My Dissertation Research

Towards the end of the Indigenous Policy Research Project (August 1997) I matriculated full time into the Curriculum in Ecology Doctoral Program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Under the guidance of my doctoral advisor, Bruce Winterhalder, I began to focus more on the human-ecological aspects of contemporary Viliui Sakha survival. Over the next two years of intensive coursework in cultural ecology, environmental anthropology, quantitative and qualitative research methods, geography, and environmental policy, I developed an interdisciplinary dissertation research project, "The Cultural Ecology of a Post-Socialist Society: The Case of the Viliui Sakha." The focus of my dissertation research was to analyze how Viliui Sakha are adapting, on a household food production level, since the fall of the Soviet Union. The project was designed to draw on my broad background in ecology, anthropology, economics, environmental science, geography, folklore, statistics and sociology as well as fluency in both the native Sakha and Russian languages. I planned to 1) assess contemporary Viliui Sakha subsistence strategies by gathering and analyzing qualitative and quantitative field data, 2) interpret the past by documenting Sakha elders’ life histories, and 3) analyze the macro-economics of village-level decentralization trends and state-level policy initiatives.

With funding from a National Science Foundation (NSF) Dissertation Improvement Award, a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Research Abroad Award, a Social Science Research Council (SSRC) International Dissertation Field Research Fellowship, and an International Research & Exchange Board (IREX) Individual Advanced Research Award, in July of 1999, I relocated myself and family for a year of research in the Elgeeii village.For that year of field research, until July 2000, I employed a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, including household surveys and time allocation observations, both of a 30% random sample of all households in two Viliui Sakha villages (n=289), weekly diarying with 11 households, 54 elder life history interviews, archival research, and specialist interviews. In this way my research not only brings a new angle to the study of post-socialist Siberian peoples, but also advocates for a renewal of diversified methodological practice in the social sciences. This research also drew upon my broad interdisciplinary background and fluency in both the native Sakha and Russian languages.

I found that since the Soviet break-up the focus of survival has gone from dependence on the socialist infrastructure for employment and consumer goods to dependence on household-level production relying on a system I call “cows-and-kin.” The meat and milk products of cows are the Sakhas’ staple foods. Kin is the social mechanism by which all households gain access to those products. At present 90% of all households are self-sufficient for their cow products whereas in 1992 only 10% were. Additionally, 10% of all households generate substantial income through entrepreneurial efforts for a local market. In sum, the contemporary trend of cows-and-kin survival strategies is both a return to traditional subsistence strategies and a move forward into modern entrepreneurial endeavors.

I interpret this shift in terms of Robert Netting’s (1993) hypothesis that the intensive agricultural household system has both integrity and longevity across ethnic, political, and geographic bounds. This resilience is due to the household unit acting as 1) a repository of ecological knowledge; 2) a joint enterprise entailing a strong work ethic and specialization of work by gender, and, 3) a system based in implicit contracts that bind inter-generational household members. My research represents the first cultural ecology analysis of Viliui Sakha and tests Netting’s theory of the tenacity of the agricultural household in a sub-arctic environment. This argument is made in my 2003 article in Human Ecology. [pdf]

My research also addresses the past including changes in settlement patterns and subsistence adaptations by documenting Sakha elders’ life histories (This argument is made in my 2003 article in Arctic Anthropology). I also analyze data pertaining to the contemporary redistribution of local resources including land use (See my 2003 article in Europe -Asia Studies). [pdf] I present complete context analysis of the environmental and socio-cultural impacts due to intensive diamond mining in a subarctic ecosystem and the impediments to civil society in the post-Soviet context, through a case study analysis in my article, "Co-option in Siberia: The Case of Diamonds and the Viliui Sakha," in Polar Geography. [pdf] For a copy of my dissertation email me. I completed a monograph in Fall 2006 entitled Cows, Kin and Globalization: An Ethnography of Sustainability, which posits the Viliui Sakha ethnography within the larger literature of indigenous peoples and capital-intensive mining.

Click HERE to see the cover matter of my book and use the link below to my book on the Alta Mira Press website:^DB/CATALOG.db&eqSKUdata=0759107408&thepassedurl=[thepassedurl]

In sum, what I concluded is that Viliui Sakha have adapted to the post-socialist context by developing a household and inter-household food production system I term "cows-and-kin," an adaptation based on the retrieval of horse and cattle agropastoralist production knowledge, the revival of ecological knowledge and a reliance on kin for the pooling of resources, products and labor. This system is historically-founded, environmentally sound and culturally resilient, and offers an immediate mode of food production for contemporary rural Viliui Sakha.