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.
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.