Khanty activists Agrafena Sopochina travelled to Lapland

Together with with my friend and colleague Agrafena Semjonovna Sopochina and her daughter Marija Launonen travelled recently through northern Finland and Norway, to Tallinn and to St. Petersburg during the second part of August 2016. A detailed travelogue about our journey I published here and here.

laplandia-93We made contacts with Sámi activists and politicians, artists and reindeer herders, among the the president of the Sámi parliament in Finnland Tiina Juulia Sanila-Aikio or Skolt Sami: Paavvâl Taannâl Tiina and Johan Mathis Turi, the former president of the Worlds reindeer herders association and a great specialist in reindeer herding culture all over the Arctic. laplandia-194

But the biggest Thank You goes to Marina Falevitch from the Sámi Education Institute, who not only relieved me with the task to connect Agrafena to the Sámi world of Inari, but also hosted and fed us during our stay in Inari!laplandia-45

 

The Khanty Bear Feast revisited

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The honored bear’s head (Photo Antti Tenetz)

I have visited the Western Siberian Khanty in the vicinity of the oil towns in the Surgut region for twenty years now. Never could I have imagined I would see a performance of the famous Khanty Bear Ceremony documented thirty years ago by the Estonian intellectual and film director Lennar Meri in his film ”The Sons of Torum”. I was certain that the practice of organising a several days long ritual after a successful bear hunt had become extinct among the Khanty at the Tromyogan, Pim, and Agan Rivers north of the middle Ob River in Western Siberia.

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Reindeer sacrifice at the beginning of the Bear Feast (Photo Antti Tenetz)

A generation after Lennart Meri had filmed the Surgut Khanty, I thought the time was due to revisit the remaining participants of “The Sons of Torum”. I wanted to learn how they remembered the bear festival and why it had ceased being performed. I set out with multimedia artist Antti Tenetz to the Tromyogan River in November 2015 to visit Iosif, the son of the main protagonist of the film, the shaman Ivan Stepanovich Sopochin. We showed him Meri’s film and promised to repatriate copies of the recordings made in 1988. At the end of our journey, we received the surprising invitation to attend a new attempt to perform the ceremony. Up to the very last moment when I arrived in March 2016 with Antti at the Tromyogan River, we were not sure if we would really have the possibility to participate in the ceremony and whether we would be allowed to make the recordings we had intended.

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Awakening of the bear (photo Antti Tenetz)

We learned upon arrival that the official initiator of the event, the Khanty folklorist Timofei Moldanov of the Torum-Maa Museum was counting on our recording devices in order to document the whole ritual. Three linguists, Lyudmila Kayukova, Agrafena Sopochina and Zsófia Schön suggested to collaborate on the documentation of the ritual and we met two long-time friends, Olga Kornienko, a film maker from Surgut, and Aleksei Rud’, a PhD student from Ekaterinburg. The main local performer and organiser of the ritual, Sergei Vasilievich Kechimov, was also very keen on documenting the whole ritual and allowed us to film virtually everything.

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Antti Tenetz, Stephan Dudeck, Lyudmila Kayukova, Zsófia Schön (from left to right)

The ritual started with a reindeer sacrifice near the Tromyogan River in the presence of the remains of the hunted bear. A ritual entrance into the house of ceremony and a divination ritual followed. The symbolic five days of the feast, containing theatrical performances, dances and songs were fit into three days from the morning of 21st March to the morning of 24th March 2016. We learned about the clear distinction between shamanic rituals and the bear feast, which explicitly excludes every shamanic practice. It’s another strict taboo to argue and take offence during the days of the feast filled with laughter at even the most coarse jokes.

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Performance with mask (photo Antti Tenetz)

Curious TV journalists showed up and left us with mixed feelings as they showed no interest in the meaning of the ritual and its ethics among the Khanty. They all left bored by the long repetitive songs on the second day. The first days consisted of eleven hours of performances while the last day and night the performers didn’t stop singing, acting and dancing for 23 hours. I recognised with pleasure all generations and quite a number of young Khanty were present.

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Sergei Sopochin with Narkisyukh and Jakov Rynkov with the ritual stick for marking the performances (photo Antti Tenetz)

The future will show what direction the research of the performance will take. It will have to start from the interest of the Khanty to repatriate the collected and archived materials and to revitalise the bear ceremonial. A priority will be to make the recordings available to potential singers. I am still amazed by what I have witnessed and have already discovered a lot of details not yet mentioned in the existing literature on the Surgut Khanty bear feast.

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Performance with mask (photo Antti Tenetz)

In contrast to the well researched bear feast of the northern Khanty and the Mansi, descriptions of the ceremony among the Khanty along the middle Ob remain rare. At the beginning of the 20th century, two researchers were able to visit a Surgut Khanty bear festival, Kustaa Fredrik Karjalainen on 10th January 1901 near Surgut, and Raisa Pavlovna Mitusova on 3rd September 1924 in the settlement Yaur-yaun-pugol by the Agan River.

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Semjon Rynkov singing (centre), Danil Pokachev and Andrei Ernykhov backing (photo Antti Tenetz)

The main research questions have yet to be determined but some general directions have already become clear. The research will have to reach beyond the common discourse of victimisation and endangerment to explore the complexity of cultural revitalisation in the form of killing and reincarnation. My starting point is the insight that the ritual as well as ethnographic film deal with the relationship of difference and affinity and with death and return. The bear ritual encounters the bear as a significant other. It stresses the difference and affinity of the bear to the human community and transforms the dead bear into a cultural hero and implements a long lasting relationship between the hunter and the prey as well as the human with the non-human spiritual being. To be part of this process and to start to understand such a unique cultural performance is what makes anthropology one of the most exciting professions in the world.

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Sergei Kechimov singing (photo Antti Tenetz)

In August 1985 and 1988, Lennart Meri recorded the bear festival at the settlement Vat’-Yaun-Pugol at the invitation of the Khanty writer Yeremei Aipin, who left a short description of the ritual in one of his novels. The musicologists Jarkko Niemi and Katalin Lázár and the Hungarian linguist Márta Csepregi recorded some bear songs with the Surgut Khanty in the 1990s which have remained unpublished until today. Parts of bear songs collected by Jarkko Niemi were published in 2001 on the CD ”The Great Awakening”. Olga Balalaeva and Andrew Wiget have recorded bear feast performances at the neighbouring Yugan River.

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Sergei Kechimov singing (photo Antti Tenetz)

X SIBERIAN STUDIES CONFERENCE – PASSION FOR LIFE, Emotions, Feelings and Perception in the North and Siberia

A really early announcement for a great conference on Arctic Anthropology!

I hope to meet many of the readers of our blog in a years time in St. Petersburg in order to discuss an important theme in our field. As some of you might have guessed I would like to distract the participants’ attention a little bit from the dominance of “love” and “harmony” as emotions associated with the Russian North. Instead I would like to guide them into themes that have some theoretical implications for anthropology like practices and expressions of ‘attachment and detachment’, ‘performance and representation’ of emotional states, ‘techniques of ecstasy’, ‘irrationality’, ‘shame’, ‘effervescence’, ‘awe’,  ‘affective control’  and ‘transgression’. There seems to be two particular poles in the Siberian (better circumpolar) ethnographic material: on the one hand control and restrain of emotions (silence, calmness, equanimity) possibly associated with hunting, and on the other hand ritually performed excess of emotional expressions possibly associated with shamanic practices. I would prefer to put the focus on practices and body techniques as something particularly accessible by ethnography in contrast to psychology (though I would appreciate contributions from our colleagues ethnopsychologists at the conference very much).
See you in St. Petersburg in October 2016!

Yours,

Stephan Dudeck

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New book: Before Boas – The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment

I would like to announce a newly published book exploring why the cradle of our discipline was to be found in ethnographic research in the Russian Arctic. The present book sums up the results of decades of research into early ethnographic scholarship during the exploration of Siberia in the 18th century and its links to the German enlightenment.

“Before Boas – The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment”

Han F. Vermeulen

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(table of content)

The history of anthropology has been written from multiple viewpoints, often from perspectives of gender, nationality, theory, or politics. Before Boas delves deeper into issues concerning anthropology’s academic origins to present a groundbreaking study that reveals how ethnology and ethnography originated during the eighteenth rather than the nineteenth century, developing parallel to anthropology, or the “natural history of man.”

Han F. Vermeulen explores primary and secondary sources from Russia, Germany, Austria, the United States, the Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, and Great Britain in tracing how “ethnography” was begun as field research by German-speaking historians and naturalists in Siberia (Russia) during the 1730s and 1740s, was generalized as “ethnology” by scholars in Göttingen (Germany) and Vienna (Austria) during the 1770s and 1780s, and was subsequently adopted by researchers in other countries.

Before Boas argues that anthropology and ethnology were separate sciences during the Age of Reason, studying racial and ethnic diversity, respectively. Ethnography and ethnology focused not on “other” cultures but on all peoples of all eras. Following G. W. Leibniz, researchers in these fields categorized peoples primarily according to their languages. Franz Boas professionalized the holistic study of anthropology from the 1880s into the twentieth century.

Han F. Vermeulen is a research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale) and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment. Lincoln and London, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. Hardback, xxvi + 720 pp. ISBN 978-0-8032-5542-5. 10 images, 6 maps, 12 tables. Price: $75.00, £52.00, € 53,95.

If you want to purchase the book directly from the publisher feel free to mention the discount (25%) code when ordering in the US with customerservice@longleafservices.org use code 6AS15.

For UK and Europe: with 20% off only £41.60* when you order using code CSF615BOAS Order online: www.combinedacademic.co.uk
Order by telephone: call Marston on +44 (0)1235 465500

“Before the Snow” – A documentary about Siberian people published online

The film by Christian Vagt features three important indigenous leaders and story tellers from the Khanty and Forest Nenets communities of Western Siberia – Josif Kechimov, Yuri Vella and Agrafena Pesikova. It is a short documentary filmed in 2007 in the West Siberian Taiga about indigenous concepts of their relationship with ghosts and the danger of inappropriate behaviour towards them.

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Josif Kechimov talks about the relationship to the dead and the tragic consequences of encounters with unburied deceased relatives. Against the background of oil development, forced resettlements and the spread of Christian missionizing among his people – and his feelings of danger for the forest live of Khanty reindeer herders and decline of traditions grow.

Juri Vella tells a Forest Nenets tale about the encounter with a supernatural and threatening inhabitant of an abandoned human settlement.  Hunter‘s stories have never a single message or meaning. Yuri Vella leaves it to the listeners to make their conclusions. What to do though if an understanding of the cultural context is missing?

Agrafena Pesikova sends a clear message addressed to the people intruding into the life of the indigenous reindeer herders and hunters.  The interests and interpretations of these people are based on their European and Christian preconceptions. They are not able to understand without careful and respectful interaction with local people. The lesson outsiders can learn from indigenous ghost stories is that distance, silence, and restraint from direct interaction should be part of respectful behaviour. Only if they are able to listen the right way though might they be able to grasp the message.

The film confirms my hypothesis that the indigenous Khanty and Nenets ways of dealing with supernatural beings, the deceased, and animals shape the way of interaction with other strangers be it bureaucrats, anthropologists, oil companies or tourists. The behaviour that is expected from outsiders, the respectful distance needed to avoid conflict and the tragic consequences of inappropriate contact are similar. In the face of the experience of difference, ghost stories teach what respect and disrespect mean.

A German version can be found here:

In Memory of a Great Teacher

Yuri Vella left this world on the 12th of September 2013

Yuri Vella
Yuri Vella

Almost exactly 20 years ago three German students of anthropology get off a helicopter in the middle of the Western Siberian forest tundra, over 100 km from the next settlement. They see a little wooden hut and a couple with two small kids is approaching them. Nobody told this people that they will have guests and the guests did not met the hosts before.  In the village the students were told the day before that the poet and reindeer herder Yuri Vella lives far away and there is neither road nor transport to his campsite. They decided already to give up their plan to visit Yuri Vella when out of a sudden a helicopter appeared.

I was one of these students. This was the moment when I met for the first time the men who should become my most influential teacher of anthropology and whose forest camp became for me a second home.

Reflections of Yuri and me in his well
Reflections of Yuri and me in his well.

Recently a friend asked me what I learned from him in the first place and while thinking about an answer I discovered that it is really hard to say. The reason is that it reached from the most practical things like how to light a fire in the in the forest to the most theoretical ones like how to understand human-animal relationships.

Yuri Vella was born at the 12th of March 1948 in the nomad camp of Kyli Aivaseda not far from the village of Varyogan. The village was the place the nomadic reindeer herders from the Agan river basin were supposed to settle down. Here he went to school, here he was appointed as the head of the village administration for a short period, and here he established the open air museum, where he saved traditional buildings and objects from the forest settlements destroyed by the oil industry.

At his 60
At his 60th Birthday

The forest lifestyle of the Nenets and Khanty fishermen, hunters and reindeer herders, which was under thread by the ruthless oil-development became his most important issue from the perestroika times on. He worked himself as a hunter in the area his grandfather used to hunt on and later he decided to establish a reindeer herd and to live permanently on the territory where I met him in 1993.

At the beginning of the 90ies he organised demonstrations of the local people against the ruthless actions of the oil companies that destroyed not only the settlements, the sacred places and cemeteries of the Khanty and Forest Nenets but poisoned the river and swamps with oil and contaminated the air with the gas they burned. At this time he also understood that there is more that get lost than just the environment. The language, the knowledge, the values of a lifestyle that is based on a respectful relationship between animals, people, and forces that are more powerful than humans started to disappear. He decided to make his own live and his own settlement in the forest a place where people could learn about these things. He made himself a living example, which could teach not only his family members and relatives but also all people interested, be it school children from the oil-town or foreign anthropologists.

Yuri Vella
Yuri Vella

I think this congruence of words and deeds was the most impressive feature of Yuri Vella. False politeness and strategic submissiveness were completely foreign to him. I was impressed by the degree of autonomy he claimed not only in his thinking but also for his lifestyle. He seemed to be free from all the conventions of modern live and social prestige and decided himself about the values he accepted from the traditions of his Nenets ancestors and of European cultural heritage.

I had the luck to be introduced by him to some of the elders that where still deeply rooted in the values and traditions of the forest life – Oleg Aivaseda, Valjoma Aivaseda, Oisia Iusi and Egor Kazamkin. Nowadays, when I work with Nenets elders I often feel that it is due to Yuri Vella that I learned to listen, to be patient, to provide the feeling that their knowledge will be in competent and respectful hands.

1993
1993

Here I think I learned as well the most important theoretical lesson in a very practical way. While building the winter hut or the reindeer fence he would mix very practical teaching with reflections about spiritual forces and political circumstances. He told about the threat of the oil industry for the reindeer, about the spiritual landscape of ancestral tradition and about the ways how to orientate oneself without compass and map in the landscape in almost one sentence. My well build hierarchies of knowledge were tumbling down. I understood that there are no authorities the legitimacy of knowledge is based on. His mixture of pragmatism, firmness in principles, and personal experience skipped all hierarchies of scientific, empirical, indigenous, and spiritual knowledge. His writings and his poetry are a proof of his disregard towards established knowledge forms. They mix poetry and prose, science and the traditional spirituality with always a social and political agenda and are not afraid of very personal statements about love and human relationships. To write a poem, to build a wooden sledge or a block house, to organise a protest against an oil-company or to establish a forest school for reindeer herders children this were all not separated projects but rooted in one live that centred around the coexistence of men, forest and reindeer.

I could tell what I learned about indigenous storytelling, about the role of reindeer in Nenets and Khanty culture, about indigenous spirituality, about gender relations and the differences between Nenets and Khanty people. To elaborate on it would go far beyond the frame of an internet blog and some of it, like the ways to deal with forces more powerful than men, I cannot share with an anonymous public.

I will just tell a little bit what I learned about politics, about the possibility to influence the actions of much more powerful institutions and discourses that influence ones live. His political thinking developed in the conflict between indigenous people and oil companies. He saw its deeper historical roots in different relationships to the land and its resources between state bureaucrats, oil-workers and reindeer herders. His way of political engagement was again a very personal one. Instead of searching for a place in established political institutions he chooses to defend his own small ancestral territory from the destructive development by the oil company LUKOIL. He tried to be the David against Goliath and to use the weapons of the weak. He was very much aware of his lack of power in terms of economic weight. Oil companies were able within a growing nationalistic discourse to present their interest in profit at any cost as a national interest of Russia. The only chance in this situation was to use all means of symbolic politics, to make politics not with money and influence but with words, pictures, and art. Without building up broad alliances with media, scientists, social and ecological organisations even over cultural and political differences he would have not been able to fight this uneven struggle. It required certain skills to navigate between principles and compromises and often he was calling himself the “clever Nenets” if he again found a way out of what seemed to be a dead end. He refused to give up his reindeer pastures for payments by the oil companies and managed to stay uncorrupted in contrast to a lot of other indigenous politicians which could not stand the pressure of the oil-lobby or powerful political parties. He was able to keep his own sovereignty, the inner freedom. He gave me the certainty that if one builds up a respectful relationship with nature and other humans one can skip all social conventions and should be not afraid of power, politicians, oil companies or other somehow influential people. I learned from him the meaning of respect, the meaning of silence, what it means to see.

“Drinking and Driving is so much Fun” – Arctic Workshop at the University of Tartu in Estonia May 31 – June 1, 2013

“Drinking and driving is so much fun” is an unusual title for an anthropological workshop. It was just the right provocation to induce serious reflections on something that anthropologists usually reserve for the famous “corridor talk” during conferences, when they discuss ambivalent fieldwork experiences difficult to integrate into the success stories of anthropological research.

The drunken native is such a powerful stereotype in the Russian North serving mostly disrespect and marginalisation that it is quite a risky endeavour for outsiders to discuss drinking in Siberia. The theme is such a blind spot in the anthropology of Siberia that it is high time to skip the superficial and stereotypical images and develop some deeper understanding of the manifold aspects linked to alcohol.

Alcohol the Еnemy of Reason - from Russia with irony
Alcohol the Еnemy of Reason – from Russia with irony (photo by Laura Siragusa)

The presentations of the workshop took up the task of challenging these stereotypes by careful ethnographic description and analysis, but also to understand the powerful role stereotypes play in the public discourse. Art Leete traced them back to antiquity where the northern barbarian neighbours of the Greeks where already believed to be heavy drinkers of undiluted wine. He followed this image of drinking northerners through Montesquieu up to the ethnographic literature of the 19th and early 20th century. Explanations for this north-south distinction in drinking changed over time but were always linked to some kind of “nature” of the North or the northerners. The nowadays most popular and widespread of these “natural” reasons of deviant drinking habits of northern people was taken up by Aimar Ventsel. His presentation shed light on the belief that the lack of an enzyme or gene dooms the indigenous peoples of Siberia to suffer from serious alcohol problems. He was not the only one during the workshop who made the important point, that stereotypes are not only used to marginalise indigenous groups. They serve as well the arguments of ethnic movements that criticise alcohol by declaring it to be foreign to their groups and an instrument of colonial domination. Genes that influence the ability to metabolise alcohol were mentioned also in the keynote speech of Jaanus Harro. He revealed that in certain populations in Asia the percentage of people having a genetically determined lack of particular enzymes is higher than in Europe. This slows down metabolising and let these people feel the effects of alcohol stronger. Substances that block the same enzymes are used in therapies of alcohol addiction to cause an aversion effect. One could therefore conclude quite opposite to the public belief that people genetically lacking the described enzymes are naturally protected from the long-time effects of excessive drinking.

Anna Stammler Gossmann investigated the role of stereotypes in national self-stylisation. She used the term “alcoholity” to describe how self-images but also state regulations are determining different conventions linked to alcohol consume in nation states. One of the main insights of anthropology in the human consumption of alcohol is that even the most uncontrolled and deviant drunken behaviour is framed by expectations and conventions in the respecting social environment. The “alcoholities” of nations like the Russians or the Finns are setting the reference point that the drinking habits of minority groups are judged from.

Most of the presented research centred either on the Khanty and Nenets of Western Siberia and the Northern Russian tundra or on cases from the Republic of Sakha/Yakutia. Ina Schröder, Karina Lukin, Kirill Istomin, Laur Vallikivi and I described drinking cultures from the first mentioned region. It became obvious that practices reaching from excessive or almost self-destructive drinking (described by Ina, Karina, Kirill and myself) to temperance of women (described by myself) or protestant converts (described by Laur) structure the internal distinctions of gender-, age-, and local groups as well as the differences to the mainstream society. They determine even settlement geography and movements of the nomadic reindeer herders as Kirill Istomin exemplified. Drunkenness enables dangerous contacts with the dead and is a source of humour as Ina Schröder reported. It produces persistent negative images that influenced seriously ethnographic fieldwork in the case of Karina Lukin. I focussed on the impact of transgressive behaviour that aims at the joint losing of face.

Norman Prell, Tatiana Argunova-Low, Otto Habeck and Yuri Zhegusov
Norman Prell, Tatiana Argunova-Low, Otto Habeck and Yuri Zhegusov (photo by Laura Siragusa)

For Yakutia Tatiana Argunova-Low and Yuri Zhegusov used sociological and anthropological methods to describe the ethnic differences in drinking and how concepts of agency and responsibility for alcohol related problems are influenced by the dominant therapy of alcoholism in the Russian Federation called “coding”.  Norman Prell and Eleanor Peers described very different social contexts in which alcohol and the absence of alcohol play an important role. Norman Prell discussed communities of migrant workers on a construction site and Russian settlers on the road from Yakutsk to Magadan. Eleanor focussed on the role of drinking in the main Sakha ritual, the Yhyakh festival, and how the nationalist revival promoted an alcohol ban during the festival.

Only Laura Siragusa presented an exclusion of these two regional foci with her talk about the Veps minority of the Russian North. Drinking problems are often considered to be the result of assimilation processes. Laura’s future research will test this hypothesis by exploring the link of language and alcohol in a broader sense going beyond the focus on language shift and the negative consequences of heavy drinking.

Otto Habeck's presentation - from the US with irony
Otto Habeck’s presentation – from the US with irony (photo by Laura Siragusa)

Joachim Otto Habeck’s presentation touched again an overarching but often neglected theme connected with drinking practices – hangover. Like Jaanus Harro he provided important insides from medical research that provide the background for a better understanding of the rich folklore and popular practices how to evaluate and treat the hangover. Hangover is probably also connected to a very specific drinking pattern called “zapoi” in Russian. The periodic and episodic drinking formerly associated with the medical concept of dipsomania was mentioned several times as a common and even accepted drinking phenomenon. Another current theme was the link of feelings of guilt, inferiority, and shame associated with drinking but also appearing with the hangover. Shame as a guardian of behavioural borders linked to social reputation and respect is often involved in drinking that transgresses these borders. The phrase “Do you respect me?” as a mean to force ones vis-à-vis to keep up with drinking is well known to all (male) researchers in Russia. It prevents the invited person to induce a shameful situation of unequal drunkenness. I observed this pressure to join excessive drinking mostly among young males that suffer from the feeling of status insecurity that rises while consuming alcohol. Shame serves also to keep information about drinking practices and the practices itself hidden inside narrow social groups. This way it helps to maintain the borders of the drinking groups as collectives of complicity and enables the ritual inclusion of outsiders by drinking into these collectives.

Does alcohol as a potent drink have itself agency? And if so what kind of agency? This was another important question raised during the discussion. Alcohol has obviously the ability to influence the possibilities and responsibilities of human action severely. My impression is that the allocation of power to alcohol itself is only obscuring the agency of social relationships that are at work when people engage in drinking. I would consider alcohol only the catalyst for these relationships to reinforce their power or deprive other social relationships of their agency. In the same way in which agency attributed to money hides the power of economic relationships that define the monetary system, social relationships are hiding behind the agency of alcohol or of the treatment of alcoholism. It will be the future task of anthropological research in Siberia to investigate the correlation of alcohol and agency more deeply.

The discussion revealed a lot of other themes that where not or only superficially touched in the papers and would deserve to be discussed in detail in a following workshop. Such peculiar places for drinking parties as the Russian sweat bath “bania” as well as the summerhouse “datcha” where not discussed. Characteristic drinking traditions like the practice of otmyvat’ (wash) achievements and acquisitions and the episodic “zapoi” where touched only shortly in the discussion. The eminent influence of the drinking habits of settlers and migrant workers, which is so influential for the local drinking cultures in Siberia, was only touched in Norman Prell’s paper. Aimar Ventsel discussed shortly the present changes in gendered drinking practices, the on-going switch from vodka to beer, and the diversification process in drinking habits. Tatiana Argunova-Low pointed on the methodological difficulties that research and writing about alcohol constitute for anthropologist working in Siberia. Stereotypes about marginalised social groups and the morally charged discourse about alcohol make it difficult to write about drinking. The physical and social effects of alcohol and personal security make it difficult to engage in participant observation of drinking.

The Russian restaurant Vassilissa in the heart of Tartu
The Russian restaurant Vassilissa in the heart of Tartu (photo by Laura Siragusa)

There is a lot to do in the research on drinking in Siberia and I hope that the ambivalence of fun and hangover and the moral taboos will not prevent anthropologists to focus on this topic. The workshop in Tartu was a wonderful opportunity to get an impression how huge and unexplored is the field of alcohol studies in Siberia. The anthropology of drinking in Siberia was taken out of its niche of „corridor talk“, but Tartu was also the perfect place to discuss very personal experiences of Siberian fieldwork with good friends under the influence of the one or the other glass of vodka or alcohol free beverages in the evenings. As the majority of participants I am very much looking for a follow up of “Drinking and Driving is so much Fun”!