В Европейском университете в Петербурге появился новый исследовательский центр – Центр социальных исследования Сибири и Севера, aka Center for Arctic Social Studies. Для тех, кто читает по-русски: сведения о Центре и его сотрудниках, новости, проекты и все остальное можно найти здесь.

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Imagining Northern Sea Route: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives on Supporting Coastal System

Картинки по запросу северный морской путь корабли

This is a new joint project by Tyumen State University and European University at Saint-Petersburg planned for 2017–2019 and funded by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science.


NSR is a transport route along the Arctic coastline of Russia that connects Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In comparison with the southern route it is regarded as economically advantageous. Successful usage of NSR depends on climate conditions in the region. The round-the-year shipping traffic requires icebreakers and an elaborate backup infrastructure which today does not exist.

The idea of developing NSR is one of Russia’s new «national ideas», part of the governmental discourse “to reclaim the Artic”. The prospects of NSR were discussed during annual Forums of Polar Association (ASPOL). In his public address to the Federal Assembly (2015) President Putin called NSR a primary «link between Europe and Asian-Pacific region» that must be developed. The necessity of investing into NSR development is constantly emphasized by the government.

Navigation in Eurasian coastal areas of Arctic Ocean is documented at least since the 16th century but it was only in the 1930-s that it became possible to complete the trip through NSR within one navigation season. NSR development required various services embedded in local infrastructure, such as seaports, bases of polar aviation, meteorological stations and small coal factories. For this purpose, NSR management often had to establish new settlements to support sea ports and recruit workers or experts from non-Arctic regions.

In 1990-s the NSR traffic declined, parallel to the general economic crisis in the country and the outmigration from the region. According to recent official reports the cargo shipping is now rising again. NSR is now used by industrial companies, such as Norilsk Nickel , to provide the Arctic coast towns with necessary goods.

Some major changes that contribute to NSR reconstruction have already taken place: several centers for rescue service in the coastal area were established under the control of the Ministry for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Natural Disasters; military forces once again occupy the islands and archipelagos located in the Arctic seas; at least one platform for offshore oil extraction is in permanent operation in the Pechora sea; and a plant for liquefied gas production is working on the Yamal peninsula. Arctic tourism is also developing.

Outline of the project

The aim of the project is to document the current socio-economical state of seaport towns in order to create a starting point for investigating changes brought by future intensification of NSR traffic. In the absence of such intensification, the project will explore the interplay between the imagined «national» traffic lane and the real situation of the seaport system.

Different practices of imagining NSR constitute a major research focus of the project: the focus is on the structure of NSR imaginary (Steinberg, Tasch, Gerhardt 2015), both in historical and synchronic dimensions, which is shaped by concepts of space (NSR as a specific locality), and that of a transport system.

The project consists of two parts: an archival/historical and a fieldwork/anthropological ones, and focuses on the history of invention and contemporary social life of the Northern Sea Route (NSR).

The archival part of the project will analyze archival data and published sources in order to contribute to the historiography of NSR seaports; it will also explore the concept of NSR through the lens of historical geography. The NSR imaginary will be treated as a product of geographical imagination that now shapes both the official government discourse of “reclaiming the Arctic” and practices or ideas of local communities.

The fieldwork program includes description of current seaport infrastructures and, most importantly, anthropological research of seaport-towns’ communities including ethnographic description of current economic situation, sources of income, subsistence economy and official employment and local infrastructure.

The Team and Geography

The team consists of three researchers from Tyumen’ State University and seven from European University, St Petersburg. The team includes historians and anthropologists, early-career and experienced scholars, Ph.D. students and professors. The team will work on NSR all the way between Murmansk in the west and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii in the far east, which means visiting ten seaport towns and cities: Murmansk, Archangelsk, Indiga, Sabetta, Dikson, Khatanga, Tiksi, Pevek, Anadyr’, Providenia and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii.

Research questions

  1. When did the idea of NSR as a whole appear and for which historical period, discourse or community is it relevant?
  2. The structure of NSR imaginary: what patterns of geographical / infrastructural imagination form the perception of NSR by the local communities’ members?
  3. The types of seaport settlements: what similarities / differences can be traced between historical paths or post-Soviet transformation scenarios of NSR seaport towns?
  4. Social structure and identity of seaport towns’ communities: in what way do permanent dwellers of the town identify themselves.
  5. What are the expectations and fears of the supporting seaports communities?
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Турбулентные периоды истории ямальского оленеводства в рассказах тундровиков /Turbulent periods in the history of Yamal reindeer husbandry in stories of tundra dwellers

This speech was given in November, 10, 2016 in Salekhard (Yamal, Western Siberia) during International Symposium “Preventing the dissemination of infectious animal diseases on climate change”. Among all presentations in this presentation discusses different aspects of work with reindeer, it gives opinion  of reindeer herders about the future of the reindeer husbandry in Yamal, which were recommended to Yamal government to take into account. Continue reading

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Problems of gigantic reindeer slaughter plan for Yamal-Nenets nomads

The recent announcement by the Yamal government to artificially reduce the number of reindeer in the Yamal-Nenets Okrug by a quarter of a million animals has caused a discussion in Russia that has now spilled over to the international arena. The Siberian Times has thoroughly reported about the plans both from the pro and the contra side.


Sometimes reindeer herds in Yamal look huge, but actually nomadism on reindeer requires a lot of transport animals. Will herders be allowed to keep them?

Continue reading

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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


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Arctic Abstractive Industry

Colleague Arthur Mason sent around a link to the collection of popular short essays that many anthropologists contributed to a theme around extractive industries in the Arctic, but also asking a bit more behind the scenes what are the principles behind such economies and livelihoods.

All of this should be open access.


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Anthrax outbreak on Yamal PENINSULA, not Tarko Sale PUROVSKI Yamal Okrug!

The Siberian Times and other english language sites report about the recent anthrax outbreak among reindeer in West Siberia in a slight geographical confusion . Ignore the maps in this Siberian times article. We are actually witnessing this on the YAMAL PENINSULA close to the FAKTORIYA (trading post) Tarko Sale, which is close to the Yaro To lake around 300 km Northeast of the regional capital Salekhard.


Base map from yandex maps. Tarko Sale trading post (Faktoriya) on the Yamal Peninsula

This is not to be confused with the other (bigger) Tarko Sale, administrative centre of the Purovski District in Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. The proper location and latest news about this can be found here for example.
I have myself moved together with private herders around the Yaro To lake. The location is an important passway for many reindeer nomads, used in all seasons: The nomads with the furthest longest migration routes use it in early May, just before calving time, moving up North in spring towards their summer pastures. The second “wave” of herders use this location as a summer site, where they group with several households uniting many small herds into a big one for withstanding mosquito harrassment. People stay close to the Yaro To lake for fishing there in summer. In autumn the site is again used as a passway for herders returning from their summer pastures south heading towards the slaughtering sites in the south of the Yamal Peninsula. In winter, some private herders use the site and get supplies from the trading post in Tarko Sale. If you are interested in more detail on these migration routes and nomadic seasonality, you can have a look at chapter 3 of this book, or a part of this chapter.
This shows that the place is very intensively used. Due to the high mobility of herders using this site, utmost care has to be taken for preventing of anthrax being spread all over the Yamal Peninsula.

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