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Lifestyle in Siberia and the Russian North E-Book

Joachim Otto Habeck

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Lifestyle in Siberia and the Russian North breaks new ground by exploring the concept of lifestyle from a distinctly anthropological perspective. Showcasing the collective work of ten experienced scholars in the field, the book goes beyond concepts of tradition that have often been the focus of previous research, to explain how political, economic and technological changes in Russia have created a wide range of new possibilities and constraints in the pursuit of different ways of life.

Each contribution is drawn from meticulous first-hand field research, and the authors engage with theoretical questions such as whether and how the concept of lifestyle can be extended beyond its conventionally urban, Euro-American context and employed in a markedly different setting. Lifestyle in Siberia and the Russian North builds on the contributors’ clear commitment to diversifying the field and providing a novel and intimate insight into this vast and dynamic region.

This book provides inspiring reading for students and teachers of Anthropology, Sociology and Cultural Studies and for anyone interested in Russia and its regions. By providing ethnographic case studies, it is also a useful basis for teaching anthropological methods and concepts, both at graduate and undergraduate level. Rigorous and innovative, it marks an important contribution to the study of Siberia and the Russian North.

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Lifestyle in Siberia and the Russian North

Lifestyle in Siberia and the Russian North

Edited by Joachim Otto Habeck

© 2019 Joachim Otto Habeck. Copyright of individual chapters is maintained by the chapters’ authors.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0). This license allows you to share, copy, distribute and transmit the text; to adapt the text and to make commercial use of the text providing attribution is made to the authors (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Attribution should include the following information:

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ISBN Paperback: 978-1-78374-717-7

ISBN Hardback: 978-1-78374-718-4

ISBN Digital (PDF): 978-1-78374-719-1

ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 978-1-78374-720-7

ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 978-1-78374-721-4

ISBN XML: 978-1-78374-722-1

DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0171

Cover image: Ulan-Ude, 2009. Participants of a brass band open-air festival are returning to their hostel from the main square where they’ve just performed. Photo: Luděk Brož, CC-BY.

Cover design: Martina Tóthová and Anna Gatti.


Note on transliteration


Note on translations


Notes on Contributors





Introduction: Studying Lifestyle in Russia


Joachim Otto Habeck

Outline of the book


The concept of lifestyle in sociological and anthropological literature


Towards research on lifestyle in Siberia: some remarks on the regional context


The concept of lifestyle in Russian social science literature


First insights obtained in the course of the research project





Implications of Infrastructure and Technological Change for Lifestyles in Siberia


Dennis Zuev and Joachim Otto Habeck

Major infrastructural and related social changes during the last three decades


Entering the post-Soviet 1990s: personal experiences


Movement, telecommunication, and lifestyle in peripheral settings


Overview of field sites


Means of transportation


Telecommunication, media, social networks, and photography







Lifestyle and Creative Engagement with Rural Space in Northwest Russia


Masha Shaw (née Maria Nakhshina)

Kitchen table talk as a research tool


(Dis-)empowered by the state: lifestyles of (im)mobility


Life histories over “liquidation” of time


Conclusion: lifestyle as a creative engagement with place





Holiday Convergences, Holiday Divergences: Siberian Leisure Mobilities Under Late Socialism and After


Luděk Brož and Joachim Otto Habeck

Tourism and holiday-making during late socialism


Precursors and “noble causes” of socialist holiday worlds


Divergent travel biographies in the first post-Soviet decade


Growth of the Siberian tourist industry in the 2000s


New directions and motivations: post-socialist holiday worlds


Final thoughts on the future of tourism to, from, and within Siberia





Spatial Imaginaries and Personal Topographies in Siberian Life Stories: Analysing Movement and Place in Biographical Narratives


Joseph J. Long

Mobility, geography, and topography


Narratives, images, and the spatial imaginary


Changing spatial imaginaries and possibilities for travel


Institutionalised rites of passage in travel biographies


Narratives of discovery


Movement that anchors: roots and rodina in personal topographies


Visualising social encounters


Movement as lifestyle







Something like Happiness: Home Photography in the Inquiry of Lifestyles


Jaroslava Panáková

On the notion of happiness


Photo elicitation interviews


Modernity the Siberian way


Home photography in Siberia


Biographical narratives: consistencies and ruptures


“Collective and individual”


“Reading” the narratives along the photographs


“Significant other”


Portraits of self







Soviet Kul’tura in Post-Soviet Identification: The Aesthetics of Ethnicity in Sakha (Yakutia)


Eleanor Peers

Lifestyle, Aesthetics, and Identity Politics in Sakha (Yakutia)


Soviet policy, kul’tura, and lifestyle


Kul’tura and the emergence of ethnicity


Conclusion: Soviet aesthetics and the Yhyakh





Ethnicity on the Move: National-Cultural Organisations in Siberia


Artem Rabogoshvili

Ethnic diversity in the Baikal region


Ethnic activism and lifestyle: paradigms of research


Divides and disparities among ethnic activists in Siberia


Original home and mobility


New home and visual self-presentation







“We are not Playing Life, We Live Here”: Playful Appropriation of Ancestral Memory in a Youth Camp in Western Siberia


Ina Schröder

Shared sensibilities: taking charge of local youth


Summer camp as a lifestyle


Play and self-cultivation


Indigenisation of Zarnitsa: retrieving one’s ancestral memory


Gender norms, roles, and experiences in the role-playing game







A Taste for Play: Lifestyle and Live-Action Role-Playing in Siberia and the Russian Far East


Tatiana Barchunova and Joachim Otto Habeck

Live-action role-playing (LARP) in Siberia today


The concept of lifestyle and its relevance to taste, play, and game


LARP as practice: separation and mixture of game and reality


LARP and lifestyle: casual, regular, and total larpers









Joachim Otto Habeck

Beyond 2011: an update on social and cultural shifts in Russia


Lifestyle, habits of travelling, and visual forms of self-presentation


Reassessing the concept of lifestyle


Lifestyle and modernity in post-Soviet Russia




Appendix: On Research Design and Methods


Joachim Otto Habeck and Jaroslava Panáková



List of Illustrations




Note on transliteration

In the main text of this volume, certain geographic and other terms widely known to an English-speaking readership are given in their conventional forms (e.g. Buryatia, intelligentsia, Moscow, Yakutia). All other words and phrases transliterated from Cyrillic script are rendered in accordance with the ALA-LC (American Library Association and Library of Congress) romanisation table, available at, with the exception of the Cyrillic letters е, ю, я — rendered in this volume as ye, yu, ya when at the beginning of a word. Words and phrases from Sakha language may also include ө, ү and h, rendered in this volume as ö, ü and h.





А а

A a

Р р

R r

Б б

B b

С с

S s

В в

V v

Т т

T t

Г г

G g

У у

U u

Д д

D d

Ф ф

F f

Е е

e Ye* ye*

Х х

Kh kh

Ё ё

Ë ë

Ц ц

Ts ts

Ж ж

Zh zh

Ч ч

Ch ch

З з

Z z

Ш ш

Sh sh

И и

I i

Щ щ

Shch shch

Й й

I i


К к

K k

Ы ы

Y y

Л л

L l


М м

M m

Э э

E e

Н н

N n

Ю ю

iu Yu* yu*

О о

O o

Я я

ia Ya* ya*

П п

P p

*at the beginning of a word

Publications in Russian and Sakha are referenced in accordance with the above transliteration; publications in English of authors from Russian-speaking countries are referenced in accordance with the respective publication itself. For this reason, the rendering of names may differ.

Note on translations

Unless marked otherwise, all the research project’s interviews quoted in this volume were conducted in Russian, and translated by the respective author(s). Likewise, translations of material quoted from Russian publications (books, articles, online sources, etc.) have been made by the author(s) of the respective chapter, unless indicated otherwise.

Notes on Contributors

Tatiana Barchunova is Associate Professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Law of Novosibirsk State University. She worked as a Research Affiliate at the Siberian Studies Centre of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology from 2008 to 2013. She has published widely on gender, religion, and live-action role-playing in Russian and English. She recently translated Raewyn Connell’s Gender and Power into Russian, (Gender i vlast’, 2015).

Luděk Brož is the Head of the Department of Ecological Anthropology at the Institute of Ethnology, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic. After receiving his doctorate from the University of Cambridge (2008) he was Research Associate at the Siberian Studies Centre of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, from 2008 to 2011. With Joachim Otto Habeck, he co-edited a theme section on mobility in the Far North in the journal Mobilities, vol. 10 (4), published in 2015. With Daniel Münster, he co-edited Suicide and Agency: anthropological perspectives on self-destruction, personhood and power (2015).

Joachim Otto Habeck teaches Anthropology at the University of Hamburg, Germany. From 2003 to 2013 he was Coordinator of the Siberian Studies Centre of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. He received his doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 2004. He is author of What It Means to Be a Herdsman: the practice and image of reindeer husbandry among the Komi of Northern Russia (2005) and Das Kulturhaus in Russland (2014). With Brian Donahoe, he co-edited Reconstructing the House of Culture (2011). His sphere of interest comprises popular culture, practices of distinction, and the concept of lifestyle in postsocialist countries.

Joseph J. Long is Research Manager for Scottish Autism. He is also Honorary Research Fellow in Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen and an associate of the Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology. From 2010 to 2013, he was Research Fellow in the Siberian Studies Centre at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. He has undertaken long-term fieldwork in Buryat communities in the Baikal region of Siberia where his research interests include ritual and performance practices, kinship, civic cultural institutions, and the politics of indigeneity. He received his doctorate from the University of Aberdeen in 2010.

Jaroslava Panáková is a research fellow at the Institute of Ethnology and Social Anthropology, Slovak Academy of Sciences; and teacher at the Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. She received her doctorate from the Saint Petersburg State University and was Research Associate at the Siberian Studies Centre of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology from 2008 to 2011. Jaroslava has conducted her field research on northern peoples in Saint Petersburg and in Chukotka, looking comparatively at mobility, identity, and visual representations. Since her research stay at the CNRS in Paris from 2014 to 2015, she has attempted to link the themes of death and visuality of commemoration.

Eleanor Peers is the Arctic Information Specialist at the library of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge. She holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Cambridge (2010), was Research Associate at the Siberian Studies Centre of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (2010-2013), and undertook a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Aberdeen (2015-2017). Eleanor has conducted fieldwork in Buryatia and the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and has published on post-Soviet popular culture, ethnic revival in Siberia, and post-Soviet shamanism.

Artem Rabogoshvili is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, History and Oriental Studies (MOIV) at the Ufa State Petroleum Technological University. He was member of the Siberian Studies Centre of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, from 2010 to 2013. His publications in Russian, English, and Chinese cover the topics of migration, ethnicity, nationality politics, and social and religious movements.

Ina Schröder is associate researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. She has conducted field research in western Siberia for her doctorate on indigeneity, gender, and the importance of youth camps for ethnic revivalism. Her dissertation is entitled “Shaping Youth: quest for moral education in an indigenous community in western Siberia” and was defended at Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in 2017.

Masha Shaw (née Maria Nakhshina) is a Researcher Development Adviser at the Postgraduate Research School, University of Aberdeen. She holds a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Aberdeen (2011), was a Research Associate in the Siberian Studies Centre at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (2010-2013) and undertook a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Aberdeen (2013-2016). She has conducted long-term research in rural areas along the White Sea coast in the northwest of Russia. Her research interests include small-scale fisheries, fishing collective farms, perception of space and place, Pomory identity, the politics of ethnicity, and resource governance in post-Soviet Russia.

Dennis Zuev is Research Fellow in the Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology (CIES-ISCTE) and Associate Researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies, University of Lisbon, Portugal. He was associate researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (2010-2013), and lecturer in Sustainable Mobilities at Nuertingen-Geislingen University, Germany (2017-2019). He was involved in the project “Low-Carbon Innovation in China” at Lancaster University, UK (2013-2016). In 2018 he published Urban Mobility in Modern China: the growth of the E-bike with Palgrave Macmillan. His research interests comprise sustainable tourism, circumpolar societies, Chinese Studies and visual sociology. He conducted fieldwork in Siberia, China, Portugal and Argentina.


This book, a collection of essays written by ten anthropologists, is dedicated to our friends far and near. Far, inasmuch as the region portrayed here — Siberia and the Russian North — exerts its own specific challenges when it comes to spatial distance. But for us it is simultaneously close, for our ties with many of the individuals we introduce in this volume have been maintained over many years, and increasingly so via new means of telecommunication. The latter were not yet available in the years when each of us began to conduct ethnographic fieldwork, but we were more than willing to spend months or years in an unfamiliar setting away from home, and to explore ways of living that differed markedly from our own. Anthropology is based on a sustained sense of curiosity and surprise. We deem ourselves lucky to have taken curiosity as motivation for the research project that brought us together, and to have been granted help and open-mindedness by so many people all across the region.

The initiative was first conceived at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany. In the first place, I would like to thank Bettina Mann who, in a serendipitous moment in 2007, encouraged me to focus on the concept of lifestyle, to fathom the depth of the sociological debates around it, and to lay out a research design for a study of lifestyle in Siberia. Since then, she has contributed in manifold ways to the success of the project.

Why lifestyle in Siberia? Because it embraces more than the conventional notions of “tradition” and “crisis”, often associated with this part of the world. Crisis cannot be wiped away: it is part of so many of the biographies of our interviewees; and yet crisis engenders a stronger awareness of one’s circumstances and sparks a desire for change. Lifestyle as a concept reaches out towards a deeper level of personal commitment, sense of life, hope, and belonging. Our acquaintances and friends in different parts of Siberia and the Russian North had the courage to talk about these aspects in a very candid manner.

In this volume, we combine the idea of lifestyle — as an expressive, routinised and stylised mode of identification — with the changes that this part of the world has seen in terms of technology, telecommunication, visual self-presentation, connectedness, transport, and mobility. Intrinsically, the chapters of the book all engage with the Soviet and post-Soviet notion of modernity, which exerts a sublime and yet pervasive influence on how people in the region picture themselves and the society in which they live. The concept of lifestyle connects very strongly with debates on vernacular views and meanings of “being modern” — but then, Siberia and the Russian North have been widely neglected in that debate, notwithstanding far-reaching anthropological debates on socialism, post-socialism, and shifting dynamics of identification.

We are grateful to Chris Hann and Günther Schlee, the two founding directors of the Max Planck Institute, for their continual and enthused support of the project, paired with constructive criticism. The project itself was a collaborative one, with research questions, methods, research instruments, and data analysis defined before the actual field research. I believe that this was one of the strongest aspects of the collective endeavour (the Appendix to this volume offers more details on research design and methodology). It all developed within the organisational framework of the Siberian Studies Centre, a research unit of the Max Planck Institute from 2002 to 2014. The predominant share of financial support for this project was granted by the Max Planck Society; and Kathrin Niehuus and her team always took good care of the project’s finances. The project took its intellectual roots from the scientific agenda that the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology has fervently and successfully pursued since its beginnings in 1999.

This volume can also be read as one chapter in the history of the Siberian Studies Centre. Clearly, anthropological research on Siberia has moved from Halle to other academic centres, such as Aberdeen, Rovaniemi, and Vienna; and of course, it is being pursued in St Petersburg, Moscow, and Siberia itself. But so have we, the contributors to this volume: we have moved to other responsibilities and personal commitments. And so have the people that we talk about in this book: many of them have moved to other places, experiencing their own existence in different ways from those captured here. Still, we believe it is worthwhile rendering their takes and views as expressed in the time around 2010, and we are positive that this volume provides for a close reading of everyday life in Russia’s regions in the first decade of the new century. The last chapter of the volume sketches out the most important social trends that have occurred in Russia between 2010 and 2019, connecting them back to the topic of lifestyle.

We had many an opportunity to discuss our thoughts with other colleagues at the Max Planck Institute, working in different regions across the world, and since their number is truly large, we cannot do justice by listing all of them. In the initial phase of the project, Stephan Dudeck, Kirill Istomin, Elena Liarskaya, and Vladislava Vladimirova took part in discussions on the concept of lifestyle in 2008. Subsequently, there were more meetings of this kind, for example the one in Novosibirsk and Berdsk in 2012, and we would like to express our sincere thanks to Yuliia Druzhinina, Irina Oktiabr’skaia, Yurii Popkov, Tamara Popkova, and Iraida Udalova, who all took a vivid interest in the project presentation and endorsed it, even if they disagreed with some of our ideas. Likewise, our thanks go to Igor’ Nabok, Nikolai Vakhtin, and their colleagues in St Petersburg for highly helpful consultation and support.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude not only to those we lived and spoke with in the different communities across Russia that feature in this volume, but also to those who worked as research assistants, translators, and language instructors: Nikolai Aipin, Natal’ia Beletskaia, Anna Gossmann, Roza Khaltueva, Stepan Kolodeznikov, Liubov’ Kolodeznikova, Alexander Kymyechkin, Anna Larionova, Ariuna Matveeva, Dora Matveeva, Anna Ptitsyna, Anna Sysoeva, Fiodor Uiaganskii, Alexander Vamingu, and Rodion Vamingu. Anyone who has conducted ethnographic field research is aware of the difficulty of distinguishing between the roles of research assistant, informant/interlocutor, and close acquaintance with whom interaction never really stops; in that sense, ethnographic fieldwork is never complete.

Notwithstanding, each project of this kind also necessarily involves moments when the flow of life should be cast into some mould: notably when it comes to compiling data, writing reports, connecting the immediacy of the fieldwork experience with a wider array of ideas, notably those debated in social-scientific scholarship. We are indebted and highly grateful to those who accompanied and helped us on this way, notably the student assistants and interns at the Siberian Studies Centre: Georgi Dietzsch, Friedemann Ebelt, Katja Mahler, Nadia Manitz née Mukhina, Stella Penkova, Mariya Petrova, Ricarda Scheffer, Alexander Seidel, and Andreas Zimmermann. All of them invested considerable time and energy in transcribing audio files of interviews. Claudia Ulbrich took care of administrative issues, along with Viktoria Giehler-Zeng and Berit Eckert. As a student apprentice to the Siberian Studies Centre, Christian Buchner designed a common framework for data management that proved to be helpful throughout and beyond the project’s lifetime; he also assisted in transcribing interviews.

Closer towards the completion of the manuscript of this volume, admittedly and for personal reasons with a delay of more than five years, new colleagues and friends have accompanied our work and ambitions to finish the project. The anonymous reviews of the draft manuscripts were extremely helpful; in extension, we should like to express our sincere thanks to Frances Pine and Peter Schweitzer for their comments and support. All contributors would like to express their gratitude to the team at Open Book Publishers, notably to Alessandra Tosi, Luca Baffa, Lucy Barnes, Anna Gatti, Laura Rodriguez, Molly Byrne, and Corin Throsby. Jens Bussewitz took a special effort in the graphic design of the book cover and other illustrations, and so did Luděk Brož, Jaroslava Panáková, Martina Tóthová, and Jonas Büchel. We are happy and grateful for the support in the quantitative analysis of data, conducted by Andrej Mentel.

The Max Planck Institute has always been a personally and intellectually inspiring environment, as has the city of Halle. We would like to express our empathy and solidarity with our friends and colleagues in Halle after the recent anti-Semitic and xenophobic assault on the city. This atrocious attack reminds us of our aim as anthropologists: namely, to work towards a society that derives hope from diversity, that tries to understand human grief, and that attempts to create and maintain affective bonds between people across the globe. Hope is the theme that, after ten years of research and reflection, lies at the very core of the chapters presented in this book. We share this prospect with our friends far and near, whom we got to know at different moments and in different situations, from the inception to the completion of this research project.

Joachim Otto Habeck, on behalf of all the members of the research team

October 2019

Map of the project’s field research sites. Compiled from OpenStreetMaps ( by Jens Bussewitz, CC BY-SA

1. Introduction: Studying Lifestyle in Russia

Joachim Otto Habeck

© Joachim Otto Habeck, CC BY 4.0

This book is about lifestyle. More exactly, it is about the dynamics behind people’s choices and needs, according to which they seek to live their lives practically and to furnish them with meaning. The authors of this volume — a research team of anthropologists and sociologists — have investigated this subject in Russia, predominantly in Siberia, where it has not been given scholarly attention until now. There are reasons for that, notably Siberia’s reputation as a region in crisis, an area of environmental decay and rapid economic change that has detrimentally affected indigenous groups. In addition, anthropological research in the region was, until recently, generally limited to indigenous groups’ traditional culture. In this book, however, we argue that these categories hardly suffice to explore the current realities of everyday life in this part of Russia. In order to explain how political, economic and technological changes create new possibilities for, and/or constraints on people’s existence and self-perception, we found it most expedient to focus on lifestyle, a concept that has been widely applied and debated in sociology but not yet in anthropology, for the reasons sketched out below.

This brings us to the title of the research project, “Conditions and Limitations of Lifestyle Plurality in Siberia” (CLLP) (2008–2013), the main phase of which entailed ethnographic field work during the period 2010–2012 in ten different locations across Siberia and the Far North of Russia. Our hypothesis was that the range of options given to an individual or group to pursue different ways of life has been changing over the recent past, and we want to understand the factors that influence that range. We do not claim that these options are always consciously reflected by the individual, nor that they are necessarily “good” for him or her. Nor do we assume that the range of possible ways of life was by necessity more limited in the Soviet period than in post-Soviet or present times. These assumptions, which are often made by social-scientific studies of modernity, need to be carefully examined; by presenting our research findings here we aim to contribute to such empirical examination.

The study of “modernity” (the constitution of modern society) or rather “modernities” (competing views of what defines modern life) is a key topic to which we seek to contribute, but it is not the only one. We also intend to explore (im)mobility, visuality, aesthetics, expression and displays of ethnic belonging, play, creativity, and self-presentation as aspects of sociability in this part of the world. The particular combination of topics is based to some extent on previous research undertaken by individual team members in Siberia; more importantly, however, it stems from certain subtle yet wide-ranging shifts in how people in Siberia frame their existence — shifts that researchers observed collectively and which came to occupy the centre of our intensive discussions.1

Outline of the book

The structure of the book reflects this attempt to demonstrate how the notion of lifestyle plays out in the context of, and in combination with, other concepts. Mobility and immobility are the main keywords of Chapters 2 to 5. Chapter 2, by Dennis Zuev and Joachim Otto Habeck, paints a portrait of the technological and infrastructural changes that have taken place in our field research sites over the past forty years, and we highlight how these changes have had a bearing on individual perceptions of, and strategies for, travelling, communication, and photographic displays. In Chapter 3, Masha Shaw takes readers to a remote village on the Kola Peninsula in northwest Russia. Inhabitants there have developed specific skills and strategies for overcoming the lack of predictable transport into and out of the village. The resulting isolation fosters creativity and enables individuals to pursue certain life projects that divert from or complement urban ones. Arguably more so than in urban areas, lifestyles in remote villages closely reflect collective practices of place-making. Chapter 4, by Luděk Brož and Habeck, compares late-Soviet versus present-day expectations of holiday-making and the use of tourism infrastructure, with the aim of assessing the shifting norms of what is desired when one is away from home. Partly, these shifts involve new interpretations of ethnic difference as a resource in tourism, as the display of ethnic symbols gradually underwent a process of commodification. Additionally, tourism and travel are now motivated by ideas of self-fulfilment that markedly differ from those in earlier decades. Joseph Long continues this line of inquiry in Chapter 5 on the basis of travel biography interviews conducted by himself and other research team members, examining the ways in which “home”, travel destinations, and collectively-held spatial imaginaries come to be woven together in personal topographies. Photo albums and travelogues highlight the value of personal topographies and trajectories in the expression of a specific identity and style.

In Chapter 6, Jaroslava Panáková discusses how aesthetic conventions and their visual expression are subject to sudden change inasmuch as notions of the self and the collective have undergone modification in the post-socialist period. In addition, she explicates the methodological benefits and challenges of photo elicitation, a method employed by all the contributors in their field researches. Chapter 7 continues the investigation of aesthetics: Eleanor Peers focuses on performance in a particular group of events, notably public celebrations, aesthetic expressions, and artwork. She analyses the development of lifestyles in late Soviet times with reference to Yurchak’s concept of svoi (communities of “ours”) and provides a careful description of ethnicity and kultur’nost’ (which we translate as “culturedness” or cultivated behaviour) in Soviet and post-Soviet times. While Chapter 7 discusses the practice and meaning of aesthetic displays of ethnic identities, Chapter 8, by Artem Rabogoshvili, elucidates to what extent attendance at such events, either as a performer on the stage or “just” as a member of the audience, is itself an indicator of a lifestyle that draws explicitly on ethnic affiliation and ethnic symbols. Rabogoshvili investigates the workings of national-cultural organisations in the Baikal region, contrasting old and new diaspora groups, and analyses the different degrees of involvement of individual actors.

In Chapters 9 and 10, we look at the significance of play for many people in their desire to create a sense of life that transcends their everyday existence, which they often associate with a lack of control and coherence. In Chapter 9, Ina Schröder investigates the importance of youth camps in the foothills of the Urals for the enactment and transmission of indigenous culture; these camps aim to enable young people in remote villages to embrace traditional indigenous lifestyles in a positive way and to gain a higher level of self-confidence. The protagonists of Chapter 10 (by Tatiana Barchunova and Habeck) are people who participate in live-action role-playing (LARP). Stylisation here is of great importance, in that attire and comportment are highly reflexive and intended to be taken as signifiers. Interestingly, the shift between the two modes of life — play versus ordinary life — usually requires some movement in space, and switching between these two modes is a form of mobility in its own right. The volume closes with an update on current social trends in Russia and a summary of research findings (Chapter 11) along with a description of the research design and methods (Appendix).

Having sketched out the content of this volume in general terms, the remainder of this introduction contains a literature review of how lifestyle has developed as a concept in European and US sociology and anthropology.2 On this basis, the next section asks how lifestyle as a concept can and should be applied to non-western settings. A brief introduction to Siberia as a setting for social science research3 and a comment on the Soviet modernisation project constitute the middle part of the introduction. Further, I will discuss the remarkable (albeit not well-known) strand of scholarship on lifestyle in late Soviet and post-Soviet social sciences; this focus on lifestyle (stil’ zhizni) has occurred in parallel with — and sometimes complemented — research on everyday life (byt) and way of life (obraz zhizni). The final section of this introductory chapter offers some general insights gained in the course of the research, which will be elaborated in more detail in the conclusions given in Chapter 11.

The concept of lifestyle in sociological and anthropological literature

This section gives an overview of the (ramified) genealogy of the concept of lifestyle, from early and implicit usages such as those by Thorstein Veblen, Georg Simmel and Max Weber, to American contributions from the 1970s and 1980s by Benjamin D. Zablocki, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and Michael Sobel. Many of the current conceptualisations of lifestyle build on the works of French and British authors, notably Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, and David Chaney, with whose ideas I will complete this section. The selection of authors portrayed here captures only part of the range of relevant studies, but nonetheless it highlights key aspects of how the concept has been framed and reframed over time.

Early treatises on conspicuous consumption and lifestyle

The term lifestyle entered scientific usage around the beginning of the twentieth century. American economist Thorstein Veblen wrote what can be seen as a prelude to research into lifestyle in his book, Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Already in this work, consumption is characterised as a major mechanism in capitalist societies by which boundaries between classes are created and maintained. It is through conspicuous consumption of expensive goods and services that members of the leisure class reassure themselves of their social status and present themselves to others as a distinct, privileged group. Moreover, Veblen argues that individuals of each class or group aspire to increase their status by emulating the tastes and preferences of those who are one step further up the social ladder, and their main motivation is to be recognised by others: “members of each stratum accept as their ideal of decency the scheme of life in vogue in the next higher stratum, and bend their energies to live up to that ideal” (1899: 84; cf. Brown 1998). This idea bears a striking resemblance to later expositions of social distinction, such as that by Bourdieu (see below).

German sociologist Georg Simmel employed the term lifestyle in his book The Philosophy of Money ([1900] 2004) in a twofold sense: he used the singular “style of life” (2004: 433ff.) to indicate a modern, contemporary form of existence in contrast to earlier periods, the modern form being increasingly impersonal, civic and mediated (notably, by money), and emotionally less colourful. This loss of character in modern times “may be designated as the objectivity of life-style” (ibid: 439). However, in the same context, Simmel applies the term in the plural form to point out the multitude of styles whereby “we are confronted with a world of expressive possibilities each developed according to their own norms, with a host of forms within which to express life as a whole” (ibid: 468). “The Problem of Style” is further discussed in a later essay ([1908] 1991), and Simmel’s essay “On Fashion” (1904) offers relevant insights into the complex interaction of fashion and lifestyle: here he reveals the seemingly contradictory relationship between the effect of proudly emphasising individuality on the one hand, and the effect of opportunistically subjugating oneself to the latest fad, on the other.

An early occurrence of the notion of lifestyle can also be found in the work of Max Weber, notably in his treatise on class, status and political interest groups. Weber juxtaposes the expression of social order by status groups (e.g. the aristocracy) with that of the class system, arguing that the latter operates quite visibly through money, whereas the former hinges on the ascription of honour, the importance of conventions, and a tendency of stylisation that comes with these: “The decisive role of a ‘style of life’ in status ‘honor’ means that status groups are the specific bearers of all ‘conventions.’ In whatever way it may be manifest, all ‘stylization’ of life either originates in status groups or is at least conserved by them” (Weber [1922] 1946: 191). H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, who translated this passage,4 have been criticised for their imprecise rendering — indeed, mistranslation — of Lebensführung as “style of life” rather than “conduct of life” here and on many other occasions in Weber’s text (Abel & Cockerham 1993; cf. Hartmann 1999: 15–20; Voß 1991). While this has led to considerable confusion, it is clear that Weber characterises the “stylisation of life” as an older, more traditional mechanism of expressing hierarchy. This is remarkable inasmuch as it contradicts many later authors who connect lifestyle with modernity, individualisation, and multiple processes of detraditionalisation, as will become clear from what follows.

Lifestyle as a topic of US sociology in the 1970s and 1980s

Drawing on Veblen and Weber, several US sociologists and psychologists employed the notion of lifestyle in their writings, and in very divergent ways. Zablocki and Kanter (1976) provided an early systematic overview of the concept, and their synthesis is still frequently quoted. Their central concern in that article was to complement the analysis of “classic forms of life-style differentiation” according to the categories of socio-economic status (1976: 272) with a conceptual framework to explain the proliferation of alternative lifestyles, which they claim to be independent of socio-economic status (ibid: 280 ff.). The classic forms are arranged into three categories: property-dominated lifestyles, comprising the landed rich as well as petty farmers; occupation-dominated lifestyles, with some occupations absorbing more time and individual loyalty than others; and poverty-dominated lifestyles, where the range of possible choices is severely limited (which calls into question the voluntary nature of lifestyle). Zablocki and Kanter argue that the emergence of alternative lifestyles is due to the loss of value coherence, as observed in US society in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They indicate a large number of alternative lifestyles — esoteric, green, revolutionary, isolationist, hedonistic, ascetic, tradition-oriented, ethnically defined communities and communes — and sketch out possibilities for grouping these. Mere description of lifestyles is not the ultimate goal: “not specific life-styles themselves but their range and diversity constitute the most interesting sociological problem for investigation” (1976: 293). Moreover, lifestyle research can help illuminate more general social phenomena, namely “the transmission of tastes and values, the nature of the collective experience […], the correlates of commitment and social cohesion […], or the transformation of social institutions as consumers shift their preferences” (ibid.).

As sociologists, working in a period when numerous counter-culture and liberation movements were emerging, Zablocki and Kanter (1976) pursued the express aim of disconnecting alternative lifestyles from widespread connotations of deviance and delinquency, and preparing the ground for social-scientific analysis. Michael Sobel, to whose work I will now turn, discarded this and similar attempts as one-sided: “Despite a great deal of undue attention, the relative frequency of these ‘alternative’ lifestyles is not great […]. In other words, sociologists have written a great deal about an imperceptible fraction of the population, thereby failing to discuss lifestyle differentiation within the majority population” (Sobel 1981: 56).

Sobel described lifestyle as “set of observable behavioral choices that individuals make” (1981: 3 and 1983: 521) and defined it — with reference to conceptualisations of style in Art History — as “any distinctive, and therefore recognizable, mode of living” (1981: 28). He added that “To this definition the condition of expressiveness (alternative choice) is attached” (ibid.). In his as well as most other works on lifestyle, what comes to the fore is the idea of preference, or choice, within a limited range of options along with the obligation to choose: “it is through this creative participation in the normative order that individuals may generate status, meaning and self-esteem” (1983: 521). Sobel’s emphasis on style and lifestyle as something “observable or deducible from observation” (1981: 28) led him to exclude values, attitudes and norms from the concept. Further, he argued that consumption (rather than work, and methodologically better than leisure) is the domain where lifestyles can be discerned; particularly so in American society, where, in the course of the twentieth century, consumption has become the prime sphere within which to build self-esteem and social recognition (1981: 31–48). Sobel thus initially built his empirical study around the criterion of household disposable income, and asked how it is spent for purchasing a range of goods. In a further step, he took specific categories of items as representative of four “factors”, namely: visible status, maintenance, high life, and home life (1981: 157–64). They differ in level of expenditure (from necessary items to luxuries) and direction (with “visible status” and “high life” or party life being directed socially outward rather than home-bound).

Sobel’s emphasis on consumption has two ramifications, one in terms of the region under study in this volume — Russia — and the other in terms of continuity and change. As to the first, he contrasted America’s post-1945 consumer society with that in the Soviet Union, where, according to him, material conditions led to fewer options being available in the sphere of consumption; moreover, consumption “is not an officially recognized goal. Consumption is secondary to many other things, and at the individual level, consumption is not expressive, but severely constrained” (Sobel 1981: 41).5

As to the second, Sobel drew a clear conceptual line between lifestyle and stylistic unity (ibid: 118–20). The latter expresses the observation that certain items frequently co-occur with others, whereas other combinations are highly unlikely, to the degree of looking odd or “inconsistent”. Patterns of consistency are subject to change, but also establish the condition of continuity and the recognizability of lifestyles: “The items that index a lifestyle are culturally arbitrary; however, the manner in which a sample of items hangs together, as revealed by the factor pattern, may not be so arbitrary. […] there is a good deal of historical evidence that lifestyle forms have displayed considerable continuity over time” (Sobel 1983: 526). Implicitly, his argument suggests that patterns may be perpetuated through generations, with individuals displaying preferences they acquired in the household in which they grew up. Explicitly, Sobel contends that the household’s income level and the occupational status belonging to the head of that household (i.e. the prestige conferred by the occupation) are more decisive in terms of lifestyle than is the level of an individual’s formal education, the influence of which is more subtle (1981: 167–68).

Sobel’s emphasis on consumption as key indicator of lifestyle may be too limited and biased; it comes over as rather conservative if compared to Zablocki and Kanter’s (1976) attempt to make alternative lifestyles (including ascetic ones) accessible for sociological analysis, as discussed above. Nonetheless, Sobel has set some standards for further empirical research. By interpreting lifestyle as a link between social position (and, notably, class) and patterns in the symbolic use of material goods, his approach roughly corresponds with that of Bourdieu, the next scholar whose work I shall explore.

French, British, and German scholarship on the concept of lifestyle (1979–early 2000s)

Of central importance for research on lifestyle is the legacy of French sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu, notably his comprehensive empirical study on social stratification in France in the 1960s, published under the title Distinction ([1979] 1984). He exposes lifestyles as concomitant — in fact, homologous — to different positions in social space. Both the social space (in the French original: espace social) and the space of lifestyles (espace des styles de vie) are defined by the criteria of economic capital and cultural capital. He thus promotes the idea that any analysis of social differentiation requires more than just the criterion of economic capital. Under the influence of Bourdieu, scientific models of social differentiation ultimately attained multidimensional shape. Bourdieu interprets the particular symbolic meanings of a wide range of goods, leisure activities, personal predilections and value judgements and the ways in which they express the individual’s belonging to a certain class and milieu. Such localisation of social status can be illustrated by two brief examples: individual preference for high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods, rugby, and film star Brigitte Bardot indicate an individual’s affiliation to the less affluent milieu of farm workers and employees in rural communities; whereas a person who shows sustained interest in Bach’s musical oeuvre and bicycle tourism may be identified, with some probability, as a secondary-school teacher (Bourdieu 1984: 128–29).

Bourdieu argues that the elites seek to distinguish themselves from the middle class by means of taste. The members of the latter continually and breathlessly try to emulate elite taste. Here Bourdieu’s argument strongly resembles that of Veblen, but it differs when it comes to the poorest strata of society: according to Bourdieu, the groups with lowest incomes do not participate in the hunt to develop ever more refined tastes; instead, by necessity they come to value the “practical” advantage — and hence, neatness — of those things affordable to them (ibid: 372ff.).

Taste, seemingly a domain of individual decision-making, follows socially established patterns. The individual does not usually reflect on his or her disposition, which conditions such choices. “Distinction” of social groups is perpetuated by the enactment of taste. The principle that, according to Bourdieu, creates the conditions for the existence of lifestyles is rooted in the habitus. Habitus is the mechanism that generates certain patterns of valorisation through taste, along with certain practices and works, which are liable to classification and simultaneously serve the purpose of classifying. These practices, productions and taste judgements engender a specific lifestyle (Bourdieu 1984: 173).6 The habitus in turn results from the individual’s position within the framework of “objectively inscribed” conditions of existence (ibid: 170). Individual dispositions are habitualised, routinised, embodied and usually not questioned; and yet, they can be transmitted from one actor to another.

The analysis provided by Bourdieu points to the high levels of congruence between aesthetic judgements and affiliation with a social stratum or milieu; it also explains how taste is continually reproduced. However, Bourdieu has little to say about the potential of certain actors to disengage wilfully from the struggle for symbolic recognition and “legitimate culture”. Likewise, the possibility of creative, ironic, and subversive utilisation of symbols is not sufficiently captured in Bourdieu’s analysis (cf. Chaney 1996: 66). If we follow Bourdieu, whatever it is that an actor perceives as an option just seems to be a matter of choice — in fact, however, a socially preconditioned, usually unconscious process stands behind the decision-making. In that sense, Bourdieu’s take differs from that of Giddens, whose view shall be briefly sketched out in what follows.

British sociologist Anthony Giddens discussed the term lifestyle as a key phenomenon of the late modern and post-modern era. In Modernity and Self-Identity (1991), Giddens defines lifestyle as “a more or less integrated set of practices which an individual embraces, not only because such practices fulfil utilitarian needs, but because they give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity” (1991: 83). Particularly incisive is the statement that precedes the above definition: “we all not only follow lifestyles, but in an important sense are forced to do so — we have no choice but to choose” (ibid.).

In contrast to Bourdieu, Giddens puts strong emphasis on the individuals’ need to select consciously from many existing options: he conceptualises the self as a reflexive project. Taking this into account, our investigation of lifestyles should explicitly address the norms, predilections, orientations, and convictions according to which a person takes decisions about how to get on in life, whom to bond with, and how to present him- or herself in public. His notion of lifestyle carries generally positive connotations in the sense that people are satisfied with (or at least, have arranged themselves according to) the goals and activities that shape their everyday lives. This aspect of assenting emotions is complementary to the aspect of negative emotions, represented by such terms as “crisis” and “survival”, which thus far appear to be the dominant rationale for anthropological and ethnographic research in Siberia. Not only suffering but also affirmative emotions and expressions are needed to sustain a sense of collective identity.

In view of the theoretical frame of our research project in Siberia, it is necessary to address the crucial difference between Giddens’s notion of lifestyle as expression of individual self-reflection, and Bourdieu’s emphasis on the mostly unreflective character of consumption practices and social distinction. Respondents’ occasional assertions that important changes and turning points in the course of their lives “just happened” (prosto poluchilos’ tak) cast doubt upon Giddens’s idea of the self as a reflexive project. On the other hand, the rapid economic and symbolic shifts in post-Soviet society prevented most people from simply “carrying on” and induced them to compare the present with the past, to “rethink” their situation and aspirations. Giddens may well over-emphasise the individual’s capacity to induce change, whereas Bourdieu tends to underestimate this potential. His work depicts individuals as unavoidably inserted in a social hierarchy, leading a lifestyle they have not chosen but instead appropriated and learned to like. What emerges from Bourdieu’s writings is the idea that lifestyles reproduce themselves through the people that enact and re-enact them. Changes in lifestyle are tied to class affiliation and hence they are a question of the individual or family ascending or descending on the social ladder. For Bourdieu it is not a question of choice by necessity, as Giddens would have it, or of choice as eclectic combination, as is claimed by postmodern sociologists. The aspect of (non-)choice and (non-)reflexivity will come up again in the remainder of this overview of theoretical works on lifestyle.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the different national traditions (US, French and British) in the debate on lifestyle gradually converged again, also incorporating contributions from West German sociologists,7 whose engagement with the concept had been comparatively active throughout the 1980s (for example, Beck, Giddens & Lash 1994). Similar to Giddens, the German sociologists Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim treated the increasing diversity of lifestyles (Lebensstil) and life conduct (Lebensführung) as part of a more general social process: individualisation (cf. Zablocki & Kanter’s “loss of value coherence” described above). “Standard biography transmutes […] into a chosen biography, reflexive biography, bricolage biography. This does not have to be intended, nor does it have to be successful” (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim 1994: 13, my translation). Written some 25 years ago, this appraisal, as much as Giddens’s position, referred to so-called western societies, that is, societies in western Europe and North America. In subsequent years, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (2010: xv) stated that “we cannot simply assume that the process of individualization exhibits the same basic pattern in all regions of the world […] On the contrary, it must be shown at the theoretical level that the specificity of the European path towards individualization becomes visible only when it is juxtaposed with extra-European paths […]”. The research pursued by the authors of this book is rooted in a similar line of inquiry and asks about the specificities of self-expression in the context of Russia in late Soviet and post-Soviet decades. Along with Beck-Gernsheim and Beck, we may ask: To what extent has individualisation in Russia (and in Russia’s remote regions) taken a specific trajectory? Is it specific at all? What may be specific about it?

David Chaney’s treatise on lifestyle

Comprehensive and particularly informative, from our point of view, is British sociologist David Chaney’s monograph with the straightforward title Lifestyles (1996). Chaney’s position is quite close to that of Giddens, notably in his emphasis on reflexivity and a certain room for manoeuvre, or ambit of choice. Chaney offers more than one — in fact many different — definitions of lifestyle, and here I present one that may not be the most elegant, but is the most productive from our research team’s point of view, because it combines practice with intentionality, display, and resources at hand: “Lifestyles are reflexive projects: we (and relevant others) can see (however dimly) who we want to be seen to be through how we use the resources of who we are” (Chaney 1996: 37). The concatenation of verbs summarises well, in our opinion, the various processes at work at the intersection of normative and unconscious practice paired with reflexivity, willful display, and a desire for self-expression: “Lifestyles are reflexive projects: we (and relevant others) can see [perception] who we want [intention] to be seen [recognisability] to be [aspired status] through how we use [practice] the resources [capital] of who we are [status quo]”.

Elsewhere in his book (ibid: 114) Chaney (again, in agreement with Giddens) states that lifestyle offers the symbolic means to express a narration of self. He argues against limiting the lifestyle concept to patterns of consumption and material aspects only. To be sure, the latter do have strong significance inasmuch as they make up a vast part of the inventory for self-stylisation; yet in many cases, consumer practices and decisions do not automatically follow the conventions and intentions that come with an item. Rather, we can often detect that individuals pursue their mise-en-scène in a consciously weird, sometimes ironic manner. By taking things out of their original context and intended meaning, people occasionally manage to create new symbols of lasting currency (1996: 99; see also Miller 1995; Moore 2011).

Apart from self, two more keywords in Chaney’s book deserve to be explained here: surfaces and sensibilities. Surfaces is a shorthand for the phenomenon, already observed by Simmel, that attire, accessories and other attributes worn by a person make that person “recognisable” or legible for others immediately on first sight. It is this phenomenon that enables a rapid, albeit preliminary, appraisal of passers-by in an increasingly urban and thus anonymous social environment (Chaney 1996: 94, 99–111). The notion and relevance of surfaces is further discussed in Chapters 8 and 10 of this volume.

The third term, sensibilities, serves as a metaphor for collective concerns, moral judgements, “big issues”, and perhaps one might also add the term social imaginaries. Chaney speaks of “a way of responding to certain events […] that has a certain pattern” and is imbued “with ethical and aesthetic significance” (ibid: 8). One example provided by Chaney are collective concerns and debates about animal rights, hunting and meat consumption, which have undergone diverse modifications over several centuries; another is the emergence of the cultural practice of attending public concerts and the emergence of “distinct taste publics” (ibid: 10). To give another illustration, the purposes and practices of holiday-making (in the mountains, at the sea) are based, to a large extent, on health-related sensibilities that emerged during a specific period in history. Sensibilities also comprise individual and collective reflections about morality, as is exemplified by the raising importance of religion in the everyday lives of many of Russia’s inhabitants (see first section of Chapter 11). Sensibilities have a clear temporal dimension, and they reflect what some people find tolerable, but others think of as less acceptable or unacceptable. Individuals with shared sensibilities tend to cluster in some way; they constitute milieus, that is, groups of individuals that may assume each other to have similar opinions on moral and political issues. Sensibilities as a key concept is further elaborated in more detail in Chapter 7, it is also discussed in Chapters 2, 4, 8, 9, and 10 of this volume.

Towards a definition of lifestyle to be used in a post-Soviet context

For the team of contributors to this book, Chaney’s analysis has provided inspiration in manifold ways. We connected it with the endeavour of formulating a general theoretical framework for the study of identity and identification at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, the outcome of which is captured in Donahoe et al. (2009). Further, Chaney’s work helped us to revise and sharpen our working definition of lifestyle.8 I argue that lifestyle can be seen as a particular mode of identification. Lifestyle is an expressive, routinised, and stylised mode of identification: (i) it is expressive, insofar as individuals connect choices and practices with statements about themselves to be recognised by others; they invest them with some sense of importance that they also seek to convey to others. (ii) It is routinised (and habitualised) insofar as such practices and choices are performed repeatedly, and predilections can be predicted with some probability. (iii) It is stylised insofar as this mode of identification combines a seemingly contradictory mixture of subjecting the self to social conventions and yet emphasising one’s own difference and distinction. This mixture is one of the basic properties of fashion, as Simmel has pointed out.

All three elements of our definition — lifestyle as an expressive, habitualised and stylised mode of identification — will be of significance in this book. Is the concept of lifestyle applicable to non-western societies? As mentioned, there is a certain challenge in the way lifestyle is embedded in a particular discourse on modernisation, urbanisation and individualisation, all part of a grand scheme called Modernisation Theory. Take the following statement by Giddens as an example: “Lifestyle is not a term which has much applicability to traditional cultures, because it implies choice within a plurality of possible options, and is ‘adopted’ rather than ‘handed down’” (Giddens 1991: 83).

In a similar manner, Stefan Hradil, a German sociologist, states: “The analytical power of the lifestyle concept has narrow limits when applied in societal settings with low freedom of choice, such as prisons, among primitive peoples (Naturvölker) or at the level of the livelihood of a single parent with three children who depends on social support payments. Empirical evidence indicates that a relatively large plurality of lifestyles for many people exists in modern societies only, and within these, it is larger in higher social strata than in lower ones” (Hradil 2001: 275, my translation).9

However, very few sociological or anthropological studies have thus far seriously approached the question of the analytical power of the lifestyle concept in non-urban settings outside Europe and North America. Hence the question: what can we say about lifestyle plurality in Siberia, notably among erstwhile Naturvölker, and how traditional is Siberia today? A first approximation of an answer to this question is pursued in the next section, on Siberia and the Soviet quest for modernity.

Towards research on lifestyle in Siberia: some remarks on the regional context

The Soviet modernisation project

Let us take a brief look at how a peculiar Soviet modernisation project sought to propel social change among the indigenous peoples of Siberia (and more generally, not only in that part of the Soviet Union, but throughout the country — and ultimately regardless of ethnic particularities). As a reminder, the Soviet Union aspired to pursue a path of economic and social development in marked contrast to that of the capitalist world. In a way, the intention was to become even more modern than the rest of the world. This alternative path of development was connected with an emancipatory project from above, enacted in a more explicit and forceful way than what we know from many other historical settings.

Siberia is inhabited by many different indigenous peoples, and according to Marxist-Leninist logic, these were supposed to be on different stages of the evolutionary ladder.10 The task was to have these peoples “leap forward”, to integrate them into socialist society. Generally speaking, we can characterise the Soviet modernisation project as one of the many attempts of social engineering in the twentieth century. Particular to the Soviet version, however, was the speed and geographic scope with which social change was induced, plus the accompanying promise of a bright future, narrated as a unilinear evolutionist process. The main components of modernisation within the entire country — collectivisation, industrialisation, forceful replacement of political and functional élites, literacy and education — had their correlates in the far-flung areas of the country, including large swathes of Siberia: there, the Soviet government sought to make nomadic groups sedentary, invested in large-scale extraction of mineral resources, introduced “industrial methods” and mechanical equipment in all branches of agriculture, persecuted kulaki (wealthy people) and shamans as the most influential representatives of traditional social order, created new indigenous élites, established alphabets and textbooks in indigenous languages, obliged indigenous parents to send their children to Soviet schools, etc. The more or less orchestrated implementation of these strategies and their ambivalent effects have been discussed in detail elsewhere (e.g. Slezkine 1994; Ssorin-Chaikov 2003; Ulturgasheva 2012; Vitebsky 2005).

Some of the many ramifications of the modernisation project should be emphasised here: as part of this strategy, different groups within the indigenous population of Siberia were co-opted more directly than others, with women being seen as potentially the most reliable allies of the Soviet modernisation project (Povoroznyuk et al. 2010). New professions came into existence, notably in the sphere of administration, education, infrastructure, transportation, and trade. Through media and school education the inhabitants of even the remotest areas of the country came to embrace new items of consumption and “cultivated” life — either in the form of desire or in actual appropriation (see Volkov 2000). Moreover, the Soviet ideal of “cultivated” life also implied new genres of self-improvement, self-expression, and aesthetic self-formation (cf. Foucault 2000; Rabinow & Dreyfus 2000) that were generally in line with the idea of the development of a socialist personality (Habeck 2011). To use Chaney’s terminology, the Soviet period established new sensibilities; it also obliged individuals “to surface”, show their commitment to the overall social project, and to express themselves in public (cf. Kharkhordin 1999). Finally, in the sphere of identity-building, ethnicity was made a legitimate register of personal identity, to be expressed through certain genres of display — whereas other, politically incorrect and “backward” aspects of ethnic difference were separated, relegated to museums and banned from everyday life (Vitebsky 1995).

While the Soviet period is often linked with the loss of traditional culture, the post-Soviet period