The Experience of Displacement and Social Engineering in Kola Saami Oral Histories

Public defence of the doctoral dissertation by blog contributor Lukas Allemann on 15 Oct 2020

Our team member and periodic blog contributor Lukas Allemann examines in his thesis people’s experiences of Soviet-time, state-initiated displacement and (re)emplacement on the Kola Peninsula as well as the consequences of these developments. Sources show that Saami communities bore the brunt of these processes. The work seeks to draw – for the first time – a holistic picture of the social transformation among the Kola Saami, while nevertheless respecting the reality of mixed and multiple ethnic belongings as well as other categories of identity in the region.

Lukas identifies, analyses and contextualises the processes and consequences of displacement as one of the most profound social transformations of the twentieth century in the Arctic.

– This work is in many ways a historical anthropology of suffering, one laying bare mechanisms of scapegoating and social exclusion. Yet traumatic events are dealt with in ways acknowledging that victims can be simultaneously agents who accommodate, subvert and resist, Lukas explains.

The consequences of displacement include a chronic housing shortage, changed gender relations, skewed dynamics in boarding schools, self-harming behaviour, and social rifts that persist to this day.

Perspectives characteristic of the state are juxtaposed with grassroots experiences. The stages and consequences of displacement are contextualised within the larger frame of social engineering undertaken by modern nation-states across the circumpolar world, thus relativising Soviet–Western dichotomies and showing that there were more common things between “the West” and the Soviet Union than it is usually believed.

The cruciality of studying experiences

The main methodological principle is that the production and the analysis of materials should be phenomenologically driven and rooted in a radically interpretive, non-positivist approach.

Embracing this commitment, the work tries to show that the common – but mostly unspoken – link between oral history and anthropology lies in phenomenological philosophy as the study of experience.

– Making this link more explicit is an important and long overdue task, because experience is the pivot between the universal and the singular, Allemann underlines.

Conceived as a historical-anthropological inquiry, the study draws on empirical materials produced and gathered using a combined approach of open-ended biographical interviewing, participant observation and archival research. Ethical questions prompted by this co-productive approach with a long-term commitment to field partners are taken up as an additional strand of the research.

Information on the defence

M.A. Lukas Allemann will be defending his dissertation “The Experience of Displacement and Social Engineering in Kola Saami Oral Histories” with the permission of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland on 15 October 2020 at 12 noon EET (Finnish Time). The opponent is Professor Otto Habeck, Social Anthropology, University of Hamburg. The custos is Professor Florian Stammler, University of Lapland.

The public defence can be attended online:

Information on the author

Lukas has been working for the past seven years in the anthropology research team at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland. He holds a Master’s degree in Eastern European history and Russian studies from the University of Basel, Switzerland.

He specialises in historical anthropology and indigenous issues in the Russian North. He has been doing extensive fieldwork on the Kola Peninsula (Northwest Russia) since 2008 with regular visits to the field. His main research area is about the consequences of Soviet policies towards its indigenous minorities, based on oral history interviewing and participant observation work among indigenous Saami people as well as non-indigenous local actors.

During the past two years, a second strand of research has been anthropological inquiry into young peoples’ aspirations and well-being in Arctic single-industry towns in Russia. In all of his research, Lukas puts an emphasis on long-term field commitment, including bringing back research results to the communities they stem from.

Additional information

Lukas Allemann
+358 40 484 4418

Information on the publication

Lukas Allemann: The Experience of Displacement and Social Engineering in Kola Saami Oral Histories. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 288, ISBN 978-952-337-225-2, ISSN 1796-6310. University of Lapland 2020, Rovaniemi.

Permanent link to the publication:

One thought on “The Experience of Displacement and Social Engineering in Kola Saami Oral Histories

  1. fstammle

    Congratulations to Lukas for this defence. And warm thank you to opponent Prof Otto Habeck for the inspiring discussion (and for recommending the dissertation to be accepted by the University of Lapland).
    There were approximately 35 participants following the defence, outside of Rovaniemi also from Helsinki, Germany, Switzerland, Russia (I guess), from what I’ve spotted at the participants window during the online discussion. We look forward to more from Lukas in the future!

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