Nature in State Discourse and Everyday Life Practices in the Industrialized Russian North

The proposed dissertation project is mostly related to the ongoing research project at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, funded by the Academy of Finland during 2007-2008, Assessing senses of place, mobility and viability in industrial northern communities (MOVE-INNOCOM), project leader Dr. Florian Stammler. It is also based on my previous research projects (articles 1 and 2, see below), realized during 2003-2006 at the Centre for Independent Social Research, St. Petersburg, Russia and the Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society, Graz, Austria.
Nowadays the majority of the population in northern Russia lives in industrial cities established between the 1930s and 1970s. Intensive industrialization of the Russian northern expanses started in the end of 1920s and went with incredible speed. It was oriented mainly on quick extraction of mineral resources. The problem of work force in the scarcely populated northern territories was solved by the soviet authorities by enormous forced and voluntary relocation of people from all regions of the USSR. Forced measures for populating the north were supplemented by ideological campaigns, which included ideas of conquest of nature and struggle with nature. The hegemonic discourse of conquest of Nature developed in the official soviet rhetoric was defining nature as meaningless unless it was exploited for human needs.
Many new-comers who were sent to industrialize the Soviet North did not fully string along with the state in the soviet pathos of nature conquest. For many of them interaction with northern natural environments took an important place in biographical experiences.  For these new-comers, creating a new ‘built’ environment also showed an important part of their understanding of ‘humanity’ as being separate from ‘nature’, whereas for indigenous people of the region, ‘humanity’ would be proved more by ‘being part’ of the environment.
This project deals with interpretations of natural environment, characteristic for the Soviet/Russian society, combining two perspectives: on the one hand, I analyze the official discourse and practice of mineral resources explorations and management in the North, on the other hand, I consider everyday life practices of dealing with nature, typical for several key groups.
Interactions between people and natural environments are among the important topics for research in some fields of sociology and social anthropology. There is a significant amount of anthropological research investigating interactions with nature/ perceptions of nature by indigenous people (e.g. Ingold 2000, Anderson 2000, Vitebsky 2005). Most of the sociological research is either concentrated on general trends in relations between society-nature or focused on environmentalists, environmental activists – people who are deeply involved in nature protection and conservation (e.g. Macnaghten and Urry 1998, Eder 1996, Hannigan 2006). In this project I focus on non-indigenous communities, combining an analysis of the soviet official discourse on nature with empirical research on interactions with natural environments in everyday life of people (choosing groups that are not involved in nature protection).
The slogans on the conquest and subjection of nature were among the most important ideological frames of the Soviet state. Underlying was the basic conviction of the separation of humans and nature, and a nature-culture opposition. The idea of human dominance over nature, and the call for humans to subdue, modify and reconstruct a chaotic and meaningless nature in order to regulate natural processes supplemented the overarching goal of a total reconstruction of the social order, making for an intrinsic link between state policy and the ideology of conquering nature in the USSR.
Representations of nature produced in the official discourse, and regimes of natural resource use supported by the state do not provide a picture about how people interact with nature in everyday life. I explore the understanding of the concept of nature among people as to what extent they enact the separation of culture from nature that was and is promoted by the state, and where do they rather develop a holistic approach to nature, part of which are humans as well as the built environment. Most of the non-indigenous people in the Russian North think about nature as something clean, pristine, unspoilt, possibly wild, and it is this kind of nature that is the interaction partner when people talk about ‘being in nature’.
Two different modes of being in nature are characteristic for non-indigenous communities: long-term stays in nature in scientific expeditions (geologists and guides), and short-term trips to nature in leisure time (inhabitants of industrial cities). Long-term stays in nature and living there in a small community of a geological expedition provide an interesting case study on interactions with natural environments. I reconstruct interpretations of nature characteristic for field geologists, based on analysis of autobiographies of professional geologists and interviews with geologists who had worked in expeditions during Soviet times. Short-term trips to nature in leisure time made by inhabitants of northern industrial cities represent a significantly different mode of interaction with nature. In this case people go out of cities to spend some leisure time in natural areas. This is the most popular type of leisure in the Russian north. People go with families or/and friends to collect berries and mushrooms, to fish and live in tents for several days.I also plan to explore how ‘being in their city’ is for people different from ‘being in nature’, in order to understand how they see the divide between nature and culture.