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Vladimir Davydov, People on the Move : Development Projects and the Use of Space by Northern Baikal Reindeer Herders, Hunters and Fishermen

Vladimir Davydov

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Defended 18 January 2012 at the University of Aberdeen. Commitee : Prof. David Anderson and Dr. Alex King. (supervisors), Dr. Peter Jordan (University of Aberdeen) and Dr. Patty Gray (National University of Ireland, Maynooth).

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1This thesis is based on eleven months of fieldwork in the Evenki village of Kholodnaia in the Severobaikal’skii raion of the republic of Buriatiia and five months of archival research in St. Petersburg, Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude from 2007 to 2009. This work is about the mobility of northern Baikal hunters, reindeer herders and fishermen and their engagement with living in the world through the structures they build and use in the context of social change. The primary theme of this thesis is to investigate how the spatial and temporal pattern of their everyday practices changed in the context of numerous development projects which took place in the region and how these people creatively incorporated these innovations into their way of life. This dissertation advocates the perspective of locality where the relations are being formed through the collaboration and interaction of people who inhabit the same landscape. The northern Baikal area is now inhabited by different groups of people whose genesis has a complex character. Primarily, the local population was formed through the migrations, resettlements and incorporation of people whose forefathers were representatives of several Evenki (Tungus) and Buriat clans. The relations of these groups as well as how they use space cannot be described through the use of the scheme based on the strict boundary between ‘indigenous population’ and ‘newcomers’.

2It is obvious that reindeer herding and hunting correlate with intensive movements around local spaces. Commonly, people involved in these activities do not stay in one place for a long period of time. However, local hunters and reindeer herders always encountered various forms of spatial management designed by the state. Furthermore, administrators always spread their vision of how local people should move across the taiga. In other words, they always tried to control local ways of using spaces and local people’s movements within them. However, this control was not always equally effective in all places, and the way local people used space did not satisfy the ideal schemes proposed by the state administrators. State authorities introduced new architecture, as well as administrative units, but local people tried adjusting their movements to all these innovations. This work suggests a shift from the ‘static perspective’ where local people’s spatial practices were analysed through the prism of their relationship to a particular stationary structure, such as a village or a hunter’s base to a dynamic one where a structure is interpreted as embedded in a complex network of movements connecting a number of locations. The houses or hunting log cabins that local people use within their routine do not exist separately from other practices. ‘Life in the village’ and ‘life in the taiga’ should be seen not as contrasting ways of life but rather as complementary experiences. Labelling local people either as ‘taiga dwellers’ or ‘sedentary villagers’ reduces their ‘life world’ to an asymmetrical view representing hegemony of the forest or the settlement over their daily experience. In order to understand how these people live, one should not try to answer the question how an entity like a village, a hunters’ base or a fur-farm can exist. Instead one can imagine them as tangled complexes of spare parts and relationships. In this sense, the village can be interpreted as a linguistic term symbolising both social relationships and access to capital resources that people need to survive.

3This work suggests that hunters’ and reindeer herders’ way of life should be analysed through the prism of everyday practices that imply movements through the village and a large number of surrounding places. It attempts to shift the main focus of research on reindeer herders and hunters, from an analysis of the differences between ‘life in village’ and ‘life in the taiga’, to an examination of their everyday practices in the context of movement across numerous locations. Therefore, this thesis approaches northern Baikal hunters and reindeer herders as people settled neither in the village nor in the forest, but rather as people moving in-between structures, which are not necessarily concentrated in one particular place. It analyses some spaces that are intensively used and others that are used occasionally or seasonally without creating a dichotomy.

4The northern Baikal region has long been the focus of extractive industry and intensive development projects such as the Northern Baikal Diversified Geological Survey. Even though state officials became proponents of the policy of ‘sedentarisation’, they employed both Evenki knowledge and movements in their projects. Local people became incorporated into these projects through employment and the intensive relations with newcomers and managed to adjust most of innovations to the modes and trajectories of their movements. In this context, hunters’ and reindeer herders’ periodic visits to new structures and settlements cannot be seen just as a factor, which was imposed from the outside. They became the places where these people exchanged not only commodities but also knowledge.

5The local people’s way of life demonstrates a certain continuity. They always combined the use of stationary and mobile architecture as well as movements of different length with their daily tasks. Local people’s everyday practices were always based on intensive movements between numerous locations which functioned as points of constant return. In this dissertation, I have tried to deconstruct the ‘settlement-centred view’ or ‘static perspective’, which predetermined the analysis of how people use space and saw village and the taiga as two different domains of their experience. This dissertation work is an attempt to deconstruct some objects that at first glance look static but are in fact teeming with life. I have argued that local people do not use stationary structures in Kholodnaia because they became ‘settled’. Rather, they use them as temporary destinations within their movements and because they move. Therefore, stationary structures, as well as infrastructure, which people use, should not be seen as an opposition to the landscape but can be interpreted as parts of the environment, which people continuously use on the move. I have shown in this work how local people managed to incorporate numerous innovations and development projects by means of movements and for the purpose of movements. For instance, in the post-Soviet period they cannibalised former sovkhoz (state-owned farm) property by making the parts of abandoned immobile structures mobile by transporting them to other places in order to re-use and create new buildings and objects. Hence, movements can be interpreted as a creative process which serves as an expression of local people’s own ideas and views. This is a thesis about people for whom to move means to live.

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Vladimir Davydov, « Vladimir Davydov, People on the Move : Development Projects and the Use of Space by Northern Baikal Reindeer Herders, Hunters and Fishermen »Études mongoles et sibériennes, centrasiatiques et tibétaines [En ligne], 43-44 | 2013, mis en ligne le 20 septembre 2013, consulté le 19 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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