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 (www.ASSW2011.org) 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.