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SPRI Review 1996: Research Overviews

Research Overviews

Social Sciences and Russian Studies Group

Dr P. Vitebsky

T. Argounova, M. Badger, M. Core, P. Fryer, B. Seligman,
J. Tichtosky, M. Whittles, M. Curran

The project on 'Environmental change and indigenous knowledge in Siberia and Alaska,' funded under the ESRC's programme on Global Environmental Change and directed by Dr Piers Vitebsky, continued with a larger programme of fieldwork. Nikolai Vakhtin and Igor Krupnik continued their fieldwork in Chukotka, focusing on the inland Chukchi to compare the current state of their traditional knowledge with that of the coastal Chukchi and Eskimo studied the previous year. Dr Vitebsky and Tatiana Argounova (Research Student) continued their work in Yakutsk and the Verkhoyansk Mountains. They focused on family relations in the nomadic camps and the village, as well as problems in the establishment of counselling services for young people from the villages entering the city.

Dr Mark Nuttall left the project to take up a lectureship at Aberdeen. The scope of the project was expanded with the formal inclusion of Lyudmila Ainana (Eskimo Association of Chukotka), Anatoly Alekseyev (Yakutsk State University), and others who will compile a series of subsidiary reports on place-names and the potential for resettlement, plant-names and uses, and changing relations between humans and animals.

Certain conclusions are beginning to emerge from this project. Probably the most significant is the high degree of variability in current patterns of social and economic development between even the closest and most comparable regions. We have also identified a series of bottlenecks in the transmission of indigenous knowledge down the generations, as well as startling differences in the futures that men and women project for themselves.

Dr Vitebsky continued his work on shamanism. His book, The shaman, was translated into four languages, with a further six translations in progress. He also continued to take part in the programme funded by the EU and conducted jointly by the Institute, the University of Copenhagen, and the European University of St Petersburg on 'Establishing ethnic research in Russia.' He gave papers at several conferences.

Argounova and Julie Cruikshank (Visiting Professor) began a project on oral traditions and ethnic identity with fieldwork in the Tatta District of the Sakha Republic, studying the relationship between politics and traditional culture. Comparative work is also planned in northern Canada. Argounova did further research in the Sakha Republic on ethnic identity and economic independence. She attended a conference in Yakutsk on federation and statehood and also served as an interpreter at specialist meetings in Yakutsk and at the United Nations in New York.

Paul Fryer (Research Student) continued his research on the ethno-political situation of the Komi Republic, with special reference to issues of language and education. He attended the Fourth Congress of the Komi People in Syktyvkar and conducted fieldwork in two Komi villages.

Mary Core (Research Student) began research on the relationship between indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge about the bowhead whale and conducted fieldwork among the Eskimo of Barrow, Alaska. Martin Whittles (Research Student) completed his thesis on the community among the Inuvialuit of Banks Island in northern Canada, while Mark Badger (Research Student) completed his thesis on experimental visual ethnographies of the Koyukon Athabaskans of interior Alaska and the Khanty (OB Ostyak) of western Siberia and was appointed Director of Information Services for the State of Alaska. John Tichotsky (Research Student) continued his work on the economic development of the Sakha Republic, paying particular attention to models that might integrate the mineral and herding economies rather than leaving them at loggerheads. He was awarded the first Russia in Asia Fellowship at the University of Hawaii.

Keith Hill began research on the eighteenth-century German explorers of Siberia - Messerschmidt and Steller - as well as a project on the region's telecommunications and transport needs.

Ben Seligman (Research Student) completed a review of gas and oil pipeline construction in permafrost regions of Russia and gave presentations to two companies in Japan. Seligman worked in the Norilsk, Komi, and Taimyr regions and attended the First Conference of Russian geocryologists in Moscow. Seligman and Tichotsky attended the second International Conference on Northeast Asian Gas Pipelines in Beijing, where Tichotsky also served as an interpreter.