EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling

(P003)
Tilting the globe: creativity, transition and stasis in the Circumpolar North
Location Room 29
Date and Start Time 14 Aug, 2018 at 10:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Eleanor Peers (University of Aberdeen) email
  • Lia Zola (University of Turin) email

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Chair Jenanne Ferguson (University of Nevada-Reno)

Short abstract

This panel, focused on the Circumpolar North, explores how moments of transition in space, perception, or relationship shape knowledge transmission and engagement of practices. In examining forms of creativity in practice, we locate how stasis can be enfolded into change.

Long abstract

This panel seeks to analyse the impacts of both physical and technologically-mediated transition on knowledge and practices in regions of the circumpolar North. Often viewed from the outside as peripheral and devoid of cosmopolitan, global interactions, we seek to resituate (sub)Arctic spaces as central hubs for human movement and contact, both cultural and linguistic (Pietikäinen and Kelly-Holmes 2013). In doing so, we reach beyond conventional linear accounts of change, and the geopolitical spaces they invoke.

Human life consists of the continuous re-situation of practice through the ongoing flow of being and becoming (Ingold 2011). Due to accelerated and often unpredictable patterns of transition, the flow and transmission of knowledges and practices are being both facilitated and interrupted on different scales than in the past. New cultural and linguistic environments and the contact encounters they produce lead to new interpretations, reinventions and understandings of both knowledge and practice in a period of "re-settling." Indeed, what happens when people "stay" and remain in the same physical place, but are faced with "movement" and change in various social, political or ideological forces are also highly relevant for this panel. By challenging linear models of change and destabilizing chronological assumptions, we reveal how creativity is engaged and developed as places and relationships change.

Focusing broadly on changing patterns of knowledge transmission and renegotiation of practices, panellists might consider relationships with the natural environment; transformation among immigrants to/from the North; nomadic lives across the North; and the latent space/time between stasis and transformation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

"Is it still the same nature you used to know?" Local knowledge and environmental change in Sakha Republic (Yakutia)

Author: Lia Zola (University of Turin) email
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Short abstract

My paper aims to investigate issues such as the production of local knowledge and environmental change in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). Particularly interesting is the case of local knowledge about nature and who is "entitled" to use it.

Long abstract

Human societies all across the globe have developed rich sets of experiences and explanations relating to the environments they live in.

Knowledge, in a dwelling perspective, can be defined as skill, or «the experience gained through direct, "hands on" engagement in particular tasks » (Ingold 2001: 32-33).

These "knowledge systems" are today often referred to as local knowledge, an issue that has been critically analyzed in many works (Nygren 1999, Geertz 1983). If, on the one hand, it has long been portrayed as a part of a romantic past, as a panacea for dealing with environmental problems (Agrawal 1995, Heyd 1995), on the other its monolithic character has been critically assessed, resulting in an approach that considers local knowledge as hybrid and changing through time. In Sakha Republic (Yakutia), one of the ways local knowledge can be analyzed is represented by the issue of nature: as in many non Western ontologies, it entails a complex set of representations that often refer to a world inhabited by spirit-masters and deities.

The environment has always changed, but today its transformations trigger a wide variety of emotions and questions which my paper aims to investigate: how does local knowledge change when it copes with environmental changes? In such changing settings, is local knowledge still passed on from generation to generation or is it switching to a more "horizontal" way, from expert to expert? And also, if new forms of local knowledge are produced, who is "entitled" to use them (shamans, healers, religious experts?)

Following the words: the mobility and meanings of Sakha algys blessing poetry

Author: Jenanne Ferguson (University of Nevada-Reno) email
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Short abstract

This paper investigates the recent popularization of Sakha algys, or "blessing words" (ritual poetry). I analyze both the metaphorical mobility of language and social practices in conjunction with movements of speakers to understand the (re-)emerging and transforming meanings of the practice.

Long abstract

This paper investigates the recent popularization of Sakha algys, or "blessing words" (ritual poetry) in multiple media (spoken words as well as printed copy and online texts) as a way of understanding the mobility, transformation, and significance of contemporary Sakha linguistic practices.

The revitalization and popularization of the algys was catalyzed by the revival of Yhyakh, the Sakha summer festival, in the 1990s, and is popularity is also tied to reawakened interest in Sakha iteghele (Sakha spiritual beliefs) and related practices over the past two and a half decades; spiritual beliefs and practices have been employed in a broader project of marking Sakha ethnic identity (cf. Balzer 2005, 2012). In this examination of algys through ethnographic work primarily conducted between 2015-2017, I discuss how algys makes "Sakha-ness" in the sense of group identity and belonging both audible and legible in a variety of spaces, but then focus in on the "mobility" of algys to answer several key questions. How does it function as a practice of intra- and interpersonal connection, with the self and with others (both human and non-)? Within an ontology of language that stresses the power and animacy of words (see Ferguson 2016, 2018), what do new transformations of algys in form and medium (in print, online) signify? How does the creation and enunciation of algys function as an evolving "technology of the self" (Foucault 1998; cf. Hirshchkind 2006) and reveal agency, especially in times of social precarity and uncertainty?

"I Lay Motionless in the Bloody Abyss:" Ritual, Sacrifice, and the Birth of Soviet Sakha (Yakut) Literature 1917-1939

Author: Naomi Caffee (Reed College ) email
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Short abstract

This paper examines the themes of ritual and sacrifice, in the works of two indigenous writers, Petr Chernykh-Yakutskii (1882-1933) and Platon Oiunskii (1893-1939), who became founding figures of the Sakha literary tradition in northeastern Siberia the early Soviet era.

Long abstract

This paper features two writers whose works, as well as their tragic fate under Stalin, formed the genesis of the Sakha (Yakut) national literary tradition. Petr Chernykh-Yakutskii (1882-1933) and Platon Oiunskii (1893-1939) were Russian-educated members of the Sakha intelligentsia and early members of the Soviet Writers' Union. Oiunskii's seminal work of revolutionary mysticism, "The Red Shaman" (1925), re-casts Sakha religious rituals and cosmology within a Soviet teleological framework. The titular character of the Red Shaman, who summons revolution even as it hastens his own obsolescence and violent death, serves as an early literary record of the contentious relationship between Soviet visions of modernity and the drive to preserve minority cultures and lifeways. Chernykh-Yakutskii's 1924 short story "Bad Medicine" explores the same dynamic; here, however, revolutionary fervor gives way to despondency when a psychologically tormented Sakha man seeks out a ritual cure that results in tragedy for himself and his family. The Sakha writers of Oiunskii and Chernykh-Yakutskii's generation, whose works gave voice to indigenous peoples' struggles under the Soviet system and, in the case of Oiunskii, paid for it with their lives, were the founding figures of modern Sakha literature and identity. I argue that the themes of ritual and sacrifice in their works—which reflect their own life experiences under totalitarianism—form a cornerstone of this identity building process and still resonate with reading audiences today.

Movement of Song and Dance Across a National Border: The Story of the Hän Songs

Author: Tamara Ranspot (University of Aberdeen) email
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Short abstract

In 1903, the traditional territory of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation was bisected by the imposition of a national border. Rather than a disruption of movement, this paper focusses on how Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in leadership facilitated and continue to engage with the flow of creative musical practices.

Long abstract

Over a century ago, the traditional territory of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation of Yukon, Canada was bisected by the imposition of the Canadian-American border. Such colonial encounters are often discussed with reference to the disruption of traditional patterns of movement and the alienation from kin, now on the other side of a national boundary. This paper will take an alternative approach, focussing instead on how Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in leadership facilitated, and continue to engage with, the flow of creative practices across the vast North American Arctic and sub-Arctic. It analyses the story of Isaac, Chief during the early 20th century. Seeing the impact the border and other colonial policies were having on his people, he chose to take the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in songs and dances across to their newly-American kin, depositing them there for safekeeping until such a time as they could safely return home. The songs and dances began to be slowly returned in the early 1990s, spurred by a burgeoning movement for linguistic revitalization amongst the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in. This movement of creative practices in and out of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in community remains an active process to this day. The contemporary return of songs and dances is a complicated, incomplete, and ongoing process — a process which this paper takes as a point of focus to examine how resilient communities find creative ways of encouraging movement in the face of seemingly impenetrable obstacles.

The Tentacular Museum? Transdisciplinary Growth along with the Changing Arctic

Authors: Lotten Gustafsson Reinius (Stockholm University) email
Anna Laine (Swedish National Heritage Board) email
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Short abstract

Seminars with curators, artists and scholars engaged in geo-cultural movements in the Arctic, forms parts of a cooperation by the Nordic Museum and Stockholm University. This paper is a dialogue on tentacular curation (Haraway 2016) and of making as transdisciplinary process of growth (Ingold 2013)

Long abstract

The largest cultural history museum in Sweden, dating its history to the 1870s, is today in the process of re-expanding and exploring its "Nordic" frames. How can a purified and narrow image of national cultural history give way to perspectives that place the North in, and in relation to, its circumpolar sphere, thus tilting the globe and decentering visitors' engagement? As part of such efforts the museum has joined forces with Stockholm University in a transdisciplinary cooperation held in anticipation of the curation of a planned exhibition in 2019. So far, a two-year-long series of multidisciplinary seminars on the geo-cultural movements in the Arctic, has gathered invited curators, scientist, artists, and scholars from the humanities in exchanges on the making and translation of differing kinds of knowledge.

The seminar methodology takes its inspiration from Tim Ingold's (2013) notion of making as an open and anticipating process of growth and Donna Haraway's (2016) insistence on alliances and tentacular knowledge building. As Mattias Bäckström (2016) recently has argued, the making of an exhibition might be understood as a research process of its own, leaning on the cunning braiding of reflection and material engagements further developed in artistic research.

The presentation will take place as a dialogue on the potentials and problems of the transdisciplinary and tentacular approach. It will be co-presented by Lotten Gustafsson Reinius, in charge of the so called Hallwyl seminar series and the artist-anthropologist Anna Laine, who is one of its active participants and critical friends.

Global connections and optical illusions: spaces and stories in a Russian tundra village

Author: Petia Mankova (UIT The Arctic University of Norway) email
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Short abstract

The paper explores how in a remote Russian tundra village new communication and technological advances become interweaved into everyday stories and how these stories subvert dominant spatial configurations of centres, peripheries and remoteness, rendering the village an open and dynamic character.

Long abstract

Inspired by de Certeau's "Every story is a travel story—a spatial practice" the paper explores everyday stories from Krasnoshchelye, a remote and roadless tundra village in the Russian North, as engagements with space and how the people who live there relate to the "wider world" in their everyday lives. Within a picturesque and at first sight traditional setting of wooden log houses, reindeer herds and wild berries, mobile phones, iridium satellites, microwaves, neoprene wetsuits become creatively interweaved into everyday reflections and stories and thus generate new insights, understandings and laughter. Sometimes they also make the close and familiar environments seem illusory and deceptive.

Based on the writings of Doreen Massey (1994; 2005) the paper shows how such everyday stories subvert dominant spatial configurations of centres and peripheries and the notion of remoteness, rendering the village an open and dynamic character.

Sakha literature and formation of new post-soviet identity

Author: Oleg Sidorov (Faculty of Philology, North-Eastern Federal University) email
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Short abstract

This paper considers transformation of identity of indigenous peoples in the Sakha Republic, during the Post-Soviet era. We examine, how the process is reflected in Sakha literature and in the most significant novels of post-soviet Sakha writers Vasyli Dalan (1928-1996) and Nikolay Luginov (1948).

Long abstract

The need in defining national identity became apparent during the collapse of the USSR and in Post-Soviet time in the 1985-1990th. There were two outlined tendencies in Yakutia: 1) a return to sources, to the primordial identity, that was reflected in novels by Dalan: "Deaf Vilyuy" and "Tygyn Darkhan"; 2) a search of new identity, based on the idea of the Euroasian identity, belonging to great Asian empires of the past in the novel by N. Luginov "On Genghis Khan's command".

Dalan's novels revived half-forgotten flowery language of folklore. They became a basis of new stage in the Yakut literature. In this novels Dalan investigates an origin of the Yakut nation on Central Lena and an emergence of the protostate formation of Yakuts. Glorification of Tygyn became one of the most important symbols of the Yakut statehood and the national idea.

The novel by N. Luginov "On Genghis Khan's command" is more than a biography of the Mongolian khan. It is a reflection on the fate of empires, coherence of cultures and the fate of the people of Eurasia. The author, thus, responds to the discussions about origin of the Yakut people, exciting the post-soviet Yakut society: the sources and the ancestral home of Yakut and the relationship with Asian powers of the past: the Turkic Khaganate and the Mongol Empire.

These novels have reflected expectations of the Yakut society, have given answers to the question "who are we?" and became the beginning of formation of new post-soviet identity.

Being a northern nomad: post-Soviet transformations in nomadic families in the Republic of Sakha, Russian Federation

Authors: Elena Khlinovskaya Rockhill (Cambridge University) email
Lena Sidorova (Institute of Languages and Cultures of the Indigenous Peoples of the North East of Russia, North-Eastern Federal University) email
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Short abstract

This paper, based on the results of research conducted in 2014-18 in N. Kolyma and Oymyakon of Yakutia, analyses changes which have taken place in nomadic families during the post-Soviet period. We examine the creative ways in which northern nomads try to save and adapt their traditional life style.

Long abstract

The culture of the indigenous people of the Lower Kolyma represents an interesting example of the transformation of the traditional way of life of reindeer herders. The Soviet period changed the traditional subsistence life style of northern reindeer herders by forcing them into settlements. This process of sedentarisation led to profound changes in their way of life and family structure.

In post-Soviet time indigenous activists began to articulate the return to the former traditional life style, resulting in the Law "About Nomadic Family", which was adopted in Yakutia in 2016. Nomadic schools and nomadic families began to be revived. In this paper we examine the signs of change in the nomadic family that represent this return to a "traditional" way of life.

Among others, we explore what criteria were used to represent 'nomadness' (kochevnost) in annual public events such as the competition of "Nomadic families" in Oimyakon and Yakutsk in 2017 and in the Holiday of Reindeer Breeders held by indigenous authorities, which became the way of broadcasting of symbols and icons of the new "traditional" nomadic family for indigenous people.

"The track is never the same": Fluid ecotopes, changing landscapes, and mobility among the Ewenki people

Authors: Nadezhda Mamontova (University of Oxford) email
Thomas Thornton (University of Oxford) email
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Short abstract

This presentation analyses the variation in meaning in basic landscape terminology, including ecotopes and related place names, in Siberian Ewenki, and what these 'fluid signs' reveal about people's experience of landscape, mobility patterns, and complex relationships with non-human beings.

Long abstract

This presentation analyses results of research on the relationships between the Ewenki people's perception, experience, and cognition of landscape and ecotopes, the smallest ecologically-distinct landscape features. The Ewenki people are known for their reindeer herding and as the most widely spread indigenous community in Siberia and the Arctic. This research is based on linguistic data obtained from a number of Ewenki dialect communities, living in different terrains, and on the archival material by Soviet researcher Glafira Vasilevich. The results suggest that the uniqueness of the Ewenki landscape terminology lies in the fact that the same term can be linked to completely different landscape objects being, at the same time, semantically related to all those objects. This phenomenon gives an impression of fluidity in the meaning of the basic landscape terms. The meaning varies both within the same dialect community and along the dialect continuum. This variation in meaning is especially evident at the example of terms for plains, which represent what Barthes suggests in the 'empty sign' concept, and based on the indexical nature of ecotopes. We argue that the ways of variation are bound to and can be interpreted through the Ewenki people's understanding of "changing landscapes", mobility patterns, and complex relationships with non-human beings the fluidity of which is embedded in their basic geographic nomenclature. "The track is never the same", as one of the Ewenki persons noted. Similarly the ecotopes are never the same, i.e. constant, but fluid in nature.

Centrelization of the Arctic periphery

Author: Aimar Ventsel (University of Tartu) email
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Short abstract

This paper discusses the phenomenon in the Russian Arctic when tundra settlements, that from the perspective of a centre become more remote and obsolete, become a centre on their own sociocultural and economic space.

Long abstract

In my talk I focus on a phenomenon I call "centrelization of periphery" in the Russian Arctic, precisely in the tundra villages of the Republic of Sakha, Russian Far East. From the perspective of the capital of Yakutsk, these areas become more and more remote. In turn, the dismantling of state institutions has created a social, cultural and economic space where Arctic villages become more strongly related to each other than to the "outside world".

This process is connected to wider economic and political processes but, as a consequence, has particular political, linguistic and economic effects. Over last fifteen years, Russian language as everyday language is in decline and Sakha language has become more dominant. The increase of prices for the plane tickets has caused a growing isolation from the centre. On the other hand, when a decade ago people in the North were forced to travel to Yakutsk for certain supplies then state subsidies and growing trade with fish and meat have created certain economic prosperity which makes travelling to the centre less relevant. I argue that improved organisation of the trade and particular linguistic processes have contributed to the establishing a sociocultural and economic space where people have less need to communicate with the "outside world". The inhabitants of the North communicate actively with the people from the neighbouring villages due the shared economic framework, language and kinship ties. This way, the social and economic space of the Arctic tundra becomes a centre.

Territory as intimacy: Transition and stasis in the Sakha people's Yhyakh

Author: Eleanor Peers (University of Aberdeen) email
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Short abstract

Sakha communities in north-east Siberia have been creating Yhyakh rituals for many centuries. These festivals celebrate the Sakha community, understood in the broadest possible sense. I explore the continuing power of the Yhyakh - and in so doing I highlight one interrelation of stasis and change.

Long abstract

Sakha communities in Sakha (Yakutia), north-east Siberia, have been creating Yhyakh rituals for many centuries. As this paper shows, these festivals articulate and celebrate the Sakha community, understood in the broadest possible sense. The rivers, forests, animals and their guardians are part of this community, along with the Sakha people's ancestors, and an extensive pantheon of good and evil deities. Indeed, the community instantiated in the Yhyakh is its own incarnation of space, movement and transition. The territory occupied by Sakha people is a web of intimate relationships - rather than an empty backdrop to human action, only enacted and seen through the institutions and procedures of the Russian Federal state. Within these relationships movement and transition occur through feeling - and, at the Yhyakh, through the glorious aesthetic experience of poetry, song, dance and dress. But Sakha communities are caught up in the rapid modernising change that is currently transforming both the former Soviet Union, and the Circumpolar North. Increasingly, contemporary patterns of life and work are predicated on the empty spaces and lonely trajectories that underlie globalised employment, transition and lifestyle. Why, then, is the Yhyakh bigger and louder than ever? In this paper, I explore the continuing power of the Yhyakh, its aesthetic, and the community it reveals - and in so doing I highlight one interrelation of stasis and change.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.