What can two small places say about large issues concerning the working class?
Paper short abstract:
Based on fieldwork among miners in Estonia and Kazakhstan, this paper aims to understand the benefits and problems of comparative anthropology, understood as doing fieldwork in two small places while addressing larger issues of the working class.
Paper long abstract:
This paper aims to understand the value of comparative projects in anthropology. The comparative aspect of usually means that comparing our case with others, or with abstract, general concepts. Doing fieldwork among mining communities in Estonia and Kazakhstan, I explore what two small places can tell about larger issues and whether working in two post-Soviet sites allows larger generalisations and better analysis than working in one place. A tension between universalism and particularism emerges when trying to understand what mining communities share globally as well as the differences stemming from contexts. Working within the framework of the legacy of Soviet industry, there are many similar structures in Estonia in Kazakhstan. But why compare a nationally owned mine in Eastern Europe to a private, global one in Central Asia? Considering the differences between the circumstances, what is the benefit of that disjunctive comparison? Furthermore, is it fair to apply the Euro-American perspective of industrial development to Central Asia and apply Western concepts such class to either of the cases? Doing fieldwork 'at home' in Estonia and in a 'foreign' place in Kazakhstan also have implications for the nature of fieldwork and comparison. Is it acceptable to use dualisms such as 'East' and 'West' when discussing the two geographical locations and what kind of ideas might this lead to? The paper draws on the ideas of comparative anthropology based on Lazar, Strathern, Dumont, Eriksen.
Small places, large issues: thinking through anthropological conundrums