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Negotiating National and Disciplinary Identities in Neo-Liberal Russia

Date and Time: 
Thursday, April 10, 2014. 05:00 PM - 06:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Archaeology Center, building 500, seminar room
Meeting Description: 

Meeting presenter: Gertjan Plets

Case Study: Heritage Activism and Archaeological Ethics in the Multicultural Altai Republic (Southwest Siberia)

With the events in Ukraine and the Crimea unfolding, the Kremlin has been defending its particular intervention based on their “responsibility” to protect the right of ethnic minorities to self-determination. Further arguments to back the demands of the so-called Crimeans and ultimately annex Crimea is permeated with a discourse that makes explicit references to cultural heritage, historical injustices and a shared Soviet past. As such these recent events do not only spotlight the current geopolitical interests of president Putin and his desire to restore Russia as a great power, they also bring the Kremlin’s attention for heritage and the past into the international limelight. Drawing on recent anthropological research in the Altai Republic -- a multicultural federal subject of Russia whose indigenous population is similarly striving for self-determination -- this presentation will present some critical perspectives about heritage policy and politics in post-Soviet Russia. Through appraising a particularly contested repatriation case, the heritage discourses of different actors in the Russian heritage field will be assessed and scrutinized. Ultimately, the particular heritage agenda and perceptions of both the Kremlin, Indigenous Siberians, displaced ethnic Russians, multi-national enterprises and Russian archaeologists will be deconstructed and contextualized in relation with the changing fields of practice the Altai Republic has traversed. Through approaching the Russian Homo Archaeologicus as just one of the many social agents in the heritage field, an ethnographic understanding of archaeological practice and ethics will also be presented.

Gertjan obtained his Ph.D. from Ghent University (Belgium) in 2013 and currently works as a postdoc at Stanford funded by the BAEF (Belgian American Education Fund). In his dissertation, titled “Heritages in the Making: Social embodiment of cultural heritage objects and places in the multicultural Altai Republic”, Gertjan investigated how different social groups in a radically changing multi-cultural post-socialist arena utilized, created and maintained cultural heritage. Based on ethnographic research in the Altai Republic (Siberia, Russia), the different heritage discourses at play in southeast Russia were scrutinized and contextualized. In his current research project Gertjan attempts to expand and contextualize his Russian research to other emerging economic powers (BRICS and broader Southeast Asia). He specifically aims to investigate how newly developing nations engage with heritage in relation with indigenous activism, national identity, tourism, economic development and international legitimation.

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