Arctic Work – conference call for papers

ARCTIC WORKSHOP OF THE UNIVERSITY OF TARTU: WORK IN THE ARCTIC

29 AND 30 MAY, 2015

The Department of Ethnology at the University of Tartu in Estonia is pleased to invite proposals for the international academic workshop “Arctic workshop of the University of Tartu: Work in the Arctic” that will take place on 29 and 30 May, 2015.

Life in the Arctic is often depicted as a place where people fight for survival, struggling with the harsh climate, long distances and the limited choice of consumables. Simultaneously, the Arctic is a resource frontier where circumpolar countries develop extraction industries by constructing or maintaining large-scale infrastructure with

Large scale industry city in the Arctic: Nadym
Large scale industry city in the Arctic: Nadym

settlements. A narrative of heroic work under hard conditions is part of the image of life in the Arctic, exploited enthusiastically both by people who live in the region and outside of it. Sometimes the gains of that struggle are measured in high northern wages, sometimes hard work in the Arctic proves the extraordinary toughness of “Northerners”, sometimes modern industry is presented as a symbol of progress.

This workshop will focus on different aspects and interpretations of work in the Arctic. Our goal is to assemble a truly interdisciplinary collection of presentations that will focus upon the cultural and social side of working in the Arctic, contributing to a better understanding of the economic, political or ecological aspects in general. Therefore, we encourage participation not only from anthropologists but also from economists, political scientists, historians, human geographers, biologists and others. The informal nature of the workshop is suited not only for senior scholars discussing their research results but also for PhD students.

Please send your abstracts up to 300 words to Aimar.Ventsel(at)ut.ee by 30th of January 2015

New field site in East Siberia, Lena Delta and Tiksi

Until last year it used to be very easy to get to this fieldsite in the Lena River Delta, because direct flights from Moscow brought you to Tiksi in 6 hours. But last year the Russian army who used to run the airbase in Tiksi closed it, and shipped out all the security equipment, so planes were not allowed to land anymore. Now the airport has reopened under civilian administration, but planes go only from Yakutsk, which means 1000 eur more airfare, complicated schedules and a lot of paperwork with border guards. Tiksi is an amazingly wild place. Our field partners there remember the golden times from the 1960s up to Perestroika, where only the very best people had the privilege to get to Tiksi, where the supply with food was excellent, the conditions of life very close to those in Moscow, salaries high, and working there in the harbour, high ocean shipping or aviation earned besides money also a lot of prestige.

Tiksi central square. Soviet past and fresh paint in a wild frontier town in the Arctic
Tiksi central square. Soviet past and fresh paint in a wild frontier town in the Arctic

Now the settlement runs still a special permit regime as a border region. But while the main town experiences a slow but steady consolidation (healthy shrinking), the former army base Tiksi three close to the airport looks just like after a heavy bombing. But this atmosphere of living among ruins and broken homes creates a flavour of frontier and freedom that is somehow fascinating.
Lidia Kudrivalova remembers that when she moved to Tiksi in 1978 from the small village of Taymylyr, there were hardly any non-European inhabitants there. On a ship along the northern Sea route that moved between Khatanga and Providenia, she was the only Asian looking person and had to endure what we would call today sexual harrassment. So she settled in town and worked for the sewing workshop. Unlike in the other villages in the Lena Delta, Perestroika time felt very tough in Tiksi: the port and the northern sea route administration there closed down completely, and the army bases were heavily downsized. So 10 000 of the 15 000 inhabitants left.  Apartments were cheap and gradually Sakha, Eveny and Evenki people from the surrounding villages came in and bought up the housing. Nowadays the majority of Tiksi’s population is Sakha, Eveny or Evenki, although Russian is still the dominant language in town.

Prices in town immediately surprise. You have to pay the equivalent of 4 EUR for a litre of sterilised milk, or 5 EUR for a kilo of potatoes. So it’s cheaper to buy precious fish, e.g. Nel’ma, for the same kilo price. The basic salary of a kindergarten teacher is for example 300 EUR, so you can imagine that it’s better to get used to locally available cheap or free food, such as fish, hunted duck or goose, and wild reindeer meat.