Tomsk State University
Department of History

634051 Russia, Tomsk, 34, Lenin Ave., room 30

Tel.: 007 3822 529 796

Impressions of I Tomsk Anthropological Forum

From September 12 to September 20, a socio-anthropological marathon – we could call it without exaggeration – took place at TSU that embraced a number of educational, scientific, and cultural events.   

18 lectures were held by Russian and international scholars for students of anthropology and all interested in anthropology. Here, young anthropologists could update their theoretical knowledge, immerse themselves in modern science and discuss their own scientific endeavours with experts. The classes turned out to be very interactive; many experts supported their talks with visual material that helped fuel discussions and exchange of ideas and comments.

The TSU anthropology marathon culminated in a large-scale academic forum – I Tomsk Anthropological Forum, or TAF-I – organized jointly by the Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research, TSU Department of History, and TSU Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence on September 15-17. For the three days, TAF-2016 was an epicenter of intellectual activities and energy of over a hundred participants from Russia, CIS countries, Europe and America – forum speakers, discussants, experts, and students. The forum is to be held every two years and will discuss the most topical issues in anthropology. This year, it was titled ‘Anthropology in Search of a New Language of Description’. It was opened by the TSU President Georgiy Mayer, Dean of Department of History Vasiliy Zinoviev, representatives of the forum organizers and the masterminds behind the TAF – Dmitriy Funk and Irina Nam.

Welcome addresses were followed by a keynote speech of Princeton University lecturer and anthropologist Serguei Oushakine (Princeton, USA), dedicated to the topic of ‘Visual languages of nations through the example of post-Revolution Soviet children’s illustrations and contemporary work of Belarussian photographers’. The second plenary talk given by Sergey V. Sokolovskiy (Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Moscow), titled ‘The future of anthropology: cross-, inter-, multi-, trans-, or post-disciplinarity?’ was of conceptual importance and also provoked many questions from the audience. Ayse Caglar (University of Vienna) in her plenary speech demonstrated the impact of space and time in migration processes and proposed new approaches to studying these in modern anthropology.  

Talks, presentations, and discussions were held at three symposia, in each of which LSAR research fellows, among them young researchers, also played an active part. One of the symposia – symposium 1 – dealt with the 21st migration-related challenges and offered the most extensive programme of presentations which seems to be no accident. Migration is currently the centre of not only scientific but also broader public and political interest and is drawing vivid attention of ever more researchers. And, the experience accumulated in this regard requires not so much of a theoretical generalization, rather development of concrete, practical steps by the academic community.   

Otto Habeck, Director of Institute of Ethnology (University of Hamburg), in his talk, presented the relationships formed by people living in border territories through the example of Pomerania. Bhavna Dave (SOAS University of London, UK), and Ekaterina Demintseva (Higher School of Economics, Moscow) discussed the results of research into migrant settlement practices in Russian and French cities. Professor Viktor Dyatlov (Irkutsk State University, Russia) spoke of ‘ethnic markets’ and their influence on cities. Muzaffar A. Olimov and Saodat K. Olimova, experts from Tajikistan, told about migration from rural to urban areas and the role of traditional Islam communities in this process. Nikolay Pogodaev (TSU), in turn, gave a presentation on the Tajik youth studying at TSU. Sergey Ryazantsev (RAS Institute of Social and Political Research, Moscow) presented the systematic analysis of current Russian emigration trends and trends in the formation of Russian-speaking communities abroad, thus going beyond the framework of research on Russia as a purely host country for migrants.

No less thought-provoking were presentations on cultural and social adaptation of migrants, the image of migrants as portrayed by the mass media, the preservation of national identity of migrants, and its manifestation in the world web.

The 1st symposium ended with a roundtable centred on the article by Elena Philippova (RAS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Moscow), titled ‘Discourse around integration – conservative anachronism of the era of transnationalism’. Here, discussed were conceptual foundations of the national and cosmopolitan forms of consciousness that are currently resulting in conflict between conservatism and cosmopolitanism as two different worldviews and mindsets.

The 2nd symposium, titled ‘People, cultures, resources’, dealt with other anthropological problems. Its focus was on the issue of how habitual, traditional patterns of culture are preserved and reproduced when external influences, for whatever reason, interfere with the native way of life and places of residence.  A good example of such a case is the Shor village of Kazas whose decline and actual disappearance have been discussed many times at different fora. The link between manufacturing, resource development sectors, and indigenous populations was also paid a lot of attention. Among issues less associated with conflict but still revealing a lot about social life was the organization of private home yards in the city of Almaty (Kazakhstan), a presentation delivered by Gulnara R. Dadabaeva.   

Last but not least, the 3rd symposium was dedicated to heterogeneous communities in the contemporary world. This area of anthropology is relatively new to Russia and probably for this reason the issue of finding a new language of description proved to be of special importance here. Another interesting thing about the symposium was that the research emphasis was often placed on physical objects and technologies incorporated into our everyday life to such an extent that we do not tend to think about them as standalone ones or having their own agency. This symposium sought to fill this gap and to introduce new ways of thinking about our world. Apart from that, participants of the LSAR summer school ‘Science as a Form of Life’ – held in the summer of 2016 – presented at the 3rd symposium and received feedback on their interesting research findings.  

The forum results were summed up at the concluding plenary session moderated by Professor Dmitriy Funk. In his talk, referring to the TAF overarching theme – the search for a new language of description – and drawing on his rich research experience, Professor Funk stressed that social anthropologists have to be particularly sensitive to their scientific work as there are many clichés and ready-to-serve analytical models travelling from one piece of research into another that are rarely subject to deep thought or consideration but often taken for granted or as irreducible truths. These pre-determine our views and deprive us of new, fresh, and innovative perspectives of life. We, as researchers, are often tempted to use such models even when we are in the field that is new to us. And as Professor Funk said recalling an old joke about a drunk man who has lost his keys and is struggling to find it in vain under a streetlight: ‘Answers to our questions may just be someplace else and not where we search for them because we tend to search in places well-lit’.    

The I Tomsk Anthropological Forum ended with a lively exchange of ideas and comments, reflections and feedback on the experience of forum that went on coming in long after the forum’s completion. A big ‘Thank you’ to all of the participants!

Here are some of the comments received:    

Marina Butovskaya (Professor at Moscow State University, Head of Cross-Cultural Psychology and Human Ethology Division, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia):

“Thank you very much for the wonderful conference and the great efforts of yours. We felt warmth and comfort being with you. I just wish we could talk more afterwards, without the hassle…”

Viktor Dyatlov (Professor at Irkutsk State University, Irkutsk, Russia):

“I want to once again thank you for the forum. Everything went very well – both in professional terms and in terms of socializing. A very good start, indeed”

Muzaffar Olimov (Professor, Head of Central and South Asia Department, Rudaki Institute of Language, Literature, Oriental and Written Heritage, Dushanbe, Tajikistan):

“Thank you very much for inviting me and for all the days of our memorable stay in the lovely city of Tomsk!”

Ekaterina Demintseva (Leading Research Fellow, Institute for Social Development Studies, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia) “…I want to thank you for the most interesting forum! Your laboratory has once again left me impressed with its work. And I am glad to have seen you again!”

Tsypylma Darieva (Dr., Senior Research Fellow at Department for Slavic and Caucasus Studies, Friedrich-Schiller-University (Jena, Germany):

“Thank you for the invitation to the I Tomsk Anthropological Forum. It has been organized at the highest level, and I want to say that apart from being left so positively impressed, I feel a strong desire to go for it once again. To ensure that the forum’s success is solid, I think it would be useful to publish a collection of selected papers, including those authored by young researchers …”

Elena Karageorgii (Junior Research Fellow, TSU Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research, Russia)

“It is no secret that Russian anthropology is just making its first steps toward establishing itself as a standalone line of thought and research, and is now in search of its own ‘field’. And so it is increasingly important to ensure that open communication is there, along with free intellectual exchange among researchers, professors, and students interested in discussing topical issues in anthropology, its mission and tasks,  preconditions and possible ways of its development, and areas of its application. The Tomsk Anthropological Forum hosted by TSU is one of few Russian fora that give the opportunity of such an intellectual encounter and exchange that in itself seems to be an essential form of scientific knowledge.

The first meeting was held on September 15-17, and I believe it was a success. Its central result I think is that we managed to have brought together so many amazing professional people who work hard both in Russia and abroad and contribute to various fields of anthropological research – on migration, interaction of humans with nature and with one another in the course of natural resources development, interaction of people and society in the context of booming information and other technologies, and on theoretical and methodological foundations of anthropology as a science. It would be more precise to say that this – so much needed – intellectual exchange became possible thanks to all of us – participants, organizers, guest experts, students, and all other attendees who showed up at the forum and were not indifferent. I hope that everyone could, in one way or another, benefit from the event and recharge their intellectual batteries, discover new perspectives and reassess older ones.

Abstracts of forum presentations (in Russian)


The project "Man in a Changing World. Identity and Social Adaptation: Past and Present" is funded by the Russian Government
(grant #14.В25.31.0009)
© Laboratory for Social and Anthropoligical Research, 2013

The website is translated into English by LSAR Fellow Elena M. Karageorgii, e-mail: visits: 276441

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