Antropologicheskij forum. 2016. No. 30. Summaries and keywords

Forum: The Anthropologist and the Community

Replies by Meghanne Barker, Olga Boitsova, Andrey Vozyanov, Daria Dubovka, Alexandra Kasatkina, Justine Buck Quijada, Sonja Luehrmann, Elli Ponomareva, Tova Hojdestrand, Sergey Shtyrkov

This “Forum” (written round-table) addresses the complex questions raised by sharing research findings and materials with the community under study. A central question in fieldwork relates to the “sharing” or “repatriation” of research materials (“member check” also known as interviewee transcript review, respondent validation, and so on).

Participants of the “Forum” answered the following questions: Should the issue of “repatriation” (as a possible or obligatory step) be addressed in preliminary planning of the project? What kind of conflicts may be caused by the “repatriation” of research results and materials? What are the possible benefits to an anthropological investigation of “repatriation”? What results and materials should be “repatriated” to the community under study? What form should the “repatriation” take? Should the decisions about this be made by the researcher, their research subjects, or some third party?

Keywords: anthropology, community, field ethics, sharing, repatriation, member check, interviewee transcript review, respondent validation.



“Black and White”: A History of an Aborted Project

By Galina Lapina

In 1931 Mezhrabpomfilm, a Soviet-German film studio financed by Comintern, came up with the idea of producing a propaganda feature film Black and White about racism in the United States and invited a group of Afro-Americans to take part in the production. The arrival of the film group that included Langston Hughes and other young intellectuals was widely discussed in the leftist American press and used by the Soviet propaganda apparatus to promote the image of the USSR as the defender of the oppressed minorities. The production was abruptly stopped by order of the Politburo, because the project had been found to be offensive by influential American professionals and businessmen participating in the industrialisation of the USSR and interested in establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries. Although Soviet authorities tried to hide the truth about the sudden abandonment of the project, several members of the group did not believe official explanations and were loud in their protests against the cancellation of the film, accusing party leadership of compromising with American imperialism and betraying a progressive ideology for the sake of pragmatic interests. Nevertheless, the majority of the members of the film group chose not to support the protest and agreed with the official version.

Keywords: “Black and White”, racism, Soviet-American relations, communist propaganda, film, Langston Hughes.


“A Universally Recognised Mistake in City Planning”: The Debates on Development of the Haymarket Square in St Petersburg, 1961–1980 in the Light of Architectural Anthropology

By Catriona Kelly

Studies of Soviet architecture tend to focus primarily on ideology and symbology, and attention to human agency is limited to ruling elites and world-famous architects. On the other hand, the anthropology of architecture has been preoccupied primarily with the use of buildings after they are constructed, and with the disposition of space and employment of furnishings, rather than a building’s strictly architectural features. This article attempts a fusion of the two approaches in order to produce a more holistic model of the use of city space. It focuses on Haymarket Square (known from 1952 as Peace Square), one of Leningrad/St Petersburg’s central and most famous urban arenas. The article looks in detail about the debates around what to do with this space, whose pre-revolutionary architecture was in many respects unsatisfactory, in the eyes of Soviet planners. The square lacked the harmonious homogeneity that was the preferred ideal (the ansambl, as manifested particularly in the work of Carlo Rossi), and on it stood buildings that were unacceptable to Soviet taste — in styles that were considered ugly, or with abject functions (such as the market halls, or the large domed church of the Saviour on the Haymarket, originally from the eighteenth century, but with additions and modifications, and without a saving attribution to a famous architect). The article looks in particular at the events surrounding the church’s demolition in 1961. It argues that there is little contemporary evidence for the frequent claims that this excited widespread indignation, and that such claims are a back-projection on to the Khrushchev era of the upsurge of interest in historic buildings generally, and churches specifically, that characterised the Brezhnev years. It demonstrates that by the mid-1970s, it was standard to acknowledge that the demolition of the Saviour on the Haymarket had been a disastrous mistake, and even to call for the reconstruction of the church, or at the very least its bell-tower. At the same time, consensus to this solution proved impossible to foster, and as of the mid-2010s, rebuilding of the church still remained an as yet unrealized project. The arguments that have raged round this particular city district help illuminate the social fluidity of urban spaces in late socialist cities and the very different attitudes of the groups that made use of them.

Keywords: architecture, city planning, church-state relations, Soviet history, monument preservation in the USSR, anthropology of architecture, late socialism, the history of Leningrad and St Petersburg, urban studies.


Living Space and Things in a Professional Context: A Study of Gardeners’ Houses in Bamberg

By Julia Buchatskaya

The focus of this article are the things in professional gardeners’ houses in Bamberg (“Bamberger Gartner”) and their relationship with group identity. The identity of gardeners is multidimensional, it includes professional, confessional, and local aspects. The professional aspect of identity is the most important because of the rareness of this disappearing form of employment. The purpose of this article is to trace the objectification of professional identity in decorative things, and to find out what interlocutors say about these things and their relationship to the professional context. Gardeners’ houses are anthropologically interesting because they unite private and work rooms, living and professional space. Therefore, the concept of “ethnography of living rooms” can be applied to their analysis. The concept is based on Pierre Bourdieu’s theories about social distinction, as well as the semiotic approaches, such as Jean Baudrillard’s concept of things, and also Tatjana Shchepanskaya’s approach in her analysis of professional space and the symbolic function of the objects in it.

Living rooms, halls, and house shops have a representative function because they are indented for visitors, but at the same time, are private rooms of the internal sphere of a family. In these rooms, groups of objects such as photos, religious objects, various documents and texts, the reduced copies of traditional instruments, small figures and souvenir products symbolic of the profession, ancient craft products and works of art were analysed.

The author’s conclusion is that decorative objects in representational rooms represent the owner’s identity outward, and at the same time, create the internal atmosphere expressed in a special national phenomenon of “German cosiness”. Because of the author’s special interest in gardeners of Bamberg as a professional group, informants commented on all things in a professional context.

Keywords: living room, living space, things, decorative objects, profession, identity, gardeners of Bamberg.


Anthropology of Politeness: Cultural and Local Interaction Norms

By Ekaterina Rudneva

Politeness is claimed to be a universal mechanism of conflict avoidance and relational work. However, some politeness norms vary across cultures and communities of practice. The goal of this article is to investigate the local interaction norms of two workplaces. To collect data, I mainly used audio and video recordings of daily conversations in two companies, which I was also observing either as a participant or as a guest. The second step was interviewing people in order to understand their views of (im)polite interactions. The data in the article is analysed using Brown and Levinson’s framework combined with the so-called discursive approach, which aims to focus on naturally-occurring data and native speakers’ evaluations. Some politeness norms like using intimate address forms in one company or swear words in the other, are specific to the particular community of practice. This article shows that the key feature of Russian politeness between colleagues is demonstrating solidarity and favouring positive politeness strategies.

Keywords: politeness, linguistic politeness, natural interaction, local norms, communication in the workplace.



Review of Constance Classen, The Deepest Sense: A Cultural History of Touch. Urbana; Chicago; Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2012, xvii + 227 pp.

By Maria Pirogovskaya

“The Deepest Sense: A Cultural History of Touch”, a monograph by Canadian scholar Constance Classen, explores certain cultural contexts of touch in the Middle Ages and early modern era in Europe. The author questions the popular schema of the cultural evolution of the senses “from basic medieval touch to modern dominance of sight” and seeks to demonstrate more complex and versatile dynamics of tactile practices. The review problematises synchronic and diachronic approaches to the cultural study of touch and discusses the principles of data choice and analysis in the history and anthropology of the senses.

Keywords: anthropology of the senses, tactility, cultural history, modern society.


Review of Francesca Stella, Lesbian Lives in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia. Post/Socialism and Gender Sexualities. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 189 pp.

By Irina Roldugina

This review considers the Glasgow-based sociologist Francesca Stella’s recently published book on Soviet and Post-Soviet lesbians in contemporary Russia. Stella’s research was based on 71 interviews she conducted with Russian non-heterosexual women from Moscow and the relatively small provincial city of Ulianovsk. The main questions the author posed are significant. What does it mean to socialise as a lesbian in late Soviet Russia and is a typical social life possible at all? What kinds of specific traits include “home” as a symbolically meaningful space for Russian lesbians? How should one to perceive the “coming out” practice within the Russian context, and does it have the same value and outcome as the Western phenomenon? Stella specifically notes that she would like to avoid direct comparison when discussing Western and non-Western homosexual paradigms in order to analyse Russian lesbian experience in a more nuanced way. She is not, however, completely successful in doing so. Being extremely considerate toward her sources and focusing mainly on the context (“home”, “work”, “street”), Stella fails to achieve a critical analysis of lesbians’ own experience and way of thinking, which leads to the very exoticisation that she sought to avoid at the beginning. Nonetheless, this book is a valuable study and one among very few works, specifically focusing on Russian lesbians.

Keywords: homosexuality, USSR, lesbians, LGBT, gender.


Review of Ashley M. L. Brown, Sexuality in Role-Playing Games. New York; London: Routledge, 2015, 148 pp.

By Olga Vorobyova

Ashley Brown’s monograph Sexuality in Role-playing Games is dedicated to the analysis of erotic and sexual behaviour of players and their characters in video and tabletop role-playing games. The author focuses on players’ motivation to construct erotic contexts for their characters during the play, on regulation of in-game sexual behaviour with external (made by game designers) and internal (made by the players themselves) rules, and on the influence of characters’ sexual behaviour on their players’ off-game daily sexuality. The conclusion of the research claims that characters’ sexual interaction is used as an integral part of more general plots to enrich the role-playing storyline and the relationships between the characters, rather than to provide off-game sexual satisfaction for the players. Besides the analysis of the book, this review observes the new field of game studies and the application of the results of video and tabletop role-playing to live-action role-playing games.

Keywords: sexuality, game studies, RPG, video role-playing games, tabletop role-playing games.


Review of Alexandra Arkhipova, Radio OBS, ptitsa Oblomingo i drugie yazykovye igry v sovremennom folklore [Radio OBS, Bird Oblomingo and Other Language Games in Modern Folklore]. Moscow: Forum, 2015, 172 pp.

By Victoria Chervaneva

Alexandra Arkhipova’s book presents the results of study of language games in the speech practice of carriers of folklore. It examines phenomena of two types — firstly, abbreviation and its gaming use in modern folklore forms and, secondly, onomastic code in the context of language game. The author focuses on the role of verbal units in the creation of the folklore text, and their text-forming potential. Coverage of the material is extremely broad — the author finds stable locutions, which then become folkloric elements, not only in folklore texts, but in colloquial speech. Much of the work is devoted to the history of appearance and occurrence in usage of various idioms and thus is an example of diachronic sociolinguistic studies of phraseology.

Keywords: language of folklore, language game, mechanisms of textualisation, folkloric formula.


Review of Alexandra Arkhipova, Radio OBS, ptitsa Oblomingo i drugie yazykovye igry v sovremennom folklore [Radio OBS, Bird Oblomingo and Other Language Games in Modern Folklore]. Moscow: Forum, 2015, 172 pp.

By Mikhail Stroganov

The monograph of Arhipova, who is well-recognised as the author of a range of publications about modern folklore’s forms, is concerned with the facts she designates as the language game, but which do not stay fairly within the traditional category of the calembour (though this word was not used in the work). The absence of a theory that might explain this phenomenon impacts the arrangment of certain facts and the search for its historical roots. It appears to be, calembour, or pun, is a phenomenon of no modern folklore’s view, but it is just one of the most important conditions for the language’s existence. Unfortunately, the author did not interpret these issues in her work.

Keywords: language game, calembour, abridgement, abbreviation, polysemy.