Antropologicheskij forum. 2015. No. 27. Summaries and keywords


Russia and France: Dialogue of Linguistic Stereotypes

By Elena Berezovich and Galina Kabakova

The article considers cultural and linguistic images of the Frenchman and “Frenchness” in the Russian language, and Russian and “Russianness” in the French language in contrastive aspect. The core of linguistic images is analysed — language system facts, the internal form of which contains a direct reference to “Russianness” or “Frenchness”. They are: words derived from the ethnonyms  francuz ‘Frenchman’, gall ‘Gaul’ and place name Parizh ‘Paris’ in Russian; words derived from Russe, Russien ‘Russian’, Cosaque ‘Cossack’ → ‘Russian military’ → ‘Russian’, Moscou ‘Moscow’, obsolete Moscovite ‘resident of Muscovy, Russian’ in French. Furthermore, the authors take into consideration collocations of the words mentioned. Thematic spheres of secondary semantics are covered: Nature; History; Material culture; Leisure, spiritual culture; Social and physical person. The authors reveal the motivation of linguistic facts and analyse the evaluative component of their semantics.

Keywords: ethnolinguistics, motivation studies, ethnonymic and place-names derivation, Russian-French language contacts, linguistic stereotype, derivational family.


“On Holidays We Promise Not to Work”: On the Question of Peasant Local Government in the Vologda Province at the End of 19th — the Beginning of the 20th Century

By Dmitry Mukhin

This paper examines the question of how traditional peasant ideas (specifically — the idea that working on holydays is sinful), and local officials’ understanding of the law at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries shaped the administrative practise of the peasant local government. Peasants accepted resolutions to ban work on holidays in order to affirm the community’s right to punish violators of the ban. Local officials could consider the resolution, which introduced penalties, to contradict existing legislation. Therefore, the country administration could use additional references to the law in resolutions or refuse to approve the resolution. The assembly’s resolutions could not only establish sanctions on violators  of the ban, but could also define the conceptual boundaries of “work”. These boundaries changed depending on external conditions. Therefore different activities (collecting mushrooms and berries, hunting etc.)  could be considered “work” (or not) during different years, and therefore, they could be allowed or forbidden on holidays. Other kinds of activities could be removed from the ban upon being marked as “holyday” activities (for example, a haymaking or pomoch).

Keywords: peasant local government, peasant assemblies, working, holyday.


Conspiracy Theories in Contemporary Russia

Anthropology and Conspiracy Theories

By Alexander A. Panchenko

This introductory essay deals with problems and prospects in the study of conspiracy theories by anthropologists and other social scientists. Epistemologically, conspiracy theories do not in fact differ from any other theories. However, conspiratorial narratives are notable for their particular emotional suggestibility that makes them efficacious tools of socialisation.

Keywords: conspiracy theories, collective imagination, knowledge and power, emotional communities.


Conspiracy Plot in Nikolay Burlyaev’s Film Lermontov and Filmmaker’s Diary: On the Ethnography of Emotions of the National Conservative Community

By Anna Razuvalova

This article focuses on the film director Nikolay Burlyaev’s handling of the plot “death of a poet” presented, on the one hand, in his film Lermontov (1986) and on the other hand, in his Filmmaker’s Diary. The author traces the director’s apprehension of conspiracy schemes as a way to explain why part of the cinematographic community did not accept the message of the movie. The author states that the motifs of Masonic conspiracy against Russian classical literature, which circulated within the milieu of conservative nationalists, clearly reveal the affective background of conspiracy theories. These motifs also reveal the late-Soviet nationalists as an “emotional community” (B. Rosenwein), united not only by commonly shared ideological views, but also by emotional experiences (in particular, the feeling of deprivation, caused by the activity of what was called “the Jewish lobby,” which was said to occupy political and cultural spheres of the Soviet state). Burlyaev perceived the sharp criticism of his film, dedicated to the “authentic” reasons for Lermontov’s death, as further evidence of the secret masonic organization’s activity. Later in debates with opponents, he identified himself with Lermontov, who perished in the hands of Russia’s enemies more than a hundred years ago, and attempted to describe his own position in terms of open resistance to a secret enemy. Finally, Burlyaev’s public effort to unmask the mechanisms of conspiracy, an effort supported by the rhetoric of his proponents, clearly demonstrated how in times of social and political changes, traumatic emotions of disadvantage and resentment worked as “instruments of sociability” (Rosenwein), creatinga public non-conformist reputation for the patriotic community and becomingan important source for political action.

Keywords: conspiracy theory, masonic plot, emotional community, deprivation, late-Soviet nationalists.


“The Beast Computer of Brussels”: Apocalyptic Imagination and Conspiracy Theories in Present Day Religious Culture

By Alexander A. Panchenko

Conspiracy theory is a powerful explanatory model or way of thinking that influences many cultural forms and social processes throughout the contemporary world. Recent academic research of conspiracy theories provides a set of interpretations ranging from medicalisation (‘social / political paranoids’) to the concept of ‘popular knowledge’ as a specifically postmodern phenomenon. It is obvious, however, that the social, political and cultural power of conspiratorial narratives should not be underestimated. In modern and postmodern societies, conspiracy theories often motivate political action and social praxis, accompany the transformation of institutional and informational networks, and provoke moral panic and identity changes. Mutual relations between conspiracy theories and religious imagination require further discussions and investigations by social scientists. These investigations could probably start with how evil is recognised and localised by various cultures and in different social or economic contexts. However, it seems that certain social phenomena and ideological tendencies that we usually label as ‘religious’ demonstrate, so to speak, the specific ‘valency’ of conspiratorial explanatory models. Christian eschatology gives a lot of obvious examples in this context, especially in relation to present day apocalyptic thinking.

This article deals with a particular group of conspiratorial / eschatological themes of popular imagination that has a certain impact on religious cultures in present day Russia, Ukraine, and some other post-Soviet states, namely the stories about ‘the Beast computer of Brussels’. The legend about this apocalyptic computer emerged among ‘the New Christian Right’ in the USA in the mid 1970s. This paper focuses on its cultural, political and historical contexts as well its migration from the US to Eastern Europe. The legend appeared to serve as a sort of ‘narrative foundation’, or even a trigger, for the moral panic that influenced theological and ideological discussions in many post-Soviet religious communities. The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate had to consider the ‘problem’ of individual taxpayer and social security numbers as well as passports with electronic chips at the highest levels of its hierarchy.

The study of this particular legend facilitates the discussion of certain theoretical aspects of present day ‘conspiratorial eschatology’. First, we are dealing with a narrative that does not in fact essentially differ from what is known as contemporary legend. Its international transmission as well as de- or recontextualisation provides one more example of what is known in present day folkloristics and anthropology as ‘memetic’ or ‘viral’ spread of ‘cultural replicators’. Second, the legend seems to be a part of a more broad conspiratorial (meta)narrative that appeared to be equally valid for quite different religious ideologies and cultures. It seems that studies of present day conspiratorial cultures and narratives could take into account the concept of emotional communities formulated recently by the American historian Barbara Rosenwein. This constructionist idea that, in turn, proceeds from the theory of ‘textual communities’ by another American historian, Brian Stock, implies that we should pay more attention to emotions that are ‘expected’ by a particular community and thus are especially valued by its members. I would not argue that the ‘conspiratorial communities’ that we are dealing with in the present day world should be recognised as purely emotional. By and large, conspiracy theories try to make problematic not only socially shared values, but the status of conventional or official knowledge as well. I think, however, that conspiracy theories and practices of ‘conspiratorial hermeneutics’ are inspired by particular combinations of emotional, moral and epistemological expectations. These shared expectations provide ‘conspiratorial communities’ with particular narratives and practices and, on the other hand, they enable combining traditional religious ideas with newly invented conspiratorial ones.

Keywords: conspiracy theories, present day eschatology, evangelical Christianity, surveillance society, computers, the Beast of Revelation, emotional communities.


Killer Yeast: The Gastronomic Conspiracy and Culture of Distrust in Contemporary Russia

By Jeanne Kormina

This article focuses on gastronomic fears that have spread in contemporary Russia within last decade, or more specifically, fears associated with the consumption of  yeast bread. Shared by various social groups, from Orthodox fundamentalists to new age sympathisers and secular middle class people, these social fears reveal the existence of a new culture of distrust in post-Soviet society. The object of distrust is represented by the State along with its institutions responsible for the production and control of knowledge, including science, medicine, education and the mass media. At the same time, the main object of fear is a loss of personal freedom, which is articulated as quality of life, health issues, and opportunities for self-improvement. This article argues that the culture of distrust is a by-product of an information society where instead of having limited access to information from mass-media, people question its accuracy, and have to define or re-define the criteria of its accuracy in their everyday routine. At the same time, the proliferation of the culture of distrust is a reaction to “risk situations” (U. Beck) where the concept of risk is connected with the diversification of knowledge in modern society which leaves customers incapable  of estimating the level of threat that invisible and omnipresent enemies, like GMOs or yeasts, present. This article elaborates on the role of so called “new intellectuals” in this culture of distrust.

Keywords: food, consumption, risk society, new intellectuals, culture of distrust, post-Soviet Russia.


“The Fight between Ases and Devas Runs through All Our Existence”: North-Ossetia Intellectuals’ Conspirological Imagination in Their Search for Meaning in National History

By Sergei Shtyrkov

In the contemporary Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, just as in other segments of Russian society, inter-confessional arguments often take the form of conspirological accusations against opponents. Every party — Orthodox activists, the Muslim community, and Ossetian ethnic religious revival projects — has its own conspiracy theories. The main “ideal types” proposed in this context can be understood as a conspiracy of dishonest, politically motivated academicians (“the historians’ plot”), a conspiracy of a sacerdotal corporation (“the priests’ plot”) and “the plot of (Western) intelligence services”. The popularity of these narratives can be explained by the fact that in the communication sphere of North Ossetia, every phenomenon of social life is often explained by answering the question “who needs this?” while overlooking any objective explanations based on general economic or political regularities, or a combination of them. In addition, in the Soviet tradition social life is interpreted as an overt series of consequences of the secret struggle between intelligence services and “our party”, who is not just a victim of the foreign enemy but also an active participant in the strife. These narratives and cognitive schemes can help to explain why such conspiracy theories appear, in which the hope for victory over secret enemies is not only presented as the triumph of revealed truth, but as a result of the effective work of “our” secret societies and organizations.

However, in contemporary Russia there are other informational communities that have their own interpretative practices that form specific conspiracy narratives. Thus the mental habits of some conservative Christians (Orthodox believers as well as certain evangelicals) enable them to find building blocks for their conspirological eschatology. In their narratives, there is no hope for the wisdom of good secret societies, but there is alarming inner readiness for the last trial prepared for the faithful at the Last Things.

Keywords: conspiracy theory, North Ossetia, Orthodoxy, religious traditionalism.



Review of Phillip Vannini, Jonathan Taggart, Off the Grid: Re-Assembling Domestic Life. New York: Routledge, 2015, 234 pp.

By Anastasia Karaseva

Off the Grid: Re-Assembling Domestic Life by Phillip Vannini and Jonathan Taggart is an original multimedia project, part of which is a book. The project examines the domestic practices of Canadians who chose to live autonomously in terms of energy, heat, water and food supplies, as well as wastewater and rubbish disposal. The review analyses the methodological challenges of the research, including those related to the project publicity and usage of new media. The review also gives respect to rich ethnographic descriptions and to the authors’ style of writing.

Keywords: infrastructure, domestic practises, Canada, off the grid.


Review of Daniel Kadar, Michael Haugh, Understanding Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 295 pp.

By Ekaterina Rudneva

This review provides a concise overview of the field of politeness research and investigates the approach suggested by Dániel Kádár and Michael Haugh in their work, Understanding Politeness. The book is composed of three well-structured parts (Theoretical Framework, Politeness and Time, Politeness and Social Space: from Mind to Society), and contains detailed examples of analysis within various frameworks. It provides interactive material for discussion and clear explanations of all terminology. The authors present their innovative approach to studying interaction, focusing on (im)politeness through time and social space. Understanding Politeness can be used as a study book for students majoring in pragmatics and is a must-read for politeness researchers.

Keywords: politeness, impoliteness, theories of politeness, historical (im)politeness, pragmatics.


Review of Mark Sebba, Alexandra Jaffe, Jannis Androutsopoulos, Sally Johnson (eds.), Orthography as Social Action: Scripts, Spelling, Identity and Power. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012, 392 pp.

By Elena Lubiankina

This review of Orthography as Social Action: Scripts, Spelling, Identity and Power explores the sociolinguistic implications of different aspects of writing systems. The volume was edited by Mark Sebba, Alexandra Jaffe, Jannis Androutsopoulos and Sally Johnson, and contains fourteen chapters with wide range of examples of how writing systems become an index of social relations and identities.  For a long time, orthography and written language were not included in the system of linguistic beliefs, and were neglected from a social point of view. The authors convincingly demonstrate that orthography is another level of identity representation. Based on the concept of linguistic ideology, this book shows a new focus of sociolinguistic research. The book argues that spelling contains as many social meanings as speech, and some spelling reflects the ideology, identities and stance of society or the individual language user.

Keywords: orthography, language ideology, language attitudes, spelling, graphic aspects of writing.


Review of Aleksey Konkka, Karsikko: Derevya-znaki v obryadovoy praktike i verovaniyakh pribaltiysko-finskikh narodov [Karsikko: “Tree-Signs” in Ritual Practice and Faith of the Baltic Finns]. Petrozavodsk: Petrozavodsk State University Press, 2013, 206 pp.

By Olga Fishman

This review examines the monograph оf renowned specialist in Karelian ethnography, Alexei Konkka, published in 2013. The work is dedicated to a subject extremely important in respect to academic research and very interesting from a broader historical and cultural perspective. It is the first completely original ethnological research work on karsikko or “tree-sign”, which is a distinctive phenomenon of Baltic Finnish culture, but nevertheless, rarely studied. Based on the evident universality of the plants’ cult and the World tree motif, the author chose to research the complex of beliefs, customs, and life circle rituals, as well as calendar, hunting and fishing rites, of Finns, Karelians, Saami, Estonians, etc., in which this polysemantic symbol of the spirit-protector figures. The author bases his book on over thirty years of fieldwork finding and describing the karsikko in situ from northern Norway to the Middle Volga region (in total about 1000 objects), compiling an impressive corpus of archival documentation from Russia and Finland, and research in both languages. The main result of his work is defining the territory of Northern Europe where the phenomenon in question existed. He also compares available data with sources on other regional traditions to clarify issues of origin and diachronic evolution of various forms of the “tree-sign”. In spite of inexactitudes found in his research methodology, importance of A. Konkka’s work is evident, not only for current Finno-Ugric studies, but also for European regional studies in general, mainly in those areas which have long been integrated in the international research of mythology of the Northern Eurasia.

Keywords: tree-sign, ritual culture, Baltic Finns, phenomenon, universality.



Utopias, Realities, Heritages in the Ethnographies for the 21st Century

By Nina Vlaskina, Denis Ermolin, Alexander A. Novik, Svetlana Ryzhakova, and Irina Sedakova

This review sheds light on the XII Congress of the  Société Internationale d’Ethnologie et de Folklore (SIEF) held June 21–25, 2015 in Zagreb (Croatia). One of the biggest humanitarian academic events, this Congress unites scholars in folklore and religion studies, ethnology, anthropology, sociology, and linguistics. The SIEF Congresses always scrutinise relevant contemporary themes and projects, determine the course of future research, and highlight the new issues in the field. Seventeen thematic blocks of the programme encompass almost all aspects of scientific analysis, methodological approaches, and technical tools for collecting and processing data. Besides discussions on the discipline’s long established topics (food, rituals, folk religiosity), and topics which have recently become particularly significant (identity, migrations, borders). New approaches towards the body, the political, civil and philanthropic activity and some others fields were also suggested.

Keywords: ethnography, folklore, utopia, reality, urban anthropology, performance, folk costume, identities, minorities, gender, borders, migration.