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Accepted Paper:

(De)Coloniality of the Soviet Ethnohistorical Classifications: The Soviet Ethnographer Boris Dolgikh Classifying Indigenous Peoples and their Folklore  
Maria Momzikova

Paper short abstract:

Was the Soviet Union an empire? Terry Martin (2001) considers the Soviet Union a non-classical empire and calls it the “affirmative action empire” which means it did not oppress peripheries but gave them rights and privileges by creating nations.

Paper long abstract:

Francine Hirsch asserts that the Soviet Union was an empire shaped by the ethnographical practices creating nations. At the same time, the Soviet Union officially supported anticolonial ideology in both domestic and foreign policies: struggling against “imperialism” and supporting national elites (Gerasimov et al. 2014). David Moore (2001) juxtaposes colonial and decolonial aspects of Soviet politics in equal proportions but finally concludes that it was colonial from “an Uzbek, Lithuanian, or Hungarian perspective” (Moore 2001: 124). Yulia Gradskova (2013) names Soviet rhetoric “(anti)colonial”, inclining mostly to the colonial part of the term. Epp Annus calls such ambiguity as colonialism “in camouflage” (Annus 2017), Walter Mignolo and Madina Tlostanova name it “a caricature half-way decolonization” (Tlostanova, Mignolo 2009: 137), Douglas Northrop’s asserts that “a colonial state aimed at anticolonial and emancipatory legitimacy” (Northrop 2003: 29) In this paper, I want to look at the Soviet ambiguous colonial/anticolonial experience from the perspective of one Soviet ethnographer Boris Dolgikh who was involved in knowledge production through practices of ethnohistorical classifications. I argue that we cannot distinguish colonial from decolonial (or anticolonial) in his work. The colonial knowledge production including colonial classifications of people figuring out their place in modern history could have decolonial motivation on an individual level of a researcher and be colonial and decolonial at the same time. Using Dolgikh’s archival and published materials on indigenous peoples of the Taimyr Peninsula, precisely Nganasans, I show that the ethnographer’s ethnohistorical classifications – ethnic and folklore categorizations – that he had been developing throughout his life were closely intertwined and shaped his vision of ethnohistorical processes in the Arctic. I consider Dolgikh’s ethnohistorical classifications as individual classificatory habits and colonial techniques of Soviet modernity and coloniality. At the same time, the Soviet anticolonial rhetoric against the Russian Empire and other foreign states allows me to suggest that these techniques were not considered by the ethnographer as colonial and aimed from his perspective at decolonization of indigenous peoples, as also Sergei Alymov’s research shows (Alymov 2014: 134-135). It was the specific Soviet “(de)colonization”, where colonial and decolonial were inseparably connected.

Panel P03b
Collaborations and Confrontations during the Cold War and Into the Future
  Session 1 Friday 10 June, 2022, -