Transformations in Siberian Anthropology: An Insider's Perspective

Transformations in Siberian Anthropology: An Insider's Perspective

Nikolai Vakhtin
European University, St. Petersburg, Russia

The idea of anthropological (ethnographic) research came to Russia in the early-mid-nineteenth century from Germany, together with the Romantic ideas of the nation-state (Schweitzer 2001). The vast expanses of Siberia populated by several dozen indigenous peoples, were, alongside with Central Asia and the Caucasus, a natural field for anthropological research1 Siberian anthropology was particularly reinforced by the Jesup North Pacific Expedition (1897-1902), intellectually designed and led by Franz Boas. This event and the consequent research and publishing shaped, to a high extent, the Russian anthropological paradigm in the first two decades of the twentieth century, making it part of the international anthropological scene (see: Krupnik, Vakhtin: 2003).
Simultaneously, the specific character of Russian colonialism, as well as the theoretical mainstream of the Soviet ethnography, determined the development of Siberian anthropology in two respects: it was ethnohistorically biased, and it had an emphatic eschatological disposition. Russian (Soviet) ethnographers viewed the 'objects' of their research as people who will very soon become 'like us', hence their restraint from studies of contemporary conditions of 'the native peoples' and the tendency to study ethnic history. And, since the 'objects' of study were supposed to disappear soon and merge into a homogeneous mass (be it "citizens of the Empire", or "the Soviet people"), the primary mission of an ethnologist was to record this vanishing past – an approach Susan Gal (1989) calls 'pastoralist'.
This tendency was reinforced in Soviet times by fierce ideological pressure: the present was supposed to be described solely in accordance with ideologically approved prescriptions; as a matter of fact, this was also true for the past but still, the margin of free choice was, for social research of the present, much narrower. It was safer to turn away from the present and focus on the past. This, together with ideological censorship and a language barrier, caused a deep breach between Russian and Western anthropological traditions.
The situation in Siberian research changed after 1989: Siberian anthropology has once again become internationalized through fieldwork done in Siberia by scores of Western anthropologists (with a large share of joint projects) as well as by intensive academic contacts. This new development revealed interesting discrepancies between the two traditions, such as different approaches to the object of study, contrasting theoretical frameworks, different attitudes towards sharing outcomes of research, and different ethical procedures and requirements.

Siberian Anthropology at the Turn of the 20th Century: An International Enterprise
Although until the late eighteenth century foreigners made up the majority of Siberian researchers, they were, as a rule, employed by the Russian State, usually by the Academy of Sciences, and worked in close contact with Russian scholars. Some "foreigners" stayed in Russia for relatively short periods and viewed their assignments there as temporary, others spent their entire professional lives in Russia and considered themselves part of Russian science (Schweitzer 2001: 268 ff.).
Individual travellers, such as Mattias Kastren, Karl von Ditmar or Gerhard Maidel visited the 'Land of Siberia' in the 1850s and 1860s and left valuable descriptions of it (see, for example, Kastren 1860; von Ditmar 1901; Maidel 1894; and compare with Schweitzer 2001: 112–116). Still, in the first two thirds of the nineteenth century Siberia, a vast and remote country, with scanty population and very few literati, wasn't a particularly fascinating field of regular research for Russian science. It was only in the last third of the nineteenth century that ethnology and ethnography developed in Russia into independent and popular academic disciplines. In 1889, the first issue of Etnograficheskoe Obozrenie (Ethnographic Survey) was published,2 in 1890 the first issue of Zhivaya starina (Living Antiquity) appeared; in 1894 Academician Radlov became director of the Kunstkamera museum in St. Petersburg, which turned, under his leadership, into an active and modern research institution (Schweitzer 2001: 138–142).
In 1880s, the interest in Siberian research grew with the growth of the urban educated population there. Sections of the Russian Geographical Society were established in Siberia (first in Irkutsk, later in the Far East – Shirina 1983; 1993); in 1888 the first Siberian University was opened in Tomsk (Schweitzer 2001: 137). An important role in encouraging ethnological research in Siberia (especially in its north-eastern part) was played by the famous Jesup North Pacific Expedition and by the fact that several Russian scholars were able to take part in its work.
The Jesup North Pacific Expedition (JNPE), which was planned, organized and carried out by Franz Boas, was a major enterprise. It so happened that two, and later three Russian scholars became members of the expedition – and simultaneously they became informal students of Boas. These people who had in their young years participated actively in the revolutionary movement, were members of the Narodnaya Volia (People's Freedom) insurgent party; in the 1880s they were arrested and exiled to Siberia for ten years. In Siberia, they became interested in indigenous languages and ethnographies, conducted field research, collected anthropological data and returned to St. Petersburg right at the time when Boas wrote to Academician Radlov asking to help him find specialists in Siberian ethnography for his expedition.
These three people – Vladimir Bogoraz and Vladimir Jochelson, and later Leo Sternberg became during the 1910 to 1920s the "founding fathers" of Siberian studies; the organisers of the famous Institute of the People of the North (Bogoraz and Sternberg), and active members of the Committee of the North (1921–1935). They not only determined, in the early years of the Soviet regime, the directions, format and theoretical framework of anthropological education and research, but also influenced considerably the Soviet policy towards Siberian indigenous peoples and their languages in the 1920s. (For details of the expedition, see: Freed et al. 1988; Fitzhugh, Krupnik 2001; Vakhtin 2001; Schweitzer 2001: 153 ff.; and other works; on Soviet national and language policy, see: Silver 1974; Kreindler 1984; Alpatov 1994; 1997; Slezkine 1996; Vakhtin 2003, and many others).
Among other things, the JNPE project produced for the first time in Siberian anthropology a stream of dozens of contributions under a common agenda that were written, edited, translated, and delivered across the language and political barriers for almost thirty years.3 The partnership established during the years of the project was seemingly on its way to be extended to the second generation of scholars raised by the original JNPE members – a development which never happened (Krupnik, Vakhtin 2003); as we shall see below.
During this period, Russian and Western research in and on Siberia went hand in hand, supporting and nourishing one another in both theoretical approaches and field data.4 The new academic discipline – ethnology – triumphantly developed in Western Europe and the United States and strongly influenced Russian ethnological thinking whose mottoes at that time were pragmatism and descriptive fieldwork (Slezkine 1993: 114; compare: Schweitzer 2001).

Air-Tight Vault: Post-1917 Soviet Siberanists
After the 1917 revolution in Russia, Russian and European-North American ethnologies went along different paths. In the first years after the revolution, there emerged in Russian ethnology certain innovative tendencies that had been formed on common grounds with, and not without influence from, those in Europe: "scholars moved from diachrony and historicism to synchrony, function, and structure" (Slezkine 1996: 830). From a different perspective, these tendencies can be defined as 'internationalist'.
I will not go into details here; let me simply refer to one example from a "hard-boiled evolutionist", Leo Sternberg. In his address given in 1921 before the annual meeting of the Geographic Institute.5 Sternberg formulated the scholarly paradigm that he and his colleagues had made the backbone of the Institute's teaching program, the essence of ethnological education and research. Although this paradigm was clearly evolutionist, the concept of ethnicity was regarded not as an intrinsic characteristic of all people but rather as a surface representation of inner unity. The corner stone of this paradigm was the idea of a united humankind: equality and fraternity of all peoples regardless of their place of the "ladder of civilization". According to Sternberg, ethnology was a science that was supposed, through exact analytical methods and on the basis of numerous collected facts, the "basing of inexhaustible treasury of facts about the life of all peoples, all stages of culture, all epochs", to demonstrate the universal character of human culture (*25).
Other scholars of the time formulated similar ideas: historian Pokrovskii, linguist Marr 6, as well as those linguists who were active in the 1920s in the language policy movement. Publications of the time about 'the national question', languages, writing systems and alphabets are full of statements that emphasize the necessity, value and advantages of giving equal support to all cultures and all languages, regardless of the number of speakers (see, for example, publications in the official Bulletin of Ministry of Education 7). In all, non-Russian primary schools of the country instruction in, and on, native languages was introduced – this was at the time the leitmotif of language and ethnic policy 8.
The ideas of 'the internationalists' were, no doubt, connected with political tendencies of the time – tendencies that quickly became less and less favorable. Archeologist S.N. Bykovsky wrote: "Zealously looking for ethnic or national features of a culture… an educated archaeologist… is "scientifically" endorsing the right of imperialists to snatch some territory or other" (1934; qtd in Shnirelman 1993: 56). As Victor Shnirelman rightfully comments, "…ethnogenetic studies, that is, attempts to trace specific ways of formation of individual peoples, were impossible under Stalin's internationalism. A scholar who risked to do this would be accused of imperial chauvinism or local nationalism" (Shnirelman 1993: 58) 9.
There were, of course, efforts to re-establish the true international format of Siberian research, but they, in this context, looked naïve. Such efforts were made, for instance, by Franz Boas who emphasized in a letter10 to the Russian Academy of Science that "[a]t the present time, the contact between American and Russian science is insufficient… [i]t is, therefore, highly desirable that an exchange of young scientists should be developed. This is particularly necessary in the domain of anthropology…” – the remaining part the letter offered a program of young scholars exchange. In 1928 Boas still tried to restore the lost contacts with his Russian colleagues; the letter, to my knowledge, was never answered.
Attempts to re-establish contact were made from the other side as well, especially from what might be called "the second Jesup generation" (Krupnik, Vakhtin 2003). A student of Bogoraz, Alexander Forshtein, 11 went in 1936 to Denmark as a research fellow at the National Museum of Copenhagen. From there he wrote a letter to Boas (30 June 1936) inquiring about an opportunity to come to the States on a long-term research grant. "Any interruption of our connections with America would be a very painful loss indeed", – he wrote. Boas answered two months later (20 August 1936) saying: "Pardon the long delay of my answer to your letter… I did not know what to answer. I have retired this year from active teaching… I believe that work in America might be very useful for you but I do not know just what to suggest…".
The era of internationalism ended by 1934: At the seventeenth Communist Party Congress Stalin announced that the principle enemy now was local nationalism. In 1936 Pokrovskii's approach to history was purged, together with many historians; the concept of the Russian people was rehabilitated as a legitimate object of research (Shnirelman 1993: 58). The orientation of Soviet ethnography (as well as archaeology and linguistics) changed from internationalist ideas to concepts of ethnic specificity, to research in history of individual ethnic groups etc. Victor Shnirelman connects these changes with changes in Stalin's general politics: About this time hopes for the world revolution died out, and it became clear that the only plausible policy for the Bolsheviks was to establish a strong Soviet state, to "recreate, under the guise of the Soviet Union, the political and administrative structure of the [Russian] Empire" (Shnirelman 1993: 54–56). Similar changes took place in language policy: with all the violence of Stalin's methods, a turn was made to predominant support of the national language – Russian – that is, in Alpatov's terms, to 'normal' language policy in a multiethnic state moving towards industrialization (Alpatov 1994).
For ethnology, this had very serious consequences: it brought along "the sharp downturn in the fortunes of unorthodox intellectuals in the Soviet Union" (Brandist 2002a: 9). While in the 1920s, in spite of the financial conditions of the country, extensive fieldwork was carried out, by the mid-1930s this work was almost totally stopped, and ethnography "became nothing but a theory of primitive communism" (Slezkine 1993: 120). In 1932 N.M. Matorin, a leading Soviet ethnographer, declared that to continue fieldwork in the modern conditions was imperialism. He also claimed that ethnography had no right to study contemporary issues: there is nothing specifically 'ethnographic' in modern kolkhozes (Matorin 1931: 20–21; qtd in Slezkine 1993: 120). Ethnology and ethnography in the Soviet Union were declared, for almost 10 years, redundant and useless (better to translate Russian vrednyi as 'evil', or 'sinister'); serious research was terminated. From the mid-1930s and for many years, the main research topic for the Soviet ethnography became ethnogenesis, that is, archaeological and ethnographic, and partly linguistic, investigation of the formation of "ethnoses" – ethnic groups. From this point on, mutual understanding between Soviet ethnography and Western anthropology began to decrease (Shnirelman 1993: 52). Soviet ethnographers did not do research on "cultures"; rather, their main task was to capture, understand and glorify the imperceptible "ethnos" (Slezkine 2001: 362–363).
In 1932, a Moscow meeting of Soviet archaeologists and ethnographers approved a resolution that stated immediate tasks for ethnographic research. Ethnographers, according to the document, were to study:
(1) the process of ethnogenesis and territorial distribution of ethnic / national groups; (2) material production in its specific (ethnic) variants; (3) the origin of family; (4) the origin of classes; (5) the origin of various forms of religion and art; (6) forms of deterioration of primitive communism [and] feudal society in capitalist surroundings; (7) forms of transition from pre-capitalist formations directly to socialism, and (8) construction of culture, national in its form and socialist in its content12 (Sovetskaya etnografiya, 1932, Vol. 3; qtd in: Slezkine 1993: 119).
This emphasis on ethnic groups, combined with political pressure, gave birth to another interesting feature of Soviet ethnography of the 1930s (and later): ethnographers became agents of the State. Writes Yuri Slezkine: with the coming to power of the Bolsheviks the essence of national policy became a fight to converge ethnic borders with administrative ones, which meant that most ethnographers had to become administrators (Slezkine 2001: 342). Ethnographers had to study ethnic groups? – well, those ethnic groups first had to be constructed, delineated and made rigid. Another author supports this: "A hallmark of Soviet State ethnography has been a concern with establishing those [ethnic] boundaries between people which later became real administrative borders" (Anderson 2000b: 135). And below: "…the fluid boundaries between identity groups… have been made solid and impermeable partly through official ethnographic action" (ibid: 141).
In other words, when in the late 1930s Soviet politics, ideology, and then science returned to the idea of ethnos, and science began to study ethnogenesis and describe differences in 'material' and 'spiritual' culture between different ethnoses (see: Anderson 2000a: 77 ff.), contributing to constructing the ethnoses and, by that, laying the basis for future ethnic conflict. As Shirokogorov wrote in the 1930s (Anderson also quotes him: 8) "The ethnographers' intention to show the inferiority of these small nations and the need of 'protecting them' results from the general attitudes of the great nations… while they seek impartial truth, they are thus preparing the most perfected weapon for the ethnic struggle in the future" (Shirokogoroff 1933: 168).
Beginning from the late 1930s Slavic-Russian ethnography became the main field of studies for ethnogenetic research. The purpose of these studies was to prove a self-driven formation of a resourceful and productive early Slavic culture, and to demonstrate that Germanic cultures had been underdeveloped, and their influence on neighboring cultures had been totally negative. This was an answer to "ethnogenetic expansion" of German ethnologists: Soviet authors of the 1940s were ready to discover "ancient Slaves" almost everywhere. Soviet authors set apart for the Germanic peoples as insignificant a place as German authors of the 1920-30s allotted to Slavic people (Shnirelman 1993: 62–63). All this "academic research", especially in late 1940s through the early 1950s, was aimed at intimidating the defeated Germany, to "prove" the primitiveness of ancient German culture, and to honor Russia above its Western neighbours (Shnirelman 1993: 63) – that is, it had all sorts of goals but they were not scientific. The roots of ethnogenetic research in the Soviet Union were in "the struggle for the past" (Shnirelman 1993: 64), in the craving to establish a Slavic ethnogenetic myth.13
The journal Sovetskaia etnografiia for 1946 through 1955 demonstrates the following quantitative distribution of papers: 151 papers on ethnogenesis, ethnic statistics, ethnic cartography, research on ethnic composition and ethnonyms; 294 papers on various aspects of subsistence and material culture; 56 papers – on social structure, family and marriage relations, and 182 papers on folklore of different ethnic groups (Sovetskaya etnografiia 1956). Most papers on specific ethnographic or linguistic issues contain in their titles references to ethnicity or ethnogenesis.
After 1936–37, when unrestricted terror began and many ethnographers were arrested, "uncertainty and horror were so strong that those ethnographers who were still not in prison almost lost the gist of the speech" (Slezkine 1993: 122–123). Ethnography – in Matorin's and Bykovskii's version – was revived only after the World War II, and ethnographers returned to studies of what was required by the resolution of the 1932 meeting mentioned above.
The Soviet Union thus became "the first State in history that legalized ethno-territorial federalism, classified all citizens in accordance with their 'biological nationality', and formally ascribed a policy of governmental preference by ethnicity" (Slezkine 2001: 330; see also: Brubaker, Cooper 2000). As another author writes, "…reduction of national to ethnic is a characteristic feature of Russian social sciences" (Malakhov 2002: 12).

The Dam Breaks Down: Cultural Anthropologists in an Ethnographic Field
One of the inevitable consequences of the claustrophobic development of the Soviet State was the isolation of scholars, including those who did ethnographic and linguistic research in Siberia. I do not mean isolation from new theoretical achievements of Western science: even in the Soviet times, there were scholars who watched carefully what was going on in the West. The problem was that Russian ethnographers could work only within the approved theoretical paradigm; and that Russian and Western scholars could not work together in the field: for many decades, the Siberian 'field' was completely sealed.14
As a matter of fact, individual Western ethnologists could sometimes find a way to work in Siberia even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1975, Marjorie Mandelstam-Balzer managed to get, partly illegally, to northern Siberia; in the mid-1980s she began fieldwork in Western Siberia among the Khanty people, and in Yakutia, among the Sakha people. Caroline Humphrey did fieldwork in southern Siberia, among the Buryats in the late 1970s. Piers Vitebsky also began to do fieldwork in Yakutia fairly early, in 1986.
However, Western fieldwork in Siberia in Soviet times had 'official', that is, approved and controlled, status. Western scholars, who had to be formally invited by the Academy of Science, were carefully passed on from one academic institution to another, they were told where they could go and where they were not allowed to go; their contacts were strictly monitored and controlled by what was then called 'the competent organizations' (Soviet euphemism for KGB); besides, their stays in Siberia usually were brief.
At the turn of the 1980s through the 1990s, the serene landscape of Soviet Siberian studies was shattered by the unanticipated arrival of 'other' foreign anthropologists. These 'foreigners' came in a different manner. These were young people, postgraduate students in anthropology from all over the world, magnetized by the sudden accessibility of a vast anthropological 'field'. In full accord with the traditions of British and North American anthropology, they came to the area for a long period of time, usually for a year, often more; they moved about on their own, with no control from the State officials; they made friends with the local people, lived in villages and camps, stayed with families, roamed with indigenous reindeer herders on the tundra, fished and hunted with indigenous hunters and fishers in the taiga and, generally, behaved like free people, cheerfully breaking, in the eyes of the bewildered local administration, all the unwritten rules of the Soviet era.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that in the late 1980s there appeared in the West, and especially in North America, a real craze for Siberia. In the late 1980s and early to mid1990s, over a dozen young anthropologists who graduated from universities in the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Norway and France. They managed to complete serious fieldwork in Taimyr and Yakutia, in Chukotka and Sakhalin, in Kamchatka and Yamal to collect data for their Ph.D. projects15. By the end of the 1990s, this work began to produce results: publications appeared, first articles, then books;16 their authors found jobs at anthropology departments of universities in the USA, Canada, UK, Finland, France, Germany; and they became permanent participants of academic conferences of Siberian anthropology both in Russia and abroad. Russian scholars who did research on cultures and languages of Siberia began to feel a metamorphosis of their academic landscape.
This metamorphosis can be perceived in several respects.
First of all, the (invisible) international academic community of Siberian anthropologists has grown considerably in numbers, and has become much younger. Approximately three dozen Russian anthropologists and linguists who did research in and on Siberia have been reinforced by a strong and active cohort, comparable in numbers, of foreign scholars, whose advent has markedly transformed the community. Alongside with this "mechanical population increase", the numbers in Russian anthropology decreased steadily, due both to natural causes and to the departure of Russian scholars from the underpaid discipline (as well as, in many cases, from the country), as well as the fact that young Russian students seemed to be unwilling to enter a discipline that, in the early 1990s, seemed to have no career perspectives at all. Against the background of decreasing numbers of research staff in the Siberian departments of Institutes of Ethnology and that of Linguistics of the Academy of Science and the Universities of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Tomsk and Novosibirsk, and other traditional research centers, the advent of ten to fifteen young and energetic scholars from the West was a major transformation.17 Interestingly, among the Western Siberianists there are no 'generations': all of them are approximately of the same age. This creates special relations both within the group and between the group and their Russian colleagues.
The second important change in the Siberian academic landscape is the change of the object of anthropological research. Russian (Soviet) ethnological research, as I have mentioned, was always connected with the past, with tradition, with studies of cultures, languages and societies that are 'on the verge of extinction' and thus must urgently be recorded before it is too late. This isn't of course a Russian invention: as Susan Gal writes, claims about the inevitable disappearance of cultures, languages and dialects, soon after they were discovered, is a constant and central rhetorical figure of European ethnography of the 20th century. Scholars often were in search of remote rural areas, of elderly people, they were looking for archaic, unchanged and, hence, "genuine" and authentic elements of culture. Changes were interpreted as distortions, as loss of this "genuineness". Susan Gal calls this approach "pastoral": the past is the model, the present is regarded as "spoiled past". Although many scholars explicitly reject this approach, it still influenced their results (see: Gal 1989: 315-316).18
The opposite approach to the 'ethnographic field' – studies of contemporary social, cultural and linguistic features of modern communities – was, as I mentioned, totally washed away in the late 1920s by studies of 'ethnogenesis' and 'material culture'. The new cohort of young Western anthropologists brought this approach back: their work strongly emphasizes the present as a value in itself. They study contemporary reindeer herding, contemporary ethnic identities and conflicts, contemporary power and gender relations. This, as well as the fact that international foundations emphasized their support for research of contemporary topics, caused Russian scholars to adjust their research along the new – or, rather, forgotten – lines.
Another important transformation is what one might call changes in 'property relations' between Soviet Siberian anthropologists in dividing domains of study. For decades, these relations rested undisturbed: everybody knew who studied what, and who had "the right" to study what. In a way, Siberia was divided into 'spheres of influence' between scholars from Moscow, Leningrad, Novosibirsk, Tomsk and some other cities: it was rare that two scholars, be it linguists or ethnographers, did research in the same area or on the same language. This division of Siberia into 'hunting sites'--where each scholar had his or her 'legitimate' area, people, or language, and trespassing was definitely not welcomed-- can be explained partly by the small numbers of scholars: The field is too vast and human life too short to take more than one indigenous group or language for serious research. Partly, however, this situation was maintained consciously, and not always due to purely academic considerations.
The arrival of Western anthropologists changed this situation considerably. In the 1990s almost every Russian ethnologist discovered that they had acquired a colleague (or rivalry – depending on the point of view) who worked in the same area, in the same villages and often at the same time. "Natural monopoly" of Russian ethnologists over "their" people, area, or language came to an end.
The theoretical paradigm of Siberian research has also changed. Soviet ethnology worked, willingly or not, within pseudo-Marxist theory, developed and approved by several 'recognized' scholars, first of all – within the "theory of ethnos". Western scholars brought in new theoretical approaches. It is not that those ideas were totally new to Soviet scholars; but the mere fact that now it became possible to choose between approaches, between different conceptual and terminological systems, was a breath of fresh air for Russian scholarship.
I do not mean to say that all 'foreign' theories and methodologies were necessarily better, or that foreign scholars were free from theoretical stereotypes or fashions, with inevitable references to Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Iakubinskii, Michel Foucault and Frederich Barth, Ernst Gellner and Benedict Anderson (references that often resemble the very unavoidable references to Marx, Engels and Lenin on the first pages of Soviet publications). However, the mere fact that these were different theories and that there was now a possibility of choice affected Russian ethnography.
Finally, the rise of the system of research grants, including international ones, was also a new development. The possibility of approaching international funding agencies directly and to start a (joint) research project with colleagues from other countries eroded the State monopoly of international collaboration and led to active development of ethnological, archaeological and linguistic research in Siberia-- at Siberian universities and research institutions. Modern Siberian ethnology in Russia is much more decentralized than it used to be.
Although the fashion for doing fieldwork in Siberia has by now somewhat ebbed, it is clear that this outburst of interest was not accidental or temporary: the changes in the Siberianist landscape are now an established fact. Siberian anthropological studies are now, theoretically, methodologically, and practically, a much more international field than they used to be during the Soviet era; they are in a sense starting over from the point in the early 1920s when cultural anthropology brought to the country by Bogoraz, Sternberg, Jochelson and others began to develop as a natural part of international science, a development that was violently terminated by the Soviet power.

What's New?: Current Changes in Research Paradigm
As a result of the developments outlined above, today's Siberian anthropological research in Russia is undergoing acute disciplinary transformations. I will limit myself to just two very brief examples of these transformations within two aspects of research: changes of the object of study, and changes of the attitude towards ethical aspects of anthropological research in Siberia (Vakhtin, Sirina 2003 for details).
Field methodology accepted in Russian ethnological research, as well as the programs of such research, had been originally designed to study specific territories (Sirina 2002). However, with the rise of the "theory of ethnos", these methods were applied to individual "ethnic groups" ("peoples"), which caused numerous problems, especially in parts of Siberia known as "zones of ethnic contact" (Vasiliev 1985) where different "ethnoses" have lived together and influenced one another for centuries. In these areas, it is often impossible to tell where the ethnic boundaries lie, if they exist at all. This approach is also not very useful for groups who occupy large territories and consist of several distant groups, such as Evens, Evenki, or Nenets.
Since most of Siberia is in fact one big "zone of ethnic contact", and since indigenous demography has changed considerably in the last fifty years, influenced by the high mobility of the population, research that takes "one ethnos" as its object drives itself into a dead-end: it is often impossible to define the object. This tendency is now slowly being overcome, not without the positive influence of Western anthropologists who employ, in their research, a territorial approach. (Again, I do not mean to say that Western approaches are necessarily better: in many cases it is only collaborative research that can yield convincing results).
Another interesting trait of current Siberian ethnology is a shift from studies of indigenous populations to studies of all populations. The ethnic picture of modern Siberia is complicated and can not be reduced to simple dichotomies such as "indigenous vs. newcoming", "oppressed vs. oppressors", "traditional vs. innovative", etc. Indigenous populations are today highly structured and stratified and include those who prefer traditional subsistence, those who prefer to live in villages, as well as ethnic elites who occupy leading positions in social and power structures. The 'newcomers" (Russians) are also diversified. They include "old settlers" who have lived in the area for the last 300 years; people born in the area from immigrant parents, as well as "real" newcomers, temporary and even part-time ("shift") workers. Social, educational and economic characteristics of all these groups are diversified. For some areas, at least three kinds of groups are defined: local administration, local industry, and indigenous population; all three are now becoming legitimate objects of anthropological research (cf. Novikova 2002).
Ethical codes of anthropological research are adopted by both national and international associations of anthropologists and by indigenous communities. There is at present an interesting discussion in Russia as to whether such a code can – and should – be adopted. Unwritten rules of conduct 'in the field' have, of course, always existed in Russia; however, to make it a written (para-legal) document one needs two legitimate parties to 'sign' it. The recently established Association of Russian Anthropologists and Ethnologists could be one; the other side is evidently 'the community'. But indigenous communities in Siberia are very misleading units: on the one hand, many of them were created artificially during the infamous era of forceful relocation of the indigenous people in the1950s and 1960s (cf: Vakhtin 1992); on the other hand, many of them exist only on paper and are reduced to native elites; there are doubts whether these units can be partners in a "contract" of this kind.
Importantly, this whole discussion was initiated, although indirectly, by Western anthropologists who obviously feel uncomfortable without such a code. They find themselves even in a more complicated situation than their Russian colleagues because, not being Russian citizens, they cannot interfere in local politics, and cannot take part in local economic, social, or ethnic conflicts. Both Russian and Western anthropologists see their mission in becoming "the voice of the voiceless": to make the problems of the Natives known and heard, to help them formulate their needs in the language of the law, to help them in their struggle for rights (Argunova 2002; Novikova 2002). Joint cultural, language, and educational projects with and for indigenous people (Kasten 2002; Koester 2002) are one possible solution; however, the ethics of anthropological research in Siberia remains a difficult issues for both Russian and non-Russian researchers.

Current Situation: Co-operation or Rivalry?
Western anthropologists, just like their Russian colleagues, are working today in a 'field' that was, to a large extent, constructed by Soviet national (and language) policy and by Soviet ethnographic (and linguistic) research. But, unlike their Russian colleagues of the older generation, Western anthropologists have been brought up within a totally different theoretical and methodological tradition. Coming to 'the Siberian field', they are naturally tempted to 'deconstruct' it, to 'peel off' stereotypes and the 'discursive crust' and identify underlying meanings and facts. However, on this road there is a trap awaiting them: by deconstructing the object of study, they simultaneously and automatically repudiate the scholarly tradition that had constructed this object. Consciously or not, they find themselves in a position of criticism of Soviet (Russian) ethnology – which, naturally, Russian ethnologists do not like.
I will finish with a story about a clash between two scholars: Canadian anthropologist David Anderson who now works in Scotland, and Russian linguist Evgenii Helimskii who now works in Germany. It is important to note that both are, in their respective fields, professionals of the highest rank.
In June 2000 a conference took place in Wien19 where, quite unexpectedly, Helimskii presented a very sharp critical review of Anderson's book (Anderson 2000). One of Anderson's 'sins', in Helimskii's opinion, was underrating the role, achievements and value of Soviet scholarship, and overrating the scale of ethnic conflicts in the region. Helimskii is clearly a 'primordialist': for him, ethnicity is peacefully and simply inherited, passed from parents to children unchanged and unchangeable. He is enraged by how Anderson is treating the issue, accusing the latter of no less than inflating, through his research, ethnic conflict in Taimyr. Anderson, on the contrary, is clearly a 'constructivist': for him, ethnicity that before had been insignificant in the area, was 'constructed' in mid-20th century, not without the help of Soviet ethnographers, and now is claimed by local elites and used as an instrument in political, social, and economic life of the area. The discussion was quite energetic, and caused some long-lasting ripples on the quiet surface of the tiny Siberianists' pond.
This polemics is quite revealing as a good example of mutual 'ideological' misunderstanding that is, unfortunately, quite wide-spread and impedes joint productive work of Russian and Western Siberianists. The 'ideological struggle' in the discipline is further aggravated by the fact that Soviet ethnography, throughout its history, was strongly politicized and 'ideologized': ethnographers received 'political assignments' from the State. When in the late 1980s the ideological constituent dissolved, ethnographers found themselves in a methodological vacuum. At first new 'Western' theories began to pour in and fill in the gap; but in recent years, neo-Nationalist demands began to arise, and ethnography, archaeology and linguistics were once again recruited to help support various political and territorial claims, ‘prove’ the ancient character of an ethnic group, 'prove' the right of this or that group for self-government, or for a piece of land, or for a history (compare: Shnirelman 2000).
Western anthropologists are strangers in this game, and are usually – and quite understandably – not willing to play it. The local elites, since they cannot use them, try to dislodge them from the scene, often using rather straightforward methods. Western anthropologists are accused of working for foreign intelligence agencies; of being 'agents of influence' for the international oil industry; or even of attempting to cut off a piece of Siberia and proclaim it a sovereign country. There are quite a few publications of this kind in the local press; usually they end with demands "to put an end to" the insurgent activities of a certain anthropologist. Here is just one example: a passage from an e-mail message to me from a colleague, that I received in April 2000 (translated from Russian):
NN, social anthropologist, two years of field work in Chukotka:
Well, Nick, this has happened: I have been refused permission to conduct fieldwork in Chukotka… the Department of migration and nationalities sent my papers to the Department of Agriculture for endorsement. They have a new boss there, and he disapproved…(email)
'Disciplinary transformations' are taking place – while the reaction of 'the systems of power' are not always favorable…
* * *
All things considered, one can still state that Russian cultural anthropology is now living through an international phase of its development, or, at least, it is entering this phase. Unlike in the 1990s, the first years of the new millennium seem to bring to Russia a growing economy and economic and social stability; unlike in the 1990s, social sciences and the humanities again began to receive State financial support, however modest and insufficient. Russian scholars are now feeling much more confident in their relations with international research grants and scholarships; this puts them financially on a more equal basis with their Western colleagues. Scholarly paradigms, theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches are also becoming more level. Both epistemological and institutional relations between Russian and Western scholars are thus getting more balanced, and apparently have at present a higher potential for “cross-fertilization”.
I would like to conclude by saying that for me everything described in this paper is more than a dispassionate history of science, or "transformations in Siberian anthropology". It is a history of a branch of science I have worked in for the last thirty years, so my attitudes here are far from disinterested. Just like Peter Schweitzer (2000: 17), I feel that my view of the past is difficult to separate from my interests in the present and in the future of Siberian research. Schweitzer's central analytical concept is the notion of "national" vs. "trans- or international" scholarship; he suggests a model according to which periods of claustrophobia in development of Siberian studies (that is, times of "national" academic approaches) interchange with period of openness ("transnational"). Since I am an "insider", I hope, rather egotistically, that Peter Schweitzer's model, although undoubtedly true for the past, will prove wrong for the future: that in the future Siberian anthropology will not once again become a purely Russian research field; that other national and transnational research traditions will establish themselves permanently in the realm of Siberian anthropology. I hope, in other words, that the claustrophobic years are in the past whatever fluctuations “the systems of power” might undergo – although one never knows, of course.
1 Much of this paper, especially its second part, is but a brief overview of the main tendencies in Soviet ethnology in general, of which Siberian anthropology is merely a part. Due to my personal interests and experience, I am better familiar with linguistic research and, consequently, history of language research and language policy in Siberia.

2 This journal was published until 1926; in the Soviet time its name was changed first to Etnografia (Ethnography) (1926-1929), then to Sovetskaya etnografia (Soviet Ethnography) (1930-1991), and, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, back to Ethograficheskoe Obozrenie (since 1991).

3 See detailed bibliography of publications connected with the expedition, in: Igor Krupnik. A Jesup Bibliography: Tracking the Published and Archival Legacy of the Jesup Expedition // Gateways: Exploring the Legacy of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, 1897–1902 / Ed. by Igor Krupnik and William W. Fitzhugh. Arctic Studies Center, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution: Washington. 2002. P. 297–316.

4 Compare, for example, obituary of S.M. Shirokogoroff published by W. Muelman (Etnograficheskoe Obozrenie, 2002, No 1) where Shirokogoroff's influence on European theoretical thought is discussed; see also: (Schweitzer 2001).

5 Leo Sternberg. Ethnography and Social Ethics. St. Petersburg Branch of the Archives of the Academy of Sciences. Fond 282, file 1, item 28. As far as I know, this address has never been published. Geographic Institute was established by Sternberg and Bogoraz in 1916 as a ethnological research institution within St. Petersburg University; in early 1920s it became the nucleus of the famous Institute of the Northern Peoples, later transformed into the Northern Department of the Hertzen Pedagogical Institute, the main educational institution for indigenous Northern minorities.

6 From the modern standpoint, in spite of the notorious character of Marr's speculations, there was in them a grain of reason. If one sets aside his 'stadial theory' (i.e., that all languages pass through the same stages of development, from primitive to developed, and the stages coincide with social and economic stages of societies), his ill-famed 'four-element' theory, as well as his thesis that each social class spoke different language (see: Brandist 2002b), there still remain Marr's powerful thoughts about 'interbreeding' of languages, cultures, and peoples, his ideas about their mutual influence, as well as his point of the unified principles determining development of languages and cultures. According to Marr, all modern languages and peoples are mixed; besides, language, culture, race, religion are historical categories, which means that they change with time (see: Marr 1915: 287; quoted from: Shnirelman 1993: 53). We find here a completely different approach to ethnicity ('race', in Marr's terms) as a resilient category, an approach that looks more like the modern ones than the 'primordial' theories of ethnicity that later became dominant in Soviet ethnography.

7 Bulletin of Official Orders and Communications of the Ministry of Education. January 13, 1923. 7. P. 10.

8 Compare the speech given by N.M. Pokrovskii before the First All-Russian Congress of Regional Councils on enlightenment of nationalities (January 26, 19923). In: Bulletin of Official Orders and Communications of the Ministry of Education. January 13, 1923. № 10. P. 12. See also presentation by Rosen (ibid., p. 15).

9 For those who may not be acquainted with Stalinist political slang: "imperial chauvinism" (velikoderzhavnyi shovinizm) and "local nationalism" (mestnyi natsionalizm) were two accusation alternatively used by the Bolsheviks to charge and purge those who carried on their shoulders all cultural work. Too much attention to the general (be it in language, in culture, in habits, in school curriculum) put the person at risk to be accused of imperial chauvinism (and imprisoned); too much emphasis on the particular – wherever that might be – caused charges in local nationalism, with the same result. To make things utterly hopeless, only one person – Stalin – knew the correct balance. For example, what word should one suggest as normative for a schoolbook in Yupik Eskimo to name a hospital? if one uses a Russian borrowing bolnitsa, one is accused of imperial chauvinism; if one coins an Eskimo derivative aknighvik 'place where one is sick', one is accused of local nationalism. No way out.

10 This and other letter by and to Franz Boas are quoted from the collection of the Boas Professional Correspondences are at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia; I used microfilms at the New York Public Library copy, as well as the collection of the American Museum of Natural History.

11 Alexander Forstein was born in 1904 in Marseilles to where his parents emigrated from southern Russia (obviously running away from the pogroms). In 1911 he was brought back to Russia, lived in Rostov. Entered the university in St. Petersburg, department of ethnography, graduated in 1926 and got a job in the Institute of the Northern Peoples, together with a post-graduate position with the same institution. In 1927 he was sent by Bogoraz to Chukotka to conduct research and to teach at school there. In 1927–29 he lived on Cape Chaplin, in 1929–1930 went to Khabarovsk, married there, in 1930–33 returned to Chukotka where he worked as director of social and cultural programs of the District Executive Committee. In 1933 he returned to Leningrad and became a research fellow at the Institute of anthropology and ethnography. In May 1937 he was arrested as a 'Japanese spy', allegedly member of a counter-revolutionary organization led by another Siberianist Yakov Koshkin (an organization clearly invented by the KGB). As 'member of this organization', he was accused of counter-revolutionary propaganda among the native population of Chukotka for secession of the Far East, as well as of counter-revolutionary work among students and faculty of the Institute of the Northern Peoples against Marxist theory in science. He was sentenced to 10 years of labor camps, spent the years in Magadan area, was released in June 1947 and went to live in a small village in Kursk district; later he moved to the Caucasus and worked as head administrator at a power plant there. He was rehabilitated in 1956. He never returned to his scholarly research. In late 1960s a Norwegian linguist Knut Bergsland tried to find him and establish contact with him, but Forstein abruptly refused all contacts – he has had enough of this, he said.

12 This phrase – "national in its form and socialist in its content" – is another famous inventions of Stalin, well known to everybody born in the Soviet Union before mid-1980s.

13 "People often take pride in their national history, contending that ancient people are "their" ancestors and some elements of ancient culture are "their" cultural "heritage". Competition for ancestors [compare the title of Victor Shnirelman's paper: "Competition for ancestors…" (Shnirelman 1996 – N.V.] and heritages are often connected with political disputes between neighboring nations. Because nations and ethnic groups can be solid communities only synchronically and are diachronically challengeable, it is scientifically not very meaningful to determine which ancient or medieval communities are their ancestors. This should be better understood as a creation of myth than academic research" (Tomohiko 2002: 163).

14 In this section of the paper, I am drawing from materials of a symposium on methods of ethnological studies in Siberia held by Max Planck Institute in Halle (Saale) in Germany on March 6–9, 2002, and using the text of a review of that symposium written jointly with Anna Sirina; see: (Vakhtin, Sirina 2003); see also: (Grey, Vakhtin, Schweitzer, forthcoming).

15 I list here only some of them – those who worked in Siberia in the 1990s and have already completed their research. David Andersen (ethnic processes and ethnic identities of the Taimyr Evenki and Dolgan, 1992–97); Alexia Bloch (Evenki residential schools and indigenous education, 1996–98); Atsusi Esida (social and cultural situation among the Nenets, 1995–98); Bruce Grant (Sovietisation processes among the Nivkhi of Sakhalin, 1993–95); Patricia Gray (current social processes and power relations in Chukotka, 1995–96); Anna Kerttula (Chukotkan Newcomers, Yupik Eskimos and Chukchi identity, 1989–92); David Koester (socialisation of young generation of the Itel'mens in Kamchatka, 1994–96); Hiroki Takakura (social landscape and reindeer herding among Evens and Yakuts in Yakutia, 1996–99); Gail Fondahl (the impact of industrialisation on Evenki reindeer herding, 1996–98); Peter Schweitzer (social organisation of indigenous peoples of Chukotka, 1990–98). These 'veterans' are followed by a new and strong wave of young social anthropologists who already work, or are planning to work, in Siberia.

16 The following books based on first-hand research in Siberia have already been published: Grant B. In the Soviet House of Culture: A Century of Perestroika. Perspective. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ. 1995; Golovnev Andrei and Gail Osherenko. Siberian Survivals: The Nenets and their Story. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1999; Mandelstam Balzer M. The Tenacity of Ethnicity: A Siberian Saga in Global Perspective. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ. 1999; Anderson D. Identity and Ecology in Arctic Siberia. Oxford University Press. 2000; Kerttula, Anna. Antler on the Sea: The Yup'ik and Chukchi of the Russian Far East. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 2000; Rethman, Petra. Tundra Passages: History and Gender in the Russian Far East. 2001; Kasten, Erich, ed. People and the Land: Pathways to Reform in Post-Soviet Siberia. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 2002. Close to these, although based on archival research, is: Slezkine, Yur. Arctic Mirrors. Russia and the Small Peoples of the North. Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1994.

17 It looks like this decline in numbers of Russian Siberianists has now stopped: an opposite tendency seems to be under way. Scholars from other disciplines tend to turn to Siberian research; new centers are opening, and the old ones are slowly recovering from the shock of the economic crisis of the 1990s.

18 Compare excellent discussion of the difference between 'rapid cultural change' and 'deterioration of culture' in (Arctic 1993). The book has as an appendix a document called Arctic Social Science: An Agenda for Action written in 1989. Much of what is said in this document about the American Arctic applies also to Siberia.

19"Siberia and Circumpolar North: A Contribution of Ethnology and NGOs". Organized by Peter Scwheitzer.


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