Women as guardians of Human Security in the Arctic?

11 September, talking about Human Security. Is that by coincidence or a slight hint at the terrible events in New York in 2001? It was not quite a usual group of people for a scholarly conference who had gathered in Helsinki in the Foreign Affairs Institute to explore security beyond armies, military and sovereignty questions. I was told that there will be people from governments, embassies and the like.


Yuranebe Khada, Nenets guardian of a hearth on the Yamal Pensinula. She is the source of human security for the people who live on Gazprom’s largest terrestrial gas deposit (Foto Stammler)

When preparing the talk, I realised that the main argument that I thought was lacking from the point of view of an anthropologist on human security in the Arctic, is that humans feel secure there if they have a sense of home, of belonging, and of emotional-spiritual warmth and stability at their place. This fundamental condition of  human security is quite well epitomised by the symbol of the hearth, the fireplace in the middle of a nomadic tent, tended physically by the housewife, and spiritually guarded by the myad pukhutse, which is the Nenets word for the spirit that guards the tent and the hearth in it. Now notice: both of these figures, the housewife and the the guardian spirit are female. This means that the main guarantors of human security as a general condition in the Arctic are women! In all the male politician talk, or military talk, or industrialisation talk, or adventure talk, or reindeer herding talk – this fundamental condition about gender is not enough emphasized. This was my argument in the talk in Helsinki to these ambassadors. Of course, as everything, this is not new. The volume edited in 2010 by Thomas Hylland Eriksen emphasized already that we need to consider more immaterial notions of human security

After the talk I was a bit surprised to have seen, among others,  the ambassadors of countries that might have a bit different view on gender in the audience: Iran and Morocco 🙂 . To be honest, I was a bit surprised myself seeing myself talking like this about gender – considering that I am not at all a specialist in this field, and have never published on it. But it’s never too late…

At least there was no open outbreak of opposition in the audience, rather slight shaking of heads when they were listening to that argument.

If you are interested, you can listen to talks on that seminar here in the podcast, and comments are welcome of course!

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Siberia Geography Postdoc wanted

Our colleagues in Vienna have this interesting job opening in a project that combines anthropology and GIS in the area of the East Siberian railway region (BAM, AYAM). Interested?


fuel train going North on the railway AYAM near Berkakit, March 2017 (photo Stammler)

then read on

Continue reading

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Language contacts in the Arctic

August 31 is the deadline for paper submissions to a congress in Moscow. Judging from the keynote speakers, this should be also very interesting for us anthropologists, because it’s not only about hard core linguistic studies, but very much about the cultural context in which speakers of different languages get into contact. Have a look

Language contact in the circumpolar world

Institute of Linguistics RAS, Moscow, Russia; 27-29 October 2017

Extension of deadline to August 31

The circumpolar world includes the Arctic as defined by AMAP (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program) with adjacent areas. This vast territory has a number of common features that set it apart from any other part of the world: extremely harsh climate conditions, low population density, large distances between speakers of different languages or even of the same language, seasonal migrations for hundreds of miles, prevalence of hunter-gatherers with absolutely no traditional farming, etc. While language contact has been a popular topic of linguistic research in the last couple of decades, there have been few studies that would concentrate on the circumpolar region and specifics of language contact in the area.
The ‘Language contact in the circumpolar world’ conference will bring together researchers studying language contact in the North, and discussions of any aspect of the topic are welcome. Of particular importance is the question of whether language contact in the circumpolar world is different from that of other areas, and if so, in which particular respects.
The conference will feature papers selected by the Organizing committee, invited lectures by leading international experts specializing in the topic, and two extended tutorials on particular parts of the circumpolar world, ‘Language Contact in Arctic Canada & Greenland’ by Michael Fortesque (University of Copenhagen) and ‘Language Contact in Arctic Europe’ by Jussi Ylikoski (The Arctic University of Norway & University of Oulu).
We welcome abstracts from colleagues working on a variety of topics pertaining to language contact in the circumpolar region that include but are not limited to:

  •           language change conditioned by language contact,
  •           mixed languages,
  •           linguistic areas or Sprachbund’s,
  •           reconstructing the past through linguistic data,
  •           patterns of traditional or modern multilingualism,
  •           sociolinguistic details of modern or historic language contact,
  •           northern varieties of larger languages that are not restricted to the region (e.g. dialects of Russian, Swedish, English, etc.),
  •           cartography of language contact areas,
  •           methodology of language contact studies which takes into account specific features of the region.

The conference is organized by a new research group on Language Contact in the Circumpolar World at the Institute of Linguistics, supported by the Russian Science Foundation, see http://iling-ran.ru/main/departments/typol_compar/circumpolar/eng for more details.

Confirmed plenary speakers:
Michael Fortescue (University of Copenhagen)
Lenore Grenoble (University of Chicago)
Brigitte Pakendorf (CNRS, Lyon)
Nikolai Vakhtin (European University of St. Petersburg)
Jussi Ylikoski (The Arctic University of Norway & University of Oulu)

Organizing committee:
Olesya Khanina & Andrej Kibrik (Chairs), Maria Amelina, Mira Bergelson, Valentin Gusev, Olga Kazakevich, Elena Klyachko, Yuri Koryakov, and Natalia Stoynova.

The conference will be held in English. Organizers will assist participants in finding accommodation in the vicinity of the conference location.

The extended deadline for abstract submission is August 31, 2017. Notifications of acceptance or non-acceptance will be sent via email soon after that date. Please submit an anonymous abstract of no more than 1 page (excluding references) by email to circumpolar.conference2017(at)gmail.com; include a title, authors, and affiliations in your email


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Job offer: sustainability Professor

Hope everybody is enjoying the summer. For those who prefer to read announcements at this time, here is an interesting one. Hopefully many of ‘our people’ apply, so maybe we get another great cooperation partner for our team into the University of Helsinki?

The Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki invites applications for the position of


The appointee will work in the HELSUS interdisciplinary research programmes and teach in HELSUS associated master’s and doctoral programmes.

The successful applicant may be appointed to a professorship or a fixed-term associate/assistant professorship (tenure track system), depending on his or her qualifications and career stage.

The appointee shall have scholarly interest in indigenous sustainabilities through one or more of the following frameworks: human-environment relations, traditional environmental knowledge, gender, law, politics, indigenous governance, indigenous health and wellbeing, indigenous ontologies, indigenous activism and indigenous movements. Experience in working with indigenous communities, familiarity with indigenous or decolonizing methodologies and some knowledge of at least one indigenous language is considered an asset.

The assistant professor / associate professor / professor shall hold a doctoral degree and be able to conduct top-level international research related to indigenous sustainabilities, provide teaching based on such research in interdisciplinary contexts, and supervise Master theses and doctoral dissertations. He/she is expected to also participate in doctoral training and the development of teaching, as well as to be able to acquire research funding.

Please find more:


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Researching along in the Arctic: from lecture rooms to research fieldwork sites. A workshop on research issues with Tim Ingold

On 23 March 2017, The Anthropology Research Team is happy to invite Professor Tim Ingold to participate as a guest discussant to a workshop that will be held at the Arctic Centre, in the Thule Room, from 12:30-14:00. The workshop shall give the possibility to all those who have attended Professor Ingold’s lectures at the University of Lapland, last week, and who are doing research in the Arctic and with Arctic related issues, to briefly introduce their current research topic (3 minutes) and pose some questions. Professor Ingold shall make some comments on the most relevant issues and we shall then turn it in a discussion on those issues that have most resonance with our current research questions. Contact: Nuccio Mazzullo

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В Европейском университете в Петербурге появился новый исследовательский центр – Центр социальных исследования Сибири и Севера, aka Center for Arctic Social Studies. Для тех, кто читает по-русски: сведения о Центре и его сотрудниках, новости, проекты и все остальное можно найти здесь.

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Imagining Northern Sea Route: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives on Supporting Coastal System

Картинки по запросу северный морской путь корабли

This is a new joint project by Tyumen State University and European University at Saint-Petersburg planned for 2017–2019 and funded by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science.


NSR is a transport route along the Arctic coastline of Russia that connects Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In comparison with the southern route it is regarded as economically advantageous. Successful usage of NSR depends on climate conditions in the region. The round-the-year shipping traffic requires icebreakers and an elaborate backup infrastructure which today does not exist.

The idea of developing NSR is one of Russia’s new «national ideas», part of the governmental discourse “to reclaim the Artic”. The prospects of NSR were discussed during annual Forums of Polar Association (ASPOL). In his public address to the Federal Assembly (2015) President Putin called NSR a primary «link between Europe and Asian-Pacific region» that must be developed. The necessity of investing into NSR development is constantly emphasized by the government.

Navigation in Eurasian coastal areas of Arctic Ocean is documented at least since the 16th century but it was only in the 1930-s that it became possible to complete the trip through NSR within one navigation season. NSR development required various services embedded in local infrastructure, such as seaports, bases of polar aviation, meteorological stations and small coal factories. For this purpose, NSR management often had to establish new settlements to support sea ports and recruit workers or experts from non-Arctic regions.

In 1990-s the NSR traffic declined, parallel to the general economic crisis in the country and the outmigration from the region. According to recent official reports the cargo shipping is now rising again. NSR is now used by industrial companies, such as Norilsk Nickel , to provide the Arctic coast towns with necessary goods.

Some major changes that contribute to NSR reconstruction have already taken place: several centers for rescue service in the coastal area were established under the control of the Ministry for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Natural Disasters; military forces once again occupy the islands and archipelagos located in the Arctic seas; at least one platform for offshore oil extraction is in permanent operation in the Pechora sea; and a plant for liquefied gas production is working on the Yamal peninsula. Arctic tourism is also developing.

Outline of the project

The aim of the project is to document the current socio-economical state of seaport towns in order to create a starting point for investigating changes brought by future intensification of NSR traffic. In the absence of such intensification, the project will explore the interplay between the imagined «national» traffic lane and the real situation of the seaport system.

Different practices of imagining NSR constitute a major research focus of the project: the focus is on the structure of NSR imaginary (Steinberg, Tasch, Gerhardt 2015), both in historical and synchronic dimensions, which is shaped by concepts of space (NSR as a specific locality), and that of a transport system.

The project consists of two parts: an archival/historical and a fieldwork/anthropological ones, and focuses on the history of invention and contemporary social life of the Northern Sea Route (NSR).

The archival part of the project will analyze archival data and published sources in order to contribute to the historiography of NSR seaports; it will also explore the concept of NSR through the lens of historical geography. The NSR imaginary will be treated as a product of geographical imagination that now shapes both the official government discourse of “reclaiming the Arctic” and practices or ideas of local communities.

The fieldwork program includes description of current seaport infrastructures and, most importantly, anthropological research of seaport-towns’ communities including ethnographic description of current economic situation, sources of income, subsistence economy and official employment and local infrastructure.

The Team and Geography

The team consists of three researchers from Tyumen’ State University and seven from European University, St Petersburg. The team includes historians and anthropologists, early-career and experienced scholars, Ph.D. students and professors. The team will work on NSR all the way between Murmansk in the west and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii in the far east, which means visiting ten seaport towns and cities: Murmansk, Archangelsk, Indiga, Sabetta, Dikson, Khatanga, Tiksi, Pevek, Anadyr’, Providenia and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii.

Research questions

  1. When did the idea of NSR as a whole appear and for which historical period, discourse or community is it relevant?
  2. The structure of NSR imaginary: what patterns of geographical / infrastructural imagination form the perception of NSR by the local communities’ members?
  3. The types of seaport settlements: what similarities / differences can be traced between historical paths or post-Soviet transformation scenarios of NSR seaport towns?
  4. Social structure and identity of seaport towns’ communities: in what way do permanent dwellers of the town identify themselves.
  5. What are the expectations and fears of the supporting seaports communities?
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