Karina Lukin’s defense of her dissertation on the Nenets of Kolguev Island

Members of the Anthropological Research Group of the Arctic Centre Rovaniemi Florian Stammler, Roza Laptander, Nina Messhtyb and Stephan Dudeck took part in the defense of Karina Lukin’s dissertation at the University of Helsinki on 10 December 2011.

She published her dissertation under the titel “Elämän ja entisyyden maisemat – Kolgujev nenetsien arjessa, muistelussa ja kerronnassa” (Landscapes of the Living and of Bygone Days. Kolguyev in the Everyday Life, Recollection and Narration of the Nenets) and had done her research among the Nenets living on a vast island of approximately five thousand square kilometres in the Barents Sea of North Russia above the Arctic Circle.

Lukin’s dissertation is of special interest and value to the upcoming ORHELIA project because of the extensive use of oral history methodology and material in her research and because ORHELIA shares its interest in Nenets of the European part of North Russia. The ORHELIA delegation was therefore especially pleased to have the possibility to hold a meeting with Karina Lukin on the day before her defense. We discussed the plans to collect oral history with the European Nenets and shared our methodological considerations.

Research of the Nenets’ oral traditions was up to this point often preoccupied with the most conservative genres of Nenets’ folklore and with mythology that contains less information on the recent history of the indigenous groups but Karina focused on oral traditions that are nowadays transmitted in Russian language and thus stay outside the attention of traditional folklore.

She shared with us her considerations about the fieldwork ethics and her ways out of the dilemma that some information about historical events, the story tellers, and their personal evaluation of events is important to share with the wider public and some is not and should remain private or anonymous. We also discussed the question of the relationship of form and context of oral recollections and how important the performative aspect, the social context of storytelling, and the audience as a co-producer of the story are for an understanding of oral history.

The Nenets’ conceptions of place and landscape on Kolguev Island were in the centre of Lukin’s work. She revealed an internal Nenets’ system of evaluation and relation to the places on the Island that is distinctive and sometimes diametrically opposed to the concepts of the Russian population living on the coast or coming to the island for trading. The Nenets have a different perspective on the centre –periphery relationship building their relationship to geography around a spiritual and moral centre in the tundra that is opposed to the spatial organisation of state administration. These alternative views on the geography that are kept private seem to resemble in a way James Scott’s “hidden transcripts” (“Domination and the arts of resistance” 1990) as prerequisites for resistance against the colonization process. But the relationship of innovations and views coming from the outside and internal and traditional Nenets values and practices are more complicated, as two of Lukin’s examples show. She was able to record stories about the planned establishment of ethno-art sculptures on the highest mountain of the Island that despite of their recognition of the ethnic aspect met tacit resistance from the local population because the Nenets’ concept of sacred landscape is opposed to the European one of the display of art. In another example she presents stories about orthodox Christian chapels that were built by the Nenets’ religious specialists, so called shamans, where they organized religious services according to Nenets traditions.

Both examples of self-determined reaction to outside concepts reveal that dichotomies, quite common in the scientific discourse, like the tradition- modernity antagonism as well as the centre-periphery opposition do not capture the Nenets’ reality well. The question of the allocation of agency, sovereignty or autonomy over processes of change, adaptation, or innovation seem thus crucial for the understanding of the Nenets’ reaction to the colonization process.

In addition, we had some exchange with the opponents of the defense, Eva Toulouze from Paris and Tartu Universities and Jarkko Niemi from Tampere University. Both have worked with the Nenets and are involved in recent research that is related to our project. Fresh from the press Eva Toulouze donated us a new version of her bilingual book “Triptyques” with poems and stories of the Forest Nenet writer Jurij Vella, a longstanding friend of some of us.

Исследование устной истории Империй

Исследование устной истории Империй

Исследовательская группа антропологов Арктического центра в г. Рованиеми (Финляндия), возглавляемая Др. Флорианом Штаммлером, получила грант от Академии наук Финляндии на финансирование международного исследовательского проекта ORHELIA.

Аббревиатура ORHELIA раскрывается как “Oral History of Empires by Elders in the Arctic” (Устная история Империй, рассказанная стариками Арктики) с подзаголовком «Сравнительная история взаимоотношений государства с его северными перифериями». Предварительное исследование было начато в апреле 2011 года, краткий отчет об экспедиции опубликован на сайте Arctic Anthropology Blog (https://arcticanthropology.org/).

Continue reading “Исследование устной истории Империй”

Industrial development impact assessment – seminar

“Anthropological and legal aspects of industrial development impact assessment”

  • Organisers: Arktis graduate scho
    "We don't care about your sanctions, Mr Reagan: gas and politics, pipeline in Yamal, Russua, 1980s. Photo credit: the Gazprom Museum, Novyi Urengoi

    ol, Arctic Centre NIEM and Anthropology Research Team

  • Time: 19 December 2011
  • Place: Arctic Centre, Rovaniemi, Finland
  • Registration abstract submission, travel, logistsics and practical organisation: tahnee.prior[at]gmail.com
  • Deadline for abstracts: 7.12

The anthropology research team in Rovaniemi together with the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law gratefully acknowledges support by the Arktis graduate school in organizing a one-day seminar just before Christmas, 19.12. We will have two Russian experts on this topic from Salekhard and Yakutsk, respectively, and our expert on South America, professor Rene Kuppe from Vienna joining us.

All are most welcome to the seminar. If you want to present a paper, please send an abstract as early as possible, but not later than 7.12.2011 to fstammle(at)ulapland.fi, anbd to tahnee.prior(at)gmail.com). Tahnee Prior is in charge of travel arrangements and overall logistics for the seminar so please contact her if you need more info on these.


From the Arctic to the tropics – industry advances to ever remoter areas in the search to satisfy the thirst for resources in the global economy. However strong the talks about climate change and alternative energies may be, in the closer future still fossile resources will remain the mainstay of economic development. This focused one day seminar will bring experts from social sciences (mainly anthropology) and legal scholarship together to comparatively analyse the principles in which impacts of industrial development can be studied and regulated. The remoter the locations for possible resource extraction, the more frequently is a marginalised population in the periphery and a vulnerable natural environment affected. As a result, the benefits often go to the centres, while the costs remain in the periphery. Specialists in the field of impact analysis and legislation will introduce lessons learned from their respective cases in the Arctic and South America. Discussion is encouraged to focus on ways, instruments and tools to ensure that extractive industrial activity in remote areas brings benefits for the people living there and is less costly for the environment.