Boreas: MOVE

Lives on the Move: Social Spaces and Systems of Inequality among "Vakhtoviki“

Dissertation project affiliated to MOVE-INNOCOM


Gertrude Eilmsteiner-Saxinger (, Department of Geography and Regional Research, U of Vienna (A)

The dissertation is supervised by Prof. Peter P. Schweitzer ( at the Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology, U of Vienna (A) and an affiliated project to BOREAS MOVE-INNOCOM with project leader Florian Stammler (

The dissertation is financed by: several small grants of the U of Vienna 2007-2010 (KWA, KT, Förderstipendium, Forschungsstipendium), the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Dissertation Award in Migration Studies 2007), the Austrian Research Association ÖFG (MOEL-Plus 3-months-Stipend 2008-2009), private (no-corporate) funds. Since 2010 fully funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF)[P220666-G17] within "Lives on the Move" at the Dep. of Geography and Regional Research, U of Vienna (

Dissertion Abstract

Who are the people behind the extraction processes of crude oil and natural gas in the Russian Federation? This research project takes an ethnographic look from the individual and community perspective on the complex inter-relation of natural resources and social-spatial particularities in north-western Siberia, where the most important oil and gas deposits of Russia are located.

    The lives of long-distance commute workers (LDC) - "Vakhtoviki" in Russian language - are shaped by three meaningful social spaces HOME – JOURNEY – ON DUTY. A relational social-spatial theoretical approach allows the material, physical and socio-economically characterised spatial structure to be linked with the agency and responses of the people involved.

    Vakhtoviki have become an increasingly important work force due to the fact that hydrocarbon extraction sites are continuously shifting northwards beyond the polar circle and further away from northern urban settlements.

    Long-distance commute work is also known as fly-in/fly-out (FIFO); in rare cases rail-in/rail out and, in Russian "vakhtovy metod". Whereas inter-regional LDC from southern and central parts of the RF make journeys of up to several thousand kilometres, the intra-regional LDC are permanent residents of base towns near oil and gas-fields, but the latter may still commute over several hundreds of kilometres. Both groups work on shift rosters, i.e. 30, 45 or 60 days on shift with perhaps 30 days of recreation.
    Understanding the coping strategies, motivation for and resistance toward long-distance commute work forms a crucial basis for perspectives on labour potentials in a sector where demand for highly skilled workers is enormous. Some LDC describe their lives as split “into two halves” and others as leading “double lives”. The reason for that is not the mere physical separation of a life at HOME and a life ON DUTY. Workers are drawn into different social settings with their own rules and customs, joys, hardships, expectations, hierarchies and obligations.

    The aim of this dissertation is to provide an ethnography of Vakhtoviki´s mobile livelihoods. The narrative qualitative empirical approach provides on the one hand comprehensive insight to the manifold practices of making a livelihood on the move. My theoretical task is to explore the social spatial dimension of the practice of integration of meaningful social spaces that structures lives and agency of Vakhtoviki.  This basic theoretical contextualisation may apply to LDC regardless of where it takes place in the world.

North: Novy Urengoj, Nadym, Yamburg (YANAO) and Surgut, Nizhnevartovsk, Raduzhny, Pyt-Yakh (KMAO) Central and southern Russia: Republic of Chuvashia, Republic of Mari El, Republic of Bashkortostan Mobile field-work: travelling together with vakhtoviki on commuter trains

Notes on the affiliation to BOREAS MOVE INNOCOM:

Peter Schweitzer has been already my inspiring supervisor for my master thesis on “Systems of Inequality – life-plans of students at universities in Moscow” in 2004 at the U of Vienna. He is again the supervisor of my dissertation. Thanks to him, I was introduced to the research groups of BOREAS-MOVE what has provided indispensible scientific exchang

I was lucky to meet Florian Stammler from BOREAS MOVE INNOCOM, Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi, who introduced me to his MOVE-INNOCOM field-site in Novy Urengoy. Together with partners in my dissertation project, the Novy Urengoy Branch of the Tyumen State University, Florian and I organised the conference on “Life,Labourand Socialisation in a Northern Industrial City” in December 2008.  See Florian´s conference report and impressions (

    Aside from scientific success, the conference provided the opportunity for MOVE collaborators and affiliates from the US, Finland, Austria, Russia and Germany to exchange ideas and intermediate results face to face.

The conference volume, ed. by Stammler and Eilmsteiner-Saxinger, is available online (3,5 MB)
 at the Arctic Centre Rovaniemi ( and at the Dep. of Geography, Unit Applied Geography and Spatial Research (Prof. Fassmann) (

Based on my field-results I had the opportunity to develop a broader research project with Prof. Heinz Fassmann, migration expert, as the project leader:   "Lives on the Move: Vakhtoviki in north-western Siberia - A qualitative empirical account of long-distance commute Work in the Russian Federation´s oil and gas industries" (
 "Lives on the Move" is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) [ 22066-G 17] and located at the  the Department of Geography and Regional Research at the U of Vienna, Austria ( The project involves 3 full time employees and 4 contract workers. 

"Lives on the Move" includes, additional to the anthropological, 2 more aspects which are relevant to cover LDC as labour organisation system in a broader sense: the political and economic macro-level dimension as well as the historical dimension from the period onwards when LDC was in north-western Siberia introduced systematically in the 1970s. The latter is covered by Elisabeth Öfner; the first by Elena Nuikina.

Thanks to the close networking opportunities within BOREAS MOVE I got in touch with Elena Nuykina who did her excellent MA with MOVE INNOCOM in Finland. She is now with us in Vienna at "Lives on the Move" and covers the macro-level aspects of LDC; the political and economic.

The Vienna team is member of the Austrian Working Group Arctic and Sub-Arctic (A.A.S.) (

Download the dissertation poster with a map of the field sites and commuters´s routs, research questions, methodology and preliminary results:


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