Accepted Paper:

Fishers/Fissures of Men: Piscatorial Practice and the Pursuit of Salvation in the Russian Pacific  


Dominic Martin (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines some fishing practices of Russian Old Believers to test Latour's flat ontology in the context of religious beliefs and observances that have emerged from the aftermath of socialism strengthened in their focus on mystery and miracle.

Paper long abstract:

For Old Believers in the Russian Far East fishing for the sought-after dover sole is hit or miss. Like their compatriots, these men make all the requisite preparations for the Russian institution of 'going fishing'. Unlike most of them, however, they pass the journey to the fishing-grounds by reciting prayers as they row that are addressed to apostle Peter, without whose intercession the fishing trip will be in vain. With only small hand-made rods, line, and a few worms to approach the abyssal ocean, every catch is received with gratefulness, as a minor miracle. When the fish are tallied up at the end, somehow the bishop's bucket is always by far the fullest, thanks, of course, to his station within the spiritual hierarchy. This paper will debate whether the transcendental dimension of these fishing expeditions might challenge Latour's flat ontology and counter-intuitive claim that Christianity is a 'visible, mundane, and unmiraculous' religion (Latour 2002: 36).

To make the point clearer I will contrast such sea-fishing adventures with two other, Old Believer piscatorial practices: diving for shell-fish and larger-scale 'poaching'. As divine agency recedes into the background and success relates more closely to wilful effort, so these men are split between following an apostolic archetype or being drawn further into the moral, legal and economic conundrums of 'the world'.

Panel P08
Exhuming the 'big picture', burying fish, cats and falcons: limits to the agency of non-human things