Columbia University in the City of New York

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The Ethnography of Russia in Uncertain Times
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Please join the Harriman Institute for a panel discussion on The Ethnography of Russia in Uncertain Times. Moderated by Tyler Adkins, Mellon Teaching Fellow at the Harriman Institute, Lecturer in Anthropology. Introduction by Elise Giuliano.

The ethnographic study of Russia in 2023 is both necessary and impossible. Over a year and a half since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, North American and European anthropologists studying the peoples of the Russian Federation confront existential questions of method, ethics, and the field’s very survival: how is ethnography, a method premised on “being there,” possible when one cannot physically be there? This roundtable discussion gathers anthropologists of Russia and Siberia to broadly consider the concrete methodological challenges specific to ethnography amid the fog of war: what sort of ethnographic approaches are possible when scholars can no longer carry out in-country fieldwork? What ethical and safety challenges might these approaches entail? And crucially, how does the ethnographic study of the region survive and remain relevant during this time of upheaval?


Anya Bernstein, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University

Craig Campbell, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, The University of Texas at Austin

Tatiana Chudakova, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Tufts University

Alex Oehler, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Regina


Anya Bernstein is Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University. Her most recent book, The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia (Princeton University Press, 2019), explored the interplay between ideas about immortality and life-extension industries across the Soviet Union and postsocialist Russia, drawing on archival and ethnographic methods to investigate these technoscientific and religious futurisms. The book received the 2020 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology, from the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, American Anthropological Association. Her first book, Religious Bodies Politic: Rituals of Sovereignty in Buryat Buddhism (University of Chicago Press, 2013), was the winner of the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, from the American Academy of Religion, and an Honorable Mention for the Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies, from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (2014). Her current book project, titled Pleistocene Park: Extinction and Eternity in the Russian Arctic (under contract with Princeton University Press), extends her previous work on technoscience and future scenarios in Russia to issues of climate change through chronicling the efforts of a transnational team of scientists to “resurrect” an extinct ecosystem in Arctic Siberia. As a visual anthropologist Bernstein has directed, filmed, and produced several award-winning documentary films on Buryat Buddhism and shamanism, including Join Me in Shambhala (2002) and In Pursuit of the Siberian Shaman (2006).

Craig Campbell‘s research fascinations include photography, art exhibitions, multimodal anthropology, Siberia, Yenisei North, culture and political struggles of Indigenous Siberians, Evenkiia, reindeer hunting and herding, travel and mobility, socialist colonialism. Campbell published a book called Agitating Images: Photography Against History in Indigenous Siberia in 2014. Most recently he mounted an exhibition titled Agit Kino: and tell them we’re for peace. One major project that has been interrupted by the war is the cultural history of an unbuilt hydro-electric dam in Central Siberia. Campbell has also been exploring the utility of the concept of ‘borealism’ in the context of Indigenous Siberia.  He is the lead editor for a photo essay magazine called Writing with Light and one of the directors of the Bureau for Experimental Ethnography. Campbell is Assistant director of the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and is a member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies advisory council at the University of Texas at Austin.

Alex Oehler is a circumpolar ethnographer with special interests in human-animal and human-landscape relations. His work has looked at how societal ideas (religious, philosophical, practical) converge with how people relate to animals within and outside the household. He is interested in interspecies communication and collaboration, including how hunters interpret the movements of animals and vice-versa, but also how people communicate with land features and vegetation. Alex is the author of Beyond Wild and Tame: Soiot Encounters in a Sentient Landscape and currently heads the federally funded multi-year project, “Sensory Acts: More Than Human Communication in the Circumpolar North.”

Image: Chris Vanhove on Unsplash

This event is supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation New York.