My Research

Here I am with Marusa and Olga, two of my main consultants in the tiny hamlet of Tumul, Suntar Region, Sakha Republic

Since 1988 I have conducted research in Russia, primarily in Siberia,  with an increasing focus on collaborations across the eight circumpolar countries. I also have a growing research agenda in North America, since 2004. I practice qualitative and quantitative research methods that bring to light the cultural contexts and intricacies of “the local.” I uphold that one of the most vital ways to understand global issues is by focusing on the local, specifically on the ways in which individuals, households, communities, and regional groups orient themselves to and interact with their environment, each other, and their world. With such an intimate understanding of the local, knowledge can be tested for its generalizability in other similar and not so similar contexts.
I began research in Russia in 1988 because of my fascination with the people and the ecosystems of Siberia, especially in the Lake Baikal area. From 1988 to 1991 I conducted ethnographic and environmental research in southern Siberia including Tuva, Buryatia, and Mongolia and in parts of western Russia, Ukraine, and Kalmykia. Click HERE for background of research in Russia.
Since 1991 I have focused my Russia research working with Viliui Sakha, native agropastoralists of western Sakha Republic, northeastern Siberia, Russia. For my Master’s research I analyzed the contemporary form of the Sakhas’ annual summer yhyakh festival. Click HERE for Master’s research.

During my Master's research I decided to learn the Sakha language for two main reasons: 1) most of the older inhabitants I was interviewing did not know the Russian language; and 2) because, more often than not, my translators could not tell me in Russian what was being said in Sakha. I returned the following fall with a language grant to learn Sakha. During that time I learned about the dire environmental issues of the Viliui regions and wrote a proposal to begin a community-based environmental education center in the local village nature museum to act as a watershed wide clearinghouse for citizen information. I worked on that project for two years then developed a new project to involve local citizens in the mid-90s decision by the state government to open new diamond mines adjacent to native villages.

In 1997 I entered the doctoral program at UNC-CH to study Viliui Sakha’s use of their environment, their unique adaptation of horse and cattle husbandry to an extreme subarctic climate, the environmental impacts of extractive diamond mining on the Viliui environment and the Sakhas’ daily survival, and the local, regional, and state policies that determine local resource management and environmental protection. Click HERE for more on my doctoral research. From May 2003-May 2006 I was Principal Investigator for an NSF-funded sustainable communities project in four Viliui Sakha villages. Click HERE for more on this project. It was in the context of this project that I first heard inhabitants’ concerns about changes they had not known before. Our research team spent some time in our final summer field season interviewing elders about those changes. Before leaving, we gained the communities’ support to investigate these changes more fully in a new project.

From 2008-2012 I was PI on a project that investigated local knowledge and resilience in Viliui Sakha communities pertaining to the regional effects of global climate change. You can go HERE for more on this project.

It was in the context of that project that our research team understood that one of the main issues Viliui Sakha face in climate change effects on their ecosystem is a changed timing of seasons (phenology). With encouragement from my program officer at NSF, I submitted and received funding through the Arctic Systems Science directorate at NSF for a 3-year collaborative project, Understanding Climate-Driven Phenological Change - Observations, Adaptations and Cultural Implications in Northeastern Siberia and Labrador /Nunatsiavut (PHENARC). You can go HERE for more on this project.

Here I am doing research in winter:

Here is our Knowledge Exchange Team Summer 2010:photo

Here I am dueing 1st summer research Nunatsiavut, Labrador Summer 2011:photo

Over the course of my nearly two-decade engagement with Siberia, I have traveled there nineteen times for a total stay of eighty months (6+ years). I am fluent in both the Russian and the Sakha languages.

As my research has progressed I have become increasingly certain about the resilience of local communities, in my research case, the resilient adaptations of Viliui Sakha in the face of major environmental, geopolitical, and socio-cultural challenges. Research about marginalized peoples like the Viliui Sakha is important on a broader level for several reasons. First, there is relatively little knowledge in the West about Viliui Sakha in historical or contemporary context. Secondly, understanding how non-Russian native peoples have and continue to adapt in the post-Soviet context is key to realizing a sustainable global community. And lastly, rural Sakha sustainability is intricately tied to the global diamond economy and so continued research provides invaluable insight about how such macro-economic forces can influence local communities. I am also involved in several international working groups that focus on sustainability in the arctic. Click HERE to go to my working groups page.
Concurrently I am developing a domestic research agenda to work with marginalized rural communities in the U.S. in the face of environmental change, specifically the uncertainties and challenges of global climate change. Since 2010 I am co-PI on a project, Cultural Models, Community Adaptation and Climate Change for the Chesapeake Bay, funded by the National Science Foundation, Division of Cultural Anthropology. You can go HERE for more on this project.

My research interests and activities also translate into much of my service work organizing colloquia and conferences, guest lecturing, and working on campus greening projects Click HERE to link to my service page and HERE to link to my greening page.