FORUM FOR ANTHROPOLOGY AND CULTUREANTROPOLOGICHESKIJ FORUM
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Antropologicheskij forum, 2019, no. 40
“EMPTY SPACE” VS. “FULL PLACE”: GENDER ASYMMETRY AS AN EXPRESSION OF “FOLK BINARISM” IN THE REINDEER HUSBANDRY PART OF THE KOLA PENINSULA (NORTHWEST RUSSIA)
Abstract: The paper addresses a local expression of gender asymmetry: the absence of women in the reindeer husbandry of the Kola Peninsula (Northwest Russia). Longitudinal field-based research in the Kola tundra points to the presence of a boundary rarely crossed by women. The radicalism of this divide and the nature of its construction and sustained presence weakens a thesis in the “culture / nature” debate; namely, that the exploitation of Cartesian binaries is part of the exclusive agency of empowered subjects in a strategy of domination. We argue, instead, for a recognition of the informing role of binary constructivism “from below” (“folk binarism”). We show that the gender asymmetry and absence of family life in tundra herding camps is critically connected with a prevalent association of “empty space”—and the impossibility of family life—with the roadless tundra land. Gender asymmetry and the resulting masculinization of reindeer husbandry in the Kola reveals, in this way, the robustness of folk binaries. The latter offer themselves to selective exploitation by empowered subjects in association rather than dissociation between elite and grassroots actors. We conclude that the anti-binarism critique can be made more sophisticated by recognizing the informing role of folk binarisms in the sustainment of “culture / nature” and similar post-Cartesian binary oppositions.
Keywords: Cartesian binaries, gender asymmetry, culture / nature debate, reindeer husbandry, Murmansk Region.
Acknowledgements: Research work in Murmansk Region was supported by the Research Grant “Post-soviet sovkhoism: ways and possibilities of transformation (the case of reindeer husbandry in the Arctic zone of European Russia)”, RFFI-federal рroject no. 17-01-00084 (2017–2019).
To cite: Konstantinov Yu., Ryzhkova I., ‘“Pustoe prostranstvo” i “zapolnennoe mesto”: gendernaya asimmetriya kak proyavlenie “narodnogo binarizma” v olenevodcheskoy chasti Kolskogo poluostrova’ [“Empty Space” vs. “Full Place”: Gender Asymmetry as an Expression of “Folk Binarism” in the Reindeer Husbandry Part of the Kola Peninsula (Northwest Russia)], Antropologicheskij forum, 2019, no. 40, pp. 87–114.
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