Boreas: MOVE

Administrative Resettlement and Community Futures in Northeast Russia

Funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
PI Dr. Elena Khlinovskaya Rockhill
Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, Canada

Based at the University of Alberta, this research project examines problems of individual agency and community fabric, focusing on the majority settler population of Russia’s Far Northeast, in the context of rapid de-industrialisation and managed depopulation. With primary fieldsites in Magadan and Moscow, this program of research is situated to follow World Bank and Russian Federal Government northern restructuring initiatives, which promised to remove or relocate as many as 600,000 non-indigenous residents to address overpopulation and create more “viable” and “sustainable” communities. These projects were formalising a de facto process of spontaneous population decline in progress since the collapse of northern living standards beginning in 1991. They likewise signal a critical turning point in traditional (Soviet) policies of northern development through mass settlement, with profound implications for the future of settler and indigenous communities alike in Russia’s Far North. Our interest lies in gauging the reception of restructuring policy in local contexts, by developing an actor-oriented analysis of adaptation strategies and social capital in communities experiencing migration-related flux.

Justifications for northern restructuring and resettlement at all levels of government rest on a broad consensus among policy makers that interests of the state and of northern populations converge in finding sustainable patterns of settlement and development (ustoichivoe razvitie). This project aims to provide not only a top-down account of emerging Russian state policy on the northern industrial population, but also an ethnographically rich analysis of its reception and effects in local human settings. Animated by the ambition (constituting a common aim of the entire CRP) to link survival and livelihood to the condition of migrancy in theoretical terms, this research will exploit the opportunity afforded by impending relocation projects in the Russian northeast to explore:

  • Local responses to resettlement pressures and opportunities (the manner in which state policy is adapted and appropriated in response to site-specific needs and local agency)
  • The coping strategies of actors and communities in movement (in particular, the manner in which forms of social capital and community identity are preserved or lost as people resettle)
  • Sentiments of belonging in place, versus the desire for mobility among local actors, leading to an understanding of how people living in conditions of northern isolation derive power by balancing mobility and rootedness.
  • Mobility as an ingredient in the construction of individual and group identities (how histories of movement serve as a basis for self-understanding)

A focus on the industrial settler population offers an exceptional opportunity to study the tension between place and mobility, which is so fundamental to human experience generally in the North. The outcomes promise to be of vital practical interest to all stakeholders in northern restructuring.