Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov. Soviet Ethnography and Invention of the West

Regardless of the political and conceptual detachment of Soviet ethnography, it had both, foreign research and consistent self-reflection over western anthropological traditions. What is the attitude towards them today? What was their academic reputation and importance? And to what extent is Russian ethnographic tradition in lengthier historic perspective is connected to this historic context, particularly today when the ambivalent cult of the "world science" combines in it with the aspiration to find own unique way and unique identity? The proposed presentation raises the question of the genre of western historiography in Soviet and Russian science and of social organization of this genre. The presentation will dwell upon Occidentalism — cultural representation of the West in Russia and USSR in the research of western communities and academic traditions. We shall be dwelling upon the correlation of the image of the West as “different” and “true self”—and as the subject of distancing as well as the source of self-identification and understanding of the “normality.” Positive references to the experience of British and American anthropology in Soviet ethnography of the 1920s and standard accusations of the western science of imperialism in late Soviet years shall be used as historic background materials. Main part of the report is dedicated to fundamental works on the history of cultural and social anthropology created in 1970s and 1980s  as well as to ever increasing numbers of translations of classic western texts in 1990s and 2000s and practice of interpreting them. We shall be dwelling upon the inner complexity of the genre of western approaches’ criticism that includes but is not limited by the relations of competitiveness and imitation. How can one understand the academic authority of working on this historiographical problematics, its inner danger and status value in view of theories of knowledge/regime relationship, in particular theories of cultural resistance and conformism, forms of cultural and academic capital and “new diffusionism?” Is there a specifically Russian content of cultural definitions and definitions of the West in the (academic) routine in Russia—and thus, is the West an invented tradition?