Movement in the Arctic: World Routes

World Routes is the name of a conference on movement in the Arctic organised by the University of Tartu, department of anthropology. This was a very nice example of an intimate group of people engaging for two days in a very focused way in discussions on what it means to be on the move in all possible different facets.
All the presentations at the conference evolved out of the notion of movement in relation to place as the two ideas that somehow mark the fields of people’s interaction and identification with their environment.

Arctic Anthropology should look at ALL ways of movement: Taxi tank on Yamal 2011

During the first day several presentations focused on migration and relocation in the Arctic, including a presentation by Florian Stammler on relocation and emplacement in the Arctic, trying to find a common umbrella enabling us to bridge the theoretical gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Arctic inhabitants. Florian suggested that the crossroads between time and place is where human inhabitation on the land evolves, or occurs, to use Tim Ingold’s most recently preferred term (Being Alive. Routledge, 2011). The practices on this intersection between time and place is what unites different groups of people. For example, both gas workers and reindeer herders being agents on the same land at the same time create a sort of common ground that shapes their occurrance and evolvement as persons and communities in the North.
While the vast majority of the presentations were on the Russian North, it was also nice to have one on Mexicans in Anchorage by Sara Komarnisky from the University of British Columbia. In a way it was very inspiring to have this fresh view on field sites in Arctic cities. Arctic Urban anthropology can deliver a lot of fresh insights to our field that is more dominated by the study of indigenous livelihoods. Along these lines, Hilary Pilkington’s talk on sense of belonging to Vorkuta and ideas of leaving was very inspiring. She has recently published on skinheads there in Vorkuta. Her findings mirror very well what we found in the INNOCOM project in other places: people can feel attached to northern industrial cities and still plan to leave.

The second cluster of presentations focused more on the experience of physical movement itself, in its various dimensions of walking, riding, driving, sliding etc. Vladimir Davydov and Donatas Brandisauskas shared great wealth of local concepts of practices of movement, when Evenki of the Baikal area develop terms for their movement not commonly used in Russian language. e.g. peshevat’sia for hunting on foot, Stephan Dudeck pointed to the ‘alternative state of mind’ that we all experience when we move together with our research partners in the field. We get to know different stories when we drive with somebody in the car rather than sitting at home. Tanya Argounova in her talk on long distance travel emphasized the fluidity of roads not only in terms of people, goods, information travelling on the road, but also the road itself flowing, e.g. when winter roads melt, or dirt roads are washed away from rain. She also mentioned that anthropology can benefit a lot from widening it not only being about places, which means our field sites, but also movement in all its dimensions.

Aimar Ventsel DJing in one of Tartu's clubs after a long conference day

The name of the conference “World Routes” was actually taken from a radio programme by the BBC on world music – not by coincidence. Organiser Aimar Ventsel is not only an established DJ with his own radio programme in Estonia, he also studied music scenes and subcultures in Siberia. Accordingly, the social programme included the offer of a disco with Aimar playing ethnic music in one of Tartu’s clubs. All in all, it was very nicely organised, with wide and at the same time deep discussions which would be nice to develop in the future including more Arctic regions to balance a bit the overweight of Siberia. Papers from the conference are going to be published somewhere at some point. We can announce further details here

publication announcement: Arktis

Logbuch Arktis, Osteuropa vol 2-3, 2011, 448 pages, 24 maps

Several members of our group have contributed to a new major interdisciplinary social science volume on the Arctic, published by the well-known German journal Osteuropa.

Anthropologically oriented chapters are the ones by Anna Stammler-Gossmann, Florian Stammler, Elena Khlinovskaya-Rockhill, Tobias Holzlehner, and also Stephen Fortesque and Indra Overland. Unfortunately the volume is in German only, but who knows, maybe somebody can read German as well. More information with a click on the image.

Barents development, Kirovsk, Northwest Russia: workshop

Our colleagues from the sustainable development research group at the Arctic Centre jointly with the Institute for Economic Studies of the Kola Science Centre RAS organise a workshop on “Politics of Development in the Barents Region”, May 17-18. The anthropology research team of the Arctic Centre will be represented there by Anna Stammler-Gossmann.

From Stalinist displaced people to 21st century tourism: Kirovsk in the Khibiny mountains

Very wisely, they chose Murmansk region’s first industrial town as a venue, the city of Kirovsk in the Khibiny mountains, where it all started with mining at a place nowadays known as “kilometre 25”,  nowadays a suburb of Kirovsk just under mountain with the beautiful Saami name Kukisvumchorr.

Kirovsk is in Russia’s northwesternmost area with the regional capital Murmansk, known as the Arctic’s first and most industrialised region, and its most militarised. As part of the ESF BOREAS programme, we had a research project there called MOVE-INNOCOM (mobility and locality in industrial northern communities), about which you can find out more here:,,

At the origin of Arctic industry: the Kirovsk mine in Kukisvumchorr (25km)

From the INNOCOM fieldwork we know that the place is a fascinating arena to perceive, live and study communinty viability at the crossroads of development ideas. This is because mining there coexists with mountain tourism, for which local people and the administration have big hopes. This makes the places also interesting for studying transformation of Arctic monoindustrial cities that were founded around one resource extraction company.

It would be very interesting to hear from anybody about studies and experiences of community viability in Arctic monoindustrial cities, and to discuss from an anthropological point of view the role of local people as agents or victims of development. Comments and information welcome!

Spy or Kin? Stephan Dudeck’s lecture at Arctic Centre

Many of us who have worked in Russia, but also in many other places, have experienced how easy it is to get trapped in a role that we get ascribed by people in the field. What is the consequence of this perceived roles for our fieldwork, the participant aspect in the live of our friends in the field? And how do such roles play out when we study spheres that are are considered private, if not intimate, by our research partners?

“Are you a spy or should we marry you off?” – How to study what reindeer herders want to hide ”

is the title of a lecture by Stephan Dudeck from the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany

Monday, 23 May 2011, 14:00, Thule meeting room, Arctic Centre, Rovaniemi

Coffee and pulla (cake) shall be served, everybody is welcome. If you have questions, please ask Florian Stammler.

Stephan Dudeck in the forest around West Siberia's oil town Kogalym


Basing on fieldwork among the Khanty reindeer herders living around the oil city of Kogalym, Western Siberia, this lecture is on forms of representation, of showing and hiding, shaped by different communication practices. Internal Khanty concepts of information distribution influence public events informally, in tandem with the official representation strategies of the state bureaucracy. The main methodological dilemma I faced in the field was how the researcher can document borders of communication without violating them. My suggestion is to consider the ethnographic practice of participant observation, in particular the participation part, as an experiment. I would like to see the researcher as an indicator or measuring instrument to detect the communication ideology inside the community she or he conducts her or his research in. The social roles the researcher is taking on do not so much depend on her or his wishes or skills but upon the wishes and interpretations of the community she or he is working with. Several cases from my fieldwork will exemplify how I was integrated in different ways into the Khanty community and how analysing this integration can reveal the ways information is distributed inside the community and to outsiders. They span from surfing social networks, being part time adopted, to being suspected of spying, or warned to deliver information to the neighbours. I conclude with some methodological considerations on how participation could be used as an analytical tool in order to reach the hidden without revealing it.

Arctic Science Summit week March/April 2011, Seoul

The 2011 Arctic Science Summit Week ( seems to be a real ‘no brainer’ for not only for us Arctic anthropologists, but for social sciences in general. There are many nice words among some science politicians about acknowledging that social sciences can importantly contribute to understanding Arctic change, but the hard sciences are still largely neglecting the role of humans, with some prominent hopeful exceptions, as I will mention below.

Still a long way to take down barriers between North&South Korea, and between social and natural sciences in the Arctic

Karin Lochte, AWI Director, talked in her keynote about the need to understand not only the physical changes in the Arctic, but also ecosystem changes, e.g. what lives on the seabed of the Arctic Ocean, Acidity of the ocean etc. Then she makes the link of how this is going to impact the food chain, and refers to all these organisms from plankton to large sea-mammals. However, she does not seem to have noticed AT ALL that humans are actually the final users of this food chain. They are completely left out from any of her considerations. If we think about how much money a big European research power like Germany invests in an institute such as AWI, and these people can not even acknowledge that the Arctic is inhabited, this is a heavy drawback. We have written about this elsewhere (IASSA northern notes number 34, page 7-14).
The nice exception to this ignorance is Philipp Wookey, (Sterling, UK, also a member of the scientific advisory board at the Arctic Centre, Rovaniemi), taking a MUCH more advanced view on ecosystems. He incorporates both goods and services in to his analysis. Services are the things that satisfy needs of society. New literature also acknowledges that these are cultural, spiritual etc services. He argues that these servies are particularly vulnerable to change. So here we have somebody from global change science acknowledging the important role that humans have in the changing Arctic. He just uses a different language than we do in anthropology. I would call people in Arctic change both agents and victims, in an organically intertwined relationship in the one total environment including all social and spiritual dimensions too, which is constantly being re-enacted through peoples ways of moving in and knowing the environment.  Wookey puts it in terms of ecosystem goods and services, and Social-Ecological system, drawing on a recent paper by Bruce Forbes, myself and colleagues (2009, PNAS). He admits himself that he is not the expert to tell us the deep content about the spiritual and cultural consequences. But that’s not the point. What he does emphasizes is how important a research approach is that acknowledges the unity of the the social and the ecological in the environment. In fact, it is up to us Arctic anthropologists to be active and work with such people in natural science who are open to us.