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Social Science Cultural

Tundra Passages

History and Gender in the Russian Far East

by (author) Petra Rethmann

Penn State University Press
Initial publish date
Jan 2001
Cultural, General, Human Geography, Customs & Traditions
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2000
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2001
    List Price

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Koriak have been described as a nomadic people, migrating with the reindeer through rugged terrain. Their autonomy and mobility are salient cultural features that ethnographers and state administrators have found equally fascinating and menacing.

Tundra Passages describes how this indigenous people in the Russian Far East have experienced, interpreted, and struggled with the changing conditions of life on the periphery of post-Soviet Russia.

Rethmann portrays the lives of Koriak women in the locales of Tymlat and Ossora in northern Kamchatka, within a wider framework of sexuality, state power, and marginalization, which she sees as central to the Koriak experience of everyday life. Using gender as a lens through which to examine wider issues of history, disempowerment, and marginalization, she explores the interpretations and strategies employed by Koriak women and men to ameliorate the austere effects of political and socioeconomic disorder. Rethmann’s innovative work combines historical and ethnographic descriptions of Koriak life, narration, and practices of gender and history.

With the demise of the Soviet Union, scholars have begun an active discussion of the political processes that affect marginalized and indigenous peoples in Russia. This work contributes to this discussion by revealing the tensions and potentially contradictory strategies of indigenous people within a world shaken by change, uncertainty, and disorder.


About the author

Petra Rethmann is assistant professor of anthropology at McMaster University. Her work has been published in American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Anthropologica, and The Anthropology of East-Europe Review.

Petra Rethmann's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Post-Soviet ethnography is expanding its gaze, due in part to a surging interest in regions of the former Soviet Union that have been recently opened to the outside world. Petra Rethmann’s book represents an important contribution to this expansion. Her book sheds light on a region and group poorly represented in the ethnographic literature, the Koriak of the northeastern part of the Kamchatka Peninsula.”

—Edmund (Ned) Searles, American Journal of Sociology

“This book makes an original and creative contribution that breaks new ground in ethnography from the Russian Far East.”

—Julie Cruikshank, Current Anthropology

“This book makes an original and creative contribution that breaks new ground in ethnography from the Russian Far East.”

—Julie Cruikshank, Current Anthropology

“Petra Rethmann’s evocative Tundra Passages breaks completely new ground in ethnography from the Russian Far East. Drawing on conversations and experiences shared with Koriak women living on northeastern Kamchatka peninsula, she conveys the human dignity and creative energy that persist in the midst of social suffering following the breakdown of the Soviet empire. Rethmann demonstrates how historical conditions and regional inequalities affect the lives of women who struggle to make a better world for themselves and their families. This is ethnography at its very best.”

—Julie Cruikshank, University of British Columbia

“This book is important for anyone hoping to keep pace with the whirlwind of change besetting Native Siberia. Each of its nine chapters is filled with the quiet drama of people in transition.”

—E.J. Vajda, Choice

Other titles by Petra Rethmann