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Identifying Social Anthropology Within the Russian University System: the case of Tomsk

Scientific organization
Moscow State University
Academic degree
Professor and Chair
Scientific discipline
Humanities & Social sciences
Identifying Social Anthropology Within the Russian University System: the case of Tomsk
Based on the example of how social and anthropological research is organized at Tomsk State University, the authors discuss main problems of the discipline’s current identification within the Russian university system. The necessity is shown of changing the widespread paradigm in the positioning of social anthropology in the domestic system of academic-educational coordinates and of inclusion of it in the sphere of social sciences.
ethnology, socio-cultural anthropology, contemporary problems of anthropology, academic journals, university education, field studies, international experience

The discussion of issues in and prospects of the development of anthropological research in Russia is conducted more or less actively starting from the institutionalization of this discipline in the academic space of our country, primarily as ethnography, then ethnology, then as one of the additional history discipline then again as ethnology and in the last 20-25 years more often as social/cultural, social and cultural anthropology or simply as anthropology. The most widespread problems of the discipline’s current development are parochialism or rather habitualness of thematic boundaries of the research, poor representation in higher education institutions and considerable distinction of domestic university anthropology from the models that have been practiced for decades in the world educational space, the deficiency of high-quality textbooks, and almost a complete lack of high-quality professional journals in the Russian language publishing works on different fields of anthropological knowledge and others[1].

The situation is growing increasingly complex due to self-presentation in most cases of the organizational units of (socio-) anthropological orientation as historical. Departments, centers, laboratories of ethnology, ethnography, and social anthropology are a constituent part of faculties of history and institutions at Russian universities: such is the case for the Department of Ethnology in Lomonosov Moscow State University and the Department of Ethnography and Anthropology at St. Petersburg State University with profession-oriented structured units in the universities of Kazan, Omsk, Tomsk, Yakutsk etc. Consequently, even in the case of licensing in these universities (not many universities have it) bachelor’s and master’s programmes in “Anthropology and Ethnology”, the training of students compulsorily was included in the curriculum of the Faculty of History and was substantially filled with historical disciplines. The only exceptions are the Academic Center of Social Anthropology at Russian State University for the Humanities with immediate subordination to the rectorate and European University at Saint Petersburg, where an independent Faculty of Anthropology is opened.

One more substantial problem, probably the most difficult to solve, is not even an impossibility to license majors or impossibility to organize qualitative academic curriculum. Both can be easily achieved: many colleagues get acquainted with the design of educational programs in the USA and Canada, Western Europe, Japan and China. Such a problem is in fact an impossibility to provide openness for competition to fill vacancies and invite educated specialists. All our colleagues face such a problem. Some of them solve it thanks to personal international connections or using the opportunities that are given by universities to invite colleagues for short-term exchange programs (Fulbright, etc.).

The example of the Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research (LSAR) at the Faculty of History of Tomsk State University compiling our report illustrates the essential possibility (that is possibility in principle) to solve a considerable part of the above noted problems with targeted social assistance. In just three years of implementing the megaproject “Man in a Changing World. Identity and Social Adaptation: Past and Present” the educational and research landscape of TSU has changed fundamentally.

Our own laboratory was opened and its bilingual site started functioning (http://lsar.tsu.ru/ru/). At first, a four-fold structural anthropology model usually called the Boasian model was accepted which includes 1) social, cultural, or socio-cultural anthropology; 2) linguistic anthropology; 3) biological or physical anthropology and 4) archeology. The Journal of Siberian Historical Research, created thanks to the mega-grant funding, was redesigned and conceptually renewed. After two years of its existence in the updated form it has been accepted for inclusion in the Scopus international database and effectively enhanced the international profile of “Tomsk” anthropology[2].

In the 2015-2016 academic year, major educational both bachelor’s and master’s programmes in “Anthropology and ethnology” were launched at the Faculty of History[3]. Key admission figures for the 2015-2016 year equated to 10 state-funded places in bachelor’s programme and 7 in master’s programme whereas in 2016-2017 there were 10 and 10 places available correspondingly. Preparation for basic vocation-related subjects is fulfilled by the staff of the Faculty of History and LSAR, 16 people in total. Among them there are 5 holders of ‘Doctor of Science’ and 9 holders of ‘Candidate of Science’ (PhD) degrees. Three of them have academic degrees in “Ethnography, Ethnology and Anthropology” (specialty code 07.00.07), and one person – in “Anthropology” (specialty code 03.03.02). In general, the academic staff fully meets the requirements presented by the Federal State Educational Standards on majors 460303 and 460403. But the lack of subject specialists as well as young specialists does not allow us run the whole educational process on a high level. A solution was found through inviting on a regular basis outstanding Russian and foreign specialists to deliver lectures and seminars. In 2015-2016, besides the project manager’s lectures, lectures were also delivered by E.V. Miskova (MSU), M.L.Butovskaya (Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, RAS), E.G. Trubina (Ural Federal University, Yekaterinburg), N.V. Ssorin-Chaikov (Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg), P. Finke (University of Zurich), J. O. Habek (University of Hamburg), A. Halemba (University of Warsaw), O.V. Korneev (University of Sheffield), and others. The megagrant allowed not only essentially broaden the staff and courses available but also diversify our fieldwork options and organize outside-Tomsk schools for students.

One of the most important achievements during the project implementation was the widening of the term “anthropology” and of its semantic content along with the broadening of colleagues and students’ research horizons. A combination of both as it turned out was not so painless, at any rate not so trivial, as could have been suggested. The first international school in which several TSU students took part became a challenge if not a culture shock. A week in the Alpine School in Italian Valle d’Aosta required skills to search for and to find anthropological scenarios (that are completely different from those in the Siberian “ethnographical field”) while being surrounded by crowds of  tourists, in city cafes, confectionaries and basement beer bars, in the seemingly demonstrative “traditionalism” of the local cities and their grand symbols of the bygone epoch of ancient world and medieval times which in point of fact turned out to be part of the Valdostans’ daily routine – the life that an ethnographer must be interested in when being in the “field”. Further “immersions” in other “fields” went more smoothly, each time opening new unexplored facets of anthropological viewing and of participants’ own research skills. The new view of the subject and object of anthropological research which eventually matured is vividly reflected in the topics of bachelor’s theses where there are also topics from the fields of applied and economic anthropology, migration anthropology, the study of heterogeneous communities, civil identity and national politics, etc.

Close collaboration with specialists with background in the archeology of heritage (which is inconceivable without digital technologies today) is a great achievement of the Tomsk anthropological school. Unmanned flying vehicle, 3D scans, 3D printers, computer models spinning in the air right in front of your eyes – all these became a customary, constituent part of the work of the Laboratory for Social and Anthropological Research staff and what is more important is of the students who have the opportunity not only to participate in such projects but to basically live this atmosphere.

We agree that the resulting model of Tomsk anthropology might be defined (using the computer design terminology) as a 2D model as long as it is built on the synthesis of two elements: social anthropology and archeology. How soon it will become a fully-fledged 4D model including research in biological and linguistic anthropology is yet to be seen. But even now one thing is clear: the purposeful refocusing of the local ethnological school onto an internationally-recognized view of the structure and the field of modern anthropology, anthropology as one of the social sciences alone allowed us get those results that we can be proud of now. It is difficult to say whether it is the only way to break the close, long-lasting and strong connection between ethnology and history. We are ready for a dialogue with colleagues both in terms of sharing personal experience and in terms of discussing the matter with opponents who are concerned about the future of Russian science.


[1] For more detailed information see, for example: Tishkov V.A., Pivneva E.A. Ethnological and anthropological research in Russian academic science // Early Modern and Contemporary History. 2010. No 2. pp. 3–21; Sokolovskiy S.V. In a zeitnot: notes on the state of Russian anthropology// Laboratorium. Journal of Social Research. 2011. No 2. pp. 70–89; Funk D.A. Discussing the development prospects of the MSU Department of Ethnology // The Historical Journal: Research Studies. 2014. No 1. pp. 93–102; Funk D.A. On the outcomes and problems of modern transformations in ethnology/anthropology in Russia // Proceedings of the XI Russian Congress of anthropologists and ethnologists. Yekaterinburg, 2-5 July, 2015. Edited by V.A. Tishkov, A.V. Golovnyov. Russian Academy of Sciences: Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology (Moscow) and Institute of History and Archaeology (Yekaterinburg), 2015. pp. 38-44.

[2] For more detailed information see: Funk D.A.  Scientometrics and evaluation of publications in social sciences and humanities // Siberian Historical Research, 2016, №1, pp. 8–26. DOI: 10.17223/2312461X/11/2

[3] Both programmes were licensed and included in the TSU license for educational activity in March 2014.