Accepted Paper:

Rethinking human-reindeer relations in the northern Baikal region, Russia  


Vladimir Davydov (Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will discuss how Russian ethnography reflected human-animal relations and domestication in northern Baikal region. It will discuss how the researchers perceived reindeer and how they saw the difference between the ‘wild’ and ‘domesticated’ reindeer.

Paper long abstract:

The categories such as 'wild' and 'domesticated' reindeer are rooted in the accounts of early Russian ethnographers. They usually perceived reindeer through the prism of their own experience of other animals and often assumed that reindeer were similar to small horses that predetermined the way they interpreted their qualities, needs, movements and relations with people. Many debates concerning the improvement of reindeer herders' everyday tasks took place in the region. A number of Russian authors described reindeer herding from the evolutionist perspective as less developed compared to agriculture and cattle breeding. Some of them were the proponents of semi-sedentary 'log-houses reindeer herding'. In many cases they neglected how human-animal relationships were emplaced in northern Baikal landscape. Human-reindeer relations were never the relations attributed to one certain place, but to a number of places such as summer and winter pastures, calving territories. Furthermore, these were always the relations on the move from place to place. The early soviet ethnographic researches of reindeer herding steadily shifted to 'industrial' paradigm where every animal was supposed to be counted and measured. This logic was based on the hierarchical view, neglected the intimate way of inter species gaze and presented reindeer as if they were not with people but stayed rather separated. It approached reindeer not as 'companions' to people but rather as 'tools' or 'transport' they employed to move. Even though administrators saw a reindeer herd as homogenous mass, Evenki reindeer herders perceived it as composed of animals which had distinctive characters and habits.

Panel BH15
Querying domestication: the ethnography of human-animal entanglements