Conversations with Power: Soviet & post-Soviet developments in the reindeer husbandry part of the Kola Peninsula

Uppsala Studies in Cultural Anthropology No. 56

Parables and Rhetoric in the Sermon on the Mount

By: Yulian Konstantinov
December 2015
Uppsala University
Distributed by Coronet Books
ISBN: 9789155491505
417 Pages, Illustrated
$89.50 Paper original


The book examines the way people talk with power – and power talks back to them – in the context of authoritarian state regimes, the Soviet/Russian one being the case in point. My claim is, in the first place, that there does exist such a conversation. I thus strongly resist the reading of recent Soviet history in terms of people’s mute and passive subordination to crushing imposition of power, or at best – of forms of indirect resistance or escapism. Instead, my claim is that multi-layered communication between the pinnacle and the broad base of the social pyramid was part and parcel of the identity of the Soviet period all along.

As it is argued in the book, grassroots-with-power communication in the Soviet and post-Soviet context reflects a will and corresponding practice for a continuously re-negotiated arrangement with power. Its principal thrust is the establishing of a grassroots-to-power tensed compromise over such fundamentally critical issues like existential security and a degree of well-being. I argue for the presence of effective grassroots’ agentivity in the Soviet/post-Soviet context. To examine it I turn special attention to the period of enforced collectivisation of agriculture (1929-1934) in the context of the reindeer husbandry economy of what is today Murmansk Region of NW Russia. My specific ethnography takes a reindeer husbandry practice of mixing private and collective reindeer as a metaphorical expression of a risk-free socioeconomic arrangement I call ‘sovkhoizm’. My general conclusion is that a socioeconomic and political environment that has sovkhoizm as a principal worldview presents serious communicative obstacles as regards a generalized ‘western’ attempt, over the last two decades, for constructive dialogue on, particularly, the Sami indgeneity issue.

The ethnographic basis of the study comes from long-term fieldwork with Sami and Komi reindeer husbandry teams in Lovozero District, Murmansk Region.