‘People of the Changing Permafrost Land’ (Churapcha, Republic of Sakha Yakutia, Russia, June 18-19, 2019) ICE LAW subproject ‘Local and Indigenous Perspectives’

by Anna Stammler-Gossmann

The third community meeting ‘People of the Changing Permafrost Land’ (June 18-19, 2019), which was organised by Anna Stammler-Gossmann (Arctic Centre) and local partners, took place in a remote northern village of Churapcha, administrative centre of the Churapcha District in the Republic of Sakha Yakutia (North East of Russia), one of the coldest inhabited places on earth. The degradation of the permafrost scape, changes in the water-ice-land interface and their impact on the livelihoods of Arctic inhabitants were addressed during the seminar. The main goal of the seminar was twofold. On one hand, it was focused on creating a dialogue between academic representatives (from the social and natural sciences), authorities and local communities. On the other hand, it was important to identify practical solutions to deal with the problem, and to address legally sensitive questions in this field. The scale, the format and the outcomes of this event exceeded all expectations.


Accelerating thermokarst process: Former airport of Churapcha, takeoff and landing runway. Aerial shot: Nikolay Basharin, Institute of Permafrost (Yakutsk)

The seminar in Churapcha gained unexpectedly broad public and media attention. Among more than 120 participants were people who arrived at their own expense from the regional capital of Yakutsk, other districts and villages in order to address their concerns about the accelerating degradation of the permafrost-scape. A regional TV and radio broadcast team was recording and directly translating the event’s courses  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-z4bKJBjqs&feature=youtu.be). Several institutions were involved in the event’s organization. The seminar was hosted by the Churapcha State University of Exercise and Sport and was organized under the aegis of the UNESCO National Committee of the Republic of Sakha Yakutia (seminar agenda here).

Until now, issues of increased dynamics in frozen grounds were not amongst the main regional environmental concerns. Floods and forest fires have been the most debated issues on public and governmental agendas. Great public, academic and governmental interest in the event has revealed that the issue of permafrost has evolved and has to be verbalized and introduced to a broader audience. The seminar made it clear that the matter of water-ice-land relations could not be considered separately, especially in this region. The vast territory of the republic (equal the size of India) is almost fully covered by multi-year ice grounds that might go 1500 meters deep.

Several issues covered during the seminar opened a massive range of permafrost related sensitivities: cultural practices of ice use, disturbances in housing, infrastructure and pastures, danger of and for hydropower plants and dams, effects of deforestation, flooding, soil degradation and absence of a legal base to deal with these changes.

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Thermokarst landscape of Churapcha, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Presentations and open discussions emphasized the complexity and interconnectedness of water-ice-land-scape. “We in Churapcha thought we don’t have enough water for our agricultural needs and we stored water, build huge water reservoirs and dams. Now we have too much water”, stated one of the participants. Another person from the neighboring district Tatta reminded that the residents of his village see the cause of big floods in their area in the Churapcha dams and concluded: “No water or too much water, but now we all together have a general problem with ice.

Speakers and discussants pointed to anthropogenic and natural causes of the thawing processes of the ice ground. Repeatedly raised was the question as to how to deal with that and what kind of legal mechanisms should be applied. It brought conceptual debates on how water-ice relations should be defined. For example, why land, territory and housing destroyed by flooding is eligible for governmental reconstruction measures, but no support is included if the damage was caused by ice.

How should permafrost be defined at all? This powerful question pointed to existing challenges in the conceptual understanding of the phenomenon. Construction workers might see it as a base when building a house. Another speaker emphasized the importance of considering permafrost as a resource. Villagers particularly stressed the cultural practices of ice use for food storage. A different interpretation of permafrost came from the academic side.

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Presentations on thermokarst processes and their impact, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Scientists from the Permafrost Institute stated that the ‘permafrost’ notion (“everlasting frozen ground”, translated literally from Russian) is just for ‘popular’ use: “Ice cannot be permanent; changes are happening constantly, existing permafrost maps have to be constantly updated”. Ice is the main but not the only component of ‘permafrost’. In an academic geo-cryological paper the use of this definition is not common.

During the meeting, experts from different fields highlighted already existing ideas of dealing with the processes of thermoerosion. The participants could observe their disastrous impact during the visit of two settlements and dams – transformed terrain, huge accelerating gullies, subsided surface, endangered oil reservoir and kinder garden ground.

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Matter of legal regulations: Is water or ice the cause of the destroyed terrain? Visit of the seminar participants in the village of Nuorgana, photo left: Semen Gotovtsev; photo right: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Scientists and practitioners pointed to methods of filling gullies, the question of seasonality of these measures, methods to increase soil fertility and how to plant trees in the frozen environment. The final session of this big event – the workshop “Production of topsoil and use of the Californian worms” – was a demonstration with the real species of worms and the planting of a real birch tree in the garden of the hosting institution.

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Californian worms in Churapcha soil, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

This event became a platform to not only to express one’s own concerns, reach a bigger audience, and generate new ideas, but to also bring to the public already existing proposals for legal framing and for practical solutions.

Participants adopted a draft resolution and after the seminar handed it over to regional government (draft resolution and presentations available:  http://new.chgifkis.ru/news/obyavleniya/94-news/512-mezhdunarodnyj-seminar-lyudi-na-merzlotnykh-landshaftakh.html).

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Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

The main message of the resolution reads as follows:

“There is a need to develop a legal base for the introduction of special regimes of the use of natural resources, their protection and maintenance; also for regulation of nature-human relations of the permafrost land in the context of anthropogenic, climatic and technical impacts on multi-years frozen grounds”.

The ‘People of the Changing Permafrost Land’ seminar happened address the right topics at the right time, in the right place. Several websites as well as regional and local newspapers reported on the event. A regional channel of a national TV network screened a full report about the ICE LAW seminar one week later and the issues raised during this event. A network of “permafrost people” was established. Due to broad media coverage, the event gained an attention by international researchers and media, for example by journalists from the New York Times. After the meeting with the members of the organizing committee, the New York Times group visited Churapcha and the issue of the permafrost became a part of the New York Times publication (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/04/world/europe/russia-siberia-yakutia-permafrost-global-warming.html).

Organizers of the seminar were: Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Finland; Ministry of Ecology, Nature Resource Management and Forestry of the Republic of Sakha Yakutia; Melnikov P.I.  Permafrost Institute of the Russian Academy of Science (Siberian Branch); Churapcha State Institute of Exercise and Sport; Yakutsk State Academy of Agriculture, Arctic State Institute of Culture and Art; Municipal Administration of the Churapcha District; Elders Council “Ytyk Sybe” and NGOs of the Republic of Sakha Yakutia.


The organizers gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Leverhulme Trust (grant number 220000061711) and the Churapcha State University of Exercise and Sport for hosting the seminar. Anna Stammler-Gossmann wishes to thank the organizing committee for its enthusiasm and great assistance. Special thanks go to Uliana Vinokurova (Arctic State Institute of Art and Culture), Oksana Romanova (University of Yakutsk), Semen Gotovtsev (Institute of Permafrost, Daria Stepanova (Academy of Agriculture) and Akulina Mestnikova (Churapcha State University), Vladimir Miloslavski (Tiksi municipality) 

‘Norwegian fjords: Living with Changes’ (Bugøynes, Norway, June 7 – 8, 2019) ICE LAW subproject ‘Local and Indigenous Perspectives’

by Anna Stammler-Gossmann

The second community meeting ‘Norwegian fjord: Living with Changes’, organized by the Arctic Centre (Anna Stammler-Gossmann) took place in the remote coastal fishing village of Bugøynes (Finnmark, Norway) on June 7-8, 2019. How is seawater perceived and used due to experienced changes, and how do coastal communities accommodate these changes? These questions were the focus of the two days’ community workshop. (Programme_invitation_doc)


Village of Bugøynes, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

This picturesque place with around 200 inhabitants, surrounded on all sides by Arctic water has experienced several changes. Local residents remembered about the collapse of cod stock in the 1990s that ruined the economic base of the community: the processing plant was shut down, people lost their jobs and outmigration began. At the same time, the arrival of a ‘monstrous’ alien species – the red king crab – brought shock and additional uncertainties on how to deal with new challenges.

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King crab: from the Russian Far East to the Norwegian fjord, photos: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Positive changes came to the community after a group of villagers wrote a letter titled ‘A village for sale’ to the central national newspaper. The publishing of the letter made a tiny village well-known overnight. It was a crucial point that signified a start of new big turns in the village’s life. The motto of the long-term local partner, who helped to organize this meeting and who was at the beginning of the ‘wind of change’, is ‘do not wait but be proactive in creating your working place!’

By the end of the 1990s the ‘Arctic sauna’ was built on the shore and offered an exotic lifetime experience for tourists – to take a dip into the water of the Arctic fjord after a sauna session or to swim under northern lights in wintertime. New economic activity, tourism, was introduced to the remote village, where no gas station or medical service are available. Last year brought around three thousand tourists as was reported during the workshop.

The invasive crab became a blessing for the local economy and contributed to attract tourists. The king crab ‘hotel’ was established, a facility for storing crabs before selling them around the world. King crab safaris are now in the tourist program, and king crab as a local food is offered in the village’s only restaurant. Several tourists also joined the meeting that took place in a recently built ‘Aurora house’ with a beautiful view on the fjord.

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Posters presented during the meeting

Nevertheless, the question whether the king crab is a burden or asset for the villagers, will be not answered by locals in one way. The invasive species helped to turn village from being on the brink of extinction into a flourishing tourist and crab-fishing place.  However, even though a tourist’s delicacy, king crab legs are not part of a traditional menu for the coastal inhabitants. The still ongoing discussion on a potential threat to benthic (sea floor) ecosystems posed by these species still brings uncertainties to community life. As a crab fisher said: ‘The Crab does not have natural enemies, the shell is very hard’.

What remains in the locals’ minds is the passion for cod (“we have to go to fish cod, but go now for crab”), for fish cakes (“if you have a fish cake at home, you have food”), and nostalgia for the time when the processing factory was in operation (“it was also our community meeting place”). Elderly members of the community emphasized that village needs a processing factory to bring the caught by villagers fish to Bugøynes and not to other places and to create working places for women‘.

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‘Cod is Gott’, fishing in Sør-Varanger           Fish cake, photos: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Tourism business is a relatively new activity for the fishing village and because of its small population it still has difficulties to attract local people. At the same time, hosting the tourists has been a learning process for all residents. Visitors are very welcome, but all community representatives noted that the mass tourism, especially in the summertime, is not suitable for such a tiny place like Bugøynes.

Anna Stammler-Gossmann gave insights in her presentation into the history of the mass king crab transfer from the Far East and their introduction to the Barents Sea. Everybody in Bugøynes knows that red king crabs originate from the Far East and was introduced by Soviet scientists, but the questions as to ‘why and how’ were issues that gained great curiosity among the local residents and tourists.

They also had several questions and comments to the exhibited posters and pictures from the anthropological fieldwork conducted in places where king crabs are fished (Murmansk/North West Russia; Kamchatka/Russian Far East, and Patagonia/Argentina). In addition, one tourist from France, who by chance was a scientist from the field of biological oceanology, raised the issue of Norwegian whaling hunting and selling of wild bird eggs. The following discussion turned into a debate about the meaning of subsistence economy and traditional culture that advocates these activities.

An art workshop ‘Stories of the sea and fish mandala facilitated by prof. Satu Miettinen (Faculty of Art, University of Lapland) gave the community meeting a particular intimate and personal note. Drawing the fish mandala and storytelling turned into a reflection of people’s life cycles and complexity of meaning-making processes. Stories told during the workshop about the fish and fishing in their visualized form were not just about the acting or consumption, but more about memories, trauma and joy, changing meanings and individual or community needs.

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Drawing a ’fish’ mandala. Photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

The community meeting in Bugøynes had a very different format in comparison with the community meeting in Finland. This workshop demonstrated an importance of using a variety of available tools and approaches to facilitate local community engagement. Time ‘currency’ in a fishing village is different from what we know in an urban environment. Villagers might say, “if you do not at work at 7am you can continue to sleep”. This community meeting did not have scheduled sessions; people came, observed, talked, discussed, left and came again. “Catching” the tourists has similarities with catching fish.  People anticipate, but cannot predict exactly when fish or the tourists arrive.


‘Catching’ fish and the tourists, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Knowledge and experiences exchange helped residents to accumulate their central concerns during the discussion. Considering diversity of presented perspectives from fisheries, tourism, research, elderly residents and village visitors, the meeting provided a good base for identifying and expressing existing indeterminacy.

Economic diversification within the sector is the most common medium for coping with changing environmental conditions in the northern communities. The small coastal fishing village does not have a great variety of opportunities for this kind of diversification. Nevertheless, the residents have managed to switch their activities within and outside of traditional fisheries. They are discovering possibilities to deal with newly emerged challenges – the presence of many tourists, increased waste and increased demand for fuel, the absence of the medical services etc.

However, in spite of successful practices in dealing with the changes in the sea, the meeting reflected that the relationship between water, land and infrastructure has been changing faster than the cultural code. The case of Bugøynes shows that the changes in the seascape cannot be reduced to biophysical characteristics and economic resources. Effective community engagement in research is essential to identify complexity of spatial values in their contextual meanings. However, for meaningful implementations of adaptive measures to changes it is important to ensure that those local values are translated into policy and practice.


The organizer gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Leverhulme Trust (grant number 220000061711) and wishes to thank Elsa Magdalena Ingilæ Haldorsen (Bugøynes Opplevelser) for her assistance.


Climate, Fish and Fisheries: Local and Indigenous Perspectives (Rovaniemi, Finland, April 16-17, 2019)

by Anna Stammler-Gossmann

The first meeting ’Climate, Fish and Fisheries: Local and Indigenous Perspectives’ (organizer Anna Stammler-Gossmann) took place in April 16-17 in Lapland, at the Arctic Centre (Rovaniemi, Finland). Thematic issues of the community meeting were focused on different frameworks for valuing and experiencing changes around the waterscape from the perspective of the fisheries sector. (ICE LAW workshop)

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Indigenous fishing (Kamchatka, Russia); small-scale fishery (Finnmark, Norway), photos: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

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Large scale Russian fishery, photo left: Marine Informatics (Murmansk) archive; right: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

The meeting brought together people from Murmansk (North West Russia) and Finnish Lapland, whose activities are directly related to the fisheries sector and fishing activities. One group of participants is involved with Russian large-scale commercial fisheries. This group included those who monitor fish movements in the Arctic Ocean and provide information to the Russian trawlers on where to fish. Other parties of this group were a representative of WWF who cooperates with Russian fishers in the Barents Sea; a supplier of gear and equipment for trawlers; a MSC representative responsible for running certification and eco-labelling for wild-capture fisheries in the Murmansk region; a coordinator of regional Association of commercial fisheries and others.

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Local and indigenous participants from Finnish and Russian Lapland represented another group, for which fishing and being surrounded by water is more than just business or fish supply for consumption. For them it is related to a whole range of social behaviors: knowledge transfer, dealing with different perspectives concerning fishing right, risks, gender issues, childhood memories or the partaking in the national past.

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Indigenous perspective: Fishing as way of life

Practices of fishing in the Russian Far East, Cameroon (Africa) and the Small Island States (South Pacific) presented by researchers brought additional comparative components to the discussion in  geographical scope and scales of fishing activities. The comparative perspectives of the workshop became a powerful factor for emphasising the commonality of participants’ interests. At the same time, it also brought very lively discussion when the perspectives concerning national legal regulations, fishing rights and definition of climate change varied.

Some of the partners from Murmansk pointed to existing differences in Western and Russian interpretations of the changes associated with the climate change.

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Climate change: warming or cooling? Workshop presentations, photo Anna Stammler-Gossmann

In addition, practitioners and scientists raised questions about different criteria in evaluating changes in the water environment. It was stated that changes in fish movement challenge international regulations and each nation’s interest. It brings on the agenda questions ‘whose fish’, ‘what sustainable fisheries’, or ‘fair quota distribution’ and different criteria of stock evaluation by international fisheries institutions and national actors are.

Practitioners from Murmansk showed – using cod, mackerel and herring as examples – changing fish migration routes and how they might be influencing commercial fishing activities and uses of seawater space. The type of ambiguities and ‘tools’ that are available within the legal framework to deal with these kinds of changes was demonstrated on the example of invasive snow crabs in the North-East Atlantic. The increase of their appearance has already brought the issues to the forefront of the relation between Norwegian and EU fisheries.

In the international waters of the ‘Loophole’ located between the Exclusive Economic Zones of Norway and Russia, the snow crab issue strains Russian-Norwegian relations in respect to fishing vessels from other countries using ‘flag of convenience’ in that area. The practitioners reported about ongoing joint Russian-Norwegian efforts to regulate the current situation within existing regional framework.

Local and indigenous fishers from Finnish and Russian Lapland pointed out controversial practices of implementation of laws and reported about individual strategies in dealing with them. A Finnish entrepreneur involved in fishing tourism reported about difficulties to cooperate with national regulations and how he had to move his activities to Norway – away from fishing in ‘overregulated’ fresh water in Finland to coastal fishing in the Barents Sea.

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“How do I fish?” Local and indigenous perspectives, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

A Sami representative presented information about indigenous fishing rights for urban and rural Sami. It reflected the ongoing in Finland debates on legitimizing the collective indigenous claims for land and water without urban-rural distinction. The matter of fishing rights of rural Sami (without buying a license for fishing in the residential area) has become a sensitive political topic on the societal agenda and went to the court this year.

During the workshop, participants also debated the question of ‘hydroelectric power plant or fish?’ and compensation policies to recover fish grounds like, for example, introducing alien species into local waters, where salmon migration was disturbed. Participants presented different points of views on how to keep the balance between the natural environment and societal needs.

The workshop in Rovaniemi pointed out the challenges of integrating different discourses and varying forms of knowledge that exist among diverse partners. At the same time, we learned how important it is to understand the modes of communication. All participants emphasized the complexity and interdependency of processes around fisheries and water uses. Finally, everyone underlined that measuring, classifying and regulating fishing activities are a matter of knowledge exchange, understanding of both ends of the spectrum and the essence of skills. It should be based on developing of cooperation practices using already existing negative and positive experiences.

The final session of the meeting Knowledge to knowledge workshop: Different techniques of knife sharpening and fish skinning demonstrated practically how efficient and useful cooperation between practitioners and researchers could be.

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Fish skinning workshop, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann


This community meeting was supported by the Leverhulme Trust (grant number 220000061711). Event organiser wishes also to thank Dr. Dmitri Klochkov (Murmansk Marine Informatics) for his assistance.



Community meetings: ICE LAW subproject ‘Local and Indigenous Perspectives’

by Anna Stammler-Gossmann

The Indigenous and Local Perspectives subproject (ICE LAW: Indeterminate and Changing Environments) documents perspectives informed by understandings of land, water, and ice, and explores responses to changed geophysical and political environments (https://icelawproject.org/about/).

Shifting water-ice-scape was discussed from local, indigenous and academic perspectives during three community meetings in Finland (Lapland), Norway (Finnmark) and Russia (Republic of Sakha Yakutia), organized within ICE LAW sub-project “Local and indigenous perspectives” by Arctic Centre (Anna Stammler-Gossmann).

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                                   Photos: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

The common themes of these three events were:

  • Local needs and pressures related to environmental changes, and their relevance for political and legal decisions;
  • Specific contexts of practice and theory, social life of climate change models;
  • Knowing from inside, academic and local expertise exchange.

The general approach in framing of organized events in three different locations included developing of specific agendas proposed by the communities’ representatives themselves and conducting workshops, related to specific water-ice-land contexts of practices.

At the same time practical and observational engagement with the environment, perception, performances, and creativity in dealing with changes associated with climate change were discussed in a very specific local context. Events in Finland, Norway and Russia differed greatly in scale, content, discourses and diversity of participants.

All three events showed how crucial the practical and observational engagement with the world around us is for designing of sustainable living and communities’ well-being. Bringing together local practitioners, researchers, NGOs and policy-makers in addressing environmental concerns framed in a way, how meetings were designed, resulted in a new vision of collaboration as an interlinking of lines of interest.


The organiser gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Leverhulme Trust (grant number 220000061711)



Discussion: pros and cons of research cooperation between academia and military/security organisations

This month’s reading and discussion circle of our Arctic Anthropology team is open to all interested participants! Given the relevance of the topic for the entire academia, we explicitly welcome scholars and students also from other research groups and academic fields than ours. We will discuss the pros and cons of research cooperation between academia and military/security organisations.

TIME: 22 August 2019, 12:00 (noon), Helsinki time (UTC+2)

PLACE: Arctic Centre, Borealis room, 2nd floor, Pohjoisranta 4, Rovaniemi, Finland.

Chapter to read: Rubinstein, Robert A. 2011. “Ethics, Engagement and Experience: Anthropological Excursions in Culture and the National Security State.” In Dangerous Liaisons: Anthropologists and the National Security State, edited by Laura A. McNamara and Robert A. Rubinstein, 145–66. Santa Fe, N.M.: School for Advanced Research Press.

A short introduction to the topic: Rubinstein (2011, 145) observed that “security agencies and organizations are expending considerable efforts and resources to figure out how to […] bring anthropologists and other social scientists to work with them.” This includes not only direct employment but also funding of and access to publications and conferences (Ferguson 2013). A recent example is a common workshop held in Rovaniemi in Spring 2019 about security issues, to which Arctic Centre (University of Lapland) and NATO experts were invited and which was fully funded by the latter.

The traditionally left-wing preponderance in anthropology tends to strong ethical reservations, up to complete denial, towards any forms of academic cooperation with military and other security organisations, due to concerns about misappropriation. We should, however, also admit that denial and outrage often goes hand in hand with generalisations about the military “in a totalizing fashion that our discipline would never sanction were they to be applied to other peoples” (Rubinstein 2013, 121). Also in our discipline there are voices advocating a responsible cooperation in order to contribute to better-informed decisions within military structures. After all, a pragmatic discussion acknowledging the presence of the military as an immutable fact boils down to one question: does bringing knowledge about societies into the military rather increase or reduce harm inflicted to people.

As overt and covert interest of military and security organisations in our work as social scientists is potentially everywhere, we will discuss in this session a chapter that tries to offer a balanced discussion, without slipping into sweeping generalisations and negative stereotypes about “the military”. The goal is to discuss according opportunities and dangers of cooperation.

Further readings for those interested in the topic:

Chamayou, Grégoire. 2015. Drone Theory. New York: Penguin.

Ferguson, R. Brian. 2013. “Full Spectrum: The Military Invasion of Anthropology.” In Virtual War and Magical Death: Technologies and Imaginaries for Terror and Killing, edited by Neil L. Whitehead and Sverker Finnström, 85–110. Durham; London: Duke University Press.

Rubinstein, Robert A. 2013. “Master Narratives, Retrospective Attribution, and Ritual Pollution in Anthropology’s Engagements With the Military.” In Practicing Military Anthropology: Beyond Expectations and Traditional Boundaries, edited by Robert A. Rubinstein, Kerry B. Fosher, and Clementine K. Fujimura, 119–30. Sterling, Virginia: Kumarian Press.

Price, David H. 2016. Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology. Durham; London: Duke University Press.

Ssorin-Chaikov, Nikolai. 2018. “Hybrid Peace: Ethnographies of War.” Annual Review of Anthropology 47 (1): 251–62. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-102317-050139.