Our colleagues in Estonia will host a really interesting workshop this year – focusing on the role of gatekeepers. I think they are very right that these people are so important for any anthropologist (not only in the Arctic), but we know very little about them, yet we all have our own very diverse experiences with them. This workshop will be a great opportunity to discuss this underrepresented topic.
I just wonder, if the workshop organisers also could have thought to specifically invite scholars TOGETHER with “their” gatekeepers to this workshop? I remember that at the ICASS in Fairbanks one workshop did that, and I brought two friends from Yamal (Mikhail Okotetto and Alexandr Yuzhakov). And David Koester was there with his great gatekeeping friend from Kamtchatka (and many others whom my bad memory 11 years ago remembers less well). And there they called this “research partnerships” rather than gatekeeping. I wonder if that term sounds more equal and respectful to both sides than gatekeeper? I’m happy to discuss some of this already here on the blog, maybe as an anticipation to get somebody going for the workshop in Tartu?
It is well known that ethnographic fieldwork and participant observation are central to anthropological research. In practice, this means that the scholar lives in a particular community, participates, makes observations, and documents their findings. Therefore, the published research is usually associated with the scholar and their ability to collect data and analyse it objectively. In reality, the success or failure of the fieldwork often depends on a great number of people, who consult, help, support, or translate for the scholar. It is not unique to the Arctic, but extremely important for the Arctic, that a foreign (and even domestic) scholar has these people who usually receive their acknowledgement in a modest footnote of the publication. Notwithstanding the modest presence of such helpers in academic publications, their role in shaping the fieldwork is often impossible to underestimate. Local scholars, friends, or even relatives, are essential for the success of a research in the Russian Arctic, and probably in other Arctic countries as well. They help to organise transport, prepare the necessary documentation, find key informants, or advise what supplies one needs to take on a trip. Moreover, it is not unusual for students researching for their PhD thesis in another country, to be in a situation where they have to rely on local experts.
In anthropological vocabulary, such local helpers are usually called ‘gatekeepers’, and this year we would like to discuss in the Arctic Workshop the role of the gatekeepers in academic research. We ask participants to consider and conceptualise various aspects of the phenomenon called the ‘gatekeeper’. How much do/can gatekeepers shape the content of a research? What is your experience, why are gatekeepers essential, and where can their role be negative? How altruistic are gatekeepers? What are the motives of gatekeepers to engage with foreign scholars; apart from money?
The Arctic Workshop of Tartu University is an annual academic event where the results and methods of Arctic research are discussed in an informal and intimate setting. Therefore, the organisers of the workshop also welcome PhD-students who want to discuss their ideas prior to their fieldwork, or who are at the beginning of their careers.
Please send an abstract of 300 words carrying the title of the presentation, the name and affiliation of the presenter, by 20th of February 2016 to Aimar Ventsel, Aimar.Ventsel(at)ut.ee.