This latter type of schools was designed for healthy children. During my oral history research, I found out that there were many wrong appointments to the remedial school among indigenous children due to their lower level of knowledge of the majority language and culture (more information on this in my articles, see references below). However, as this was a qualitative case study in a spatially limited area and there is no other research on those schools, I had difficulties in assessing how widespread this practice was across the whole, immense Soviet North. The timely discussion on facebook gave me an answer. The initial post was about one such school in Russia’s Far East, and it triggered a cascade of comments and accounts on exactly such schools and such practices in many different places of Russia’s North. Continue reading

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Exploring the Arctic at Venice International University

Scholars, indigenous activists and students from both sides of the Atlantic (or Pacific?) met at the small Venetian island of San Servolo from 14th to 19th of January 2018. I am reporting here as part of a group of three professors and five students from Russia who attended the international graduate seminar “Northern Territories and Indigenous Peoples: Comparative perspectives”.  Almost 40 participants from Canada and the US, from Italy, Belgium, Germany and Russia attend the event at Venice International University.

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Maria Momzikova from the EUSP presenting her research (Photo Julia Kovyrshina)

“The crucial thing is the way one can inhabit space. We do not have the chance to evaluate space in the same way in the North of Russia and Canada with their vast territories and sparse population. Old labyrinth-like Venice taught me to be satisfied with a tiny imagination of possibilities of life in the era of global warming, among the melting ice.” Anastasia Karaseva from Saint Petersburg.

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A. Karaseva with the blog-author on the Rialto bridge (Photo Julia Kovyrshina)

It might seem strange to travel to Venice in January to discuss the Arctic. There might be few places on earth that seem to be less similar to each other – Venice being a densely populated small island and the Arctic as a place including different continents whose borders and populations are even difficult if not impossible to define clearly. Also in historical terms – when the star of Venice was already declining, the Arctic just started to appear on the maps of geographers. Interesting connections start to evolve: one of the early geographical atlases “Ptolemy’s Geographiae Universae” edited by Giovanni Antonio Magini and printed 1596 in Venice by Heredes Simoni Galignani presents already maps of the Arctic. Among them, a description of Siberia called Tartariae Imperium. Venetian glass was popular at that time in Russia and reached the new established Arctic towns like Mangazeya. The hunger for northern goods fuelled the expansion of trade routes into the Arctic since the middle ages and provoked the time of explorations of the 17th and 18th centuries – when the hegemony in trade for Venice was already over.

20180117-_MG_1217And of course both the Arctic and Venice suffer from exotization being inundated with cliché and imagination. For the outside world they are the source of and endless stream of kitsch but also of the uncanny and demonic that is haunting the unconscious like in Hugo Pratt’s comic “Corto Maltese: In Siberia”. It might not be the best idea to start in Venice and go on a journey to Siberia in order to collect all exotic clichés and stereotypes. It might be more productive to make the reverse journey from the ‘periphery’ and try to take a sober look at the ability of both places to enchant imaginations but also to look at the social relations and power configurations behind them.

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An unconscious reminiscence of “Don’t Look Now”

The program of the Graduate Seminar interestingly united quite diverse anthropological schools. The main group was formed by researchers from Canadian universities and the National Institute of Scientific Research (INRS) as a cooperation with the DIALOG- Aboriginal Peoples Research and Knowledge Network. The seminar constituted for them the 14th edition of the Nomadic University intensive training program.

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The island of San Servolo with the Venice International University campus (Photo Julia Kovyrshina)

Another research tradition was present through researchers from Russia in particular from the High School of Economics and the European University at Saint Petersburg. Every of this schools represent different histories and developed different methodological approaches. They even differ in their view on the relations of indigenous peoples and other inhabitants of the Arctic. To look at social problems from the perspective of trauma and healing for instance is very unusual for researchers from Russia as it is for North-Americans to look at white people not as settlers. But research grounded in fieldwork dealing with everyday life of local inhabitants is easily understandable for scholars working in different parts and historic traditions in the Arctic.

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Place of pilgrimage for Russians in Venice (Photo Julia Kovyrshina)

The main target group were PhD and master students from North America, Asia and several European countries doing research mostly on and with indigenous groups. Among the teachers were indigenous activists as well. To understand the different languages of academic disciplines and schools and to detect overlapping and differences might have been the most fruitful exercise during the seminar. A lot of discussion of course as always during scientific events happened at the corridor talk at coffee breaks, receptions and during the free time. Maybe even the town added some transcendental notes to the atmosphere of the seminar as one of the Russian participants put it. One of the Canadian participants told one of the students from Venice at the first session, when she admired the view over the lagoon from the window of the lecture hall: “It’s a shame to read the papers in this weather!” to which the Venetian student replied, “I live here – it’s a shame to study in Venice”.

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View from the window of the lecture hall over the lagoon (Photo Julia Kovyrshina)

 

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Gateway to the Arctic V: Co-production of knowledge

24th to 27th January 2018 in Pyhätunturi (Lapland, Finland)

Arctic Centre (University of Lapland, Finland) hosts the 5th ‘Gateway to the Arctic’ (coordinator Dr. Anna Stammler-Gossmann). It is organized in cooperation with the Alfred-Wagener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Germany (coordinator Dr. Renate Treffeisen) and Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France (coordinator Prof. Jan Borm).

Continue reading

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