Update: 2019

I am inviting everyone to follow my work by following my website www.vasilinaorlova.com, my pages on Academia.edu and ResearchGate.com, as well as my Twitter and Instagram.

The main event of 2018 was coming out of my book, Anthropology of Everydayness (Antropologia povsednevnosti), in Russian. Nezavisimaya Newspaper included it on the list of best nonfiction books of 2018 (even though it contains poetry, among other things–syncretic genres have always been my main vein of writing).

In 2018, I presented my work at the ASEEES conference in Boston, Massachusets.

I spent 7 months of 2018 in Russia in my field: Moscow, Irkutsk, the village of Anosovo (Irkutsk district) and visited more than ten towns and villages on my ways throughout the region.

One of the significant parts of my travel was the train journey Moscow-Irkutsk. The last and only time I took this journey before was in 1998, that is to say, exactly twenty years ago. Back in 1998, I was taking notes even more copious and detailed as I do now as an ethnographer, and I am wishing for this valley of time where I can superimpose these two almost week-long train travels following the same route with the distance of twenty years in one work.

The next year promises to be even more fruitful in terms of the collecting of data. Because I won the Wenner-Gren dissertation fieldwork grant (and I uploaded my winning proposal for the benefit of my colleagues seeking information on the grant writing process and favorable result), I get to spend another year in Russia beginning May 2019 and ending possibly May 2020 (or later, depending on circumstances).

Meanwhile, I began deciphering and transcribing my field recordings. I have 828 recordings collected in 2018 alone (smaller numbers for 2017 and 2016). Some of my recordings are no longer than several minutes, others stretch for hours (sometimes with embedded long pauses). Transcribing is a long and meticulous work that requires supreme attention to the details of the speech texture. I made the decision to transcribe my recordings just as they were made: in Russian first, and only then to translate (of course, not all, but some of them, most interesting little fragments). I am transcribing in Russian for two reasons: translation will obliterate the greatest part of the unique value of the speech. It is only possible to translate a silhouette of the speech, as it were. Perhaps I will include the Russian original alongside the English translation as Don Kulick did it with the language(s) he was working in Travesti: Sex, Gender, and Culture Among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes (1998); I find this attention to the language instructive even when I don’t speak the language. The second reason why I am transcribing my recordings in Russian is that they are valuable as is, and I am open to the possibility to consider that they in themselves are more precious than anything that I will be able to write about or around them. In the end, working through these recordings–deciphering, careful editing of them to eliminate repeated words and leave what needs to be left, cutting things that distract attention, introducing the speakers and providing descriptions for the settings could be my main work as an anthropologist and a writer.

The Spring semester at UT I am teaching Expressive Culture course. Together with my students, I am planning to (re)read some of the foundational works in anthropology that allow us to understand the differences between cultures. I am therefore anticipating the beginning of the semester with excitement, and I am planning to upload to Academia.edu the syllabus that I am still tweaking.

I have a big chunk of my dissertation written when it comes to the initial framing–I anticipate a lot of the writing that I already have will serve me in this capacity–but absolutely unedited. My dissertation is not my concern though, my concern is writing articles introducing my work to the anthropological public. I have been writing steadily beginning with 2014-2015 when I started writing prose and started writing ethnographically in English, and I continue organizing my material. The nature of anthropological work is such that it takes time; unfortunately, there is no way around it, one has to be ready to invest a lot of effort and be patient. No quick results are possible in this field.


In the photo: the cover of my book Anthropology of Everydayness (Moscow, Nookratia, 2018)


Field Notes, Summer of 2017 in Siberia

During this summer I spent as much time as it was possible in Siberia. I brought notes from there, that I now offer to your attention. I hope to work on the photographs that I took; some of my best shots were taken there this year.

Without further ado, Stenography of the Itinerary on the Academia.edu.

“Suddenly (and I have to fly tomorrow) I am not excited to go to “the field,” which is also “home.” The distance is never a stable measure. The distance grows. With time, it deepens. I am clinging to things: a kerchief that I have not been wearing for months, I definitely need to take it with me. All the colorful pens. All these books I have not finished. The pages of handwriting I did not have time to type; I am spending the last day before the departure trying to determine what I might be missing the next day. A futile wonder. I will miss nothing in particular and everything at once, but I probably will also be too occupied with what immediately arises in my sight to ponder over anything that I have left.

My phone is suddenly broken, of all things–my phone, which prosthetic qualities are never as evident as they are now, when it is not “here,” out of order. I suspect that I inhabit the screen: Evernote, messengers, colorful icons of familiar apps–icons and anchors of familiarity itself. To go without the phone, a false body member, is to be derived of the instrument, of techne, of the possibility of art, which is only available through technology. To have a new phone on the eve of flying from one country of another is more like changing planets. Now I will have to spend at least two hours and likely more recalling all the passwords that open myself to myself.

Derrida doubtlessly did not anticipate the development of technology which by a peculiar twist favors writing–for the first time in human history writing seems ubiquitous, everyone is writing, it is not going to last long, I think, when the advance of video will take over. Derrida issues old-fashionable laments on the death of love letters (as a genre) that he predicts tirelessly in his own love letters–little did he know. He would have been thrilled by sexting.

Itineraries deprive one of that little sense of home which one might possibly have after having moved from one hemisphere to the other. Every travel is a little bit of death, death foreshadowed, half-disclosed, hinted, promised–a rehearsal of how you’ll leave everything at once on a certain day to come. The inevitability of it is monotonous: it is not the event itself but the inescapability of it which is gruesome. To think about all the orphaned objects you will leave, and of the facelessness, the indiscernibility of these objects.”


read the rest here: https://www.academia.edu/34156517/Stenography_of_the_Itinerary

Several Fieldwork Photographs

I have to return the photo camera that I used during the field work, tomorrow, and so, downloaded the last series of photographs that I took in Siberia during the endless, shiny, everlasting summer of 2016.

Mostly, these pictures are taken in the town of Ust Uda, but some, in the village of Anosovo. I did not process the photographs; they are in their rough initial form.



Repertoire of Stories

I have known long and well enough some of my acquaintances to get to know the repertoire of their stories, which they repeat on different occasions with slight alterations. These modifications tell more than the stories themselves. The storytellers know I know their stories, but it by no means prevent them from repeating them, and me from listening. I forget details too, and listening to them over and over again, I am involved in a process of recollecting and re-membering. With stories polished by the author to the point that their flow is never interrupted, it is sometimes difficult to tell if they adjust the details, or I mis- and dis-remember them. Either way, into these discrepancies, inconsistencies, and gaps, something important fells. Ideally I’d like to decipher several recordings of one story and analyze them. It could make a compendium, an ideal book of one story, perhaps a story not even significant itself, but acquiring meaning through attentive reading.

In detecting the repeated stories, timing, a personal timing, becomes of substance. Kathleen Stewart in her “A Space on the Side of the Road” describes her method as follows:

“The project has itself been a process of re-membering and retelling, and the resultant account stands as an allegory of the cultural processes it is trying to represent. In began with two years of fieldwork from August 1980 to September 1982 and continued through a dozen return visits in the years that followed and through the twists and turns of field notes, tape recordings, memories, photographs, phone calls, postcards, letters, telegrams, and professional papers. One time, it has become a process of long dwelling on things re-membered and retold, forgotten and imagined.” (Stewart, 1996, 7)

As she was forced to rely on memory on a number of occasions, she fell in the gaps by re-listening to the same stories time and again. (Stewart, 1996, 8)

I had long imagined a book which would envelop all variants of “Leaves of Grass,” for example, not only the first and the final versions of it, but all the intermediate versions. (And this is, too, not the first time I speak about such an edition. My second or perhaps even the third reiteration of this next to impossible for materialization, idea, adds a metapragmatic tinge to the project of collecting a compendium of one story; a collection of stories consisting of infinite repetitions of one episode.

Why people repeat stories, might be another question to ask. Does not life in its overabundance of stories offer us infinite possibilities to create and recreate themselves through different narrations, why focus on the same plot? What is in the repetition? Why we prefer to stick to the same stories, retelling them over and over again? Perhaps by way of repetition we create a space of certainty, a reliable narration, and, in the end of it, a reliable narrator–the narrator who could be believed precisely because she deviates and digresses, and her story forks into a bunch of stories, tale bifurcates into a spectrum of tales without losing its identity.



Stewart, Kathleen. A Space on the Side of the Road. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey, 1996.


Home. A strange sense of home in Anosovo. I was surprised to find that I am actually glad to see its broken roads and small houses again. Walking up the street I recollected in the ten thousandth time how I wanted, in a fulfillment of an odd dream, to go in such a place after college as a school teacher.

I envisioned a Siberian village, and although it was silly and I knew it was, I toyed with the idea and started writing what should have been a limitless novel, with one plot around a young Moscow female dreamer, who was sent in a place like that, obligatorily, as was a custom of those times—it was called, distributed, raspredelena—but went quite consciously, curios and inspired, as also happened not unoften.

Music Box

On a ferry Balagansk—Anosovo, someone had a music box for a child’s entertainment. The child had long lost any interest in it, and did not open the lead. I was curious what it sounded like. Finally, the music box fell on the floor with a frail ringing, and started playing. It played a familiar melody. My aunt, being a maiden, had such a box, it looked exactly the same—black, plastic, with flat gleaming walls; opened, it displayed several red velvet compartments.

I once took off a cover which shielded the notched cylinder, and studied the mechanism. One had to tighten the spring for the cylinder to rotate. Thin metal plates which responded with pleasant sounds to the notches disturbing them, captivated my attention. I could look at their alternating bending and straightening for a long time.

Once taken off, the cover was never glued back. I saw other music boxes of this model, only with a plexiglass cover showing the secret mechanics. That was a smart invention; it probably saved a great deal of boxes from being taken apart.

Two Difficulties of My Summer Fieldwork

One of the main difficulties that I encountered during my summer fieldwork (mosquitoes aside), is the unified narrative which defeats the private accounts on all levels of information collections.

According to the Scientific and Collections Division worker E., in the museum’s collections, data that are related to the dislocation and dispossession of people living in the zone of the Bratsk dam flood, are absent because it was a matter of ideological choice. Only official propaganda documents relevant to the Bratsk dam construction, were carefully gathered; accounts of events that contradicted official narrative were avoided and excluded. It was noticeable for me throughout the museum spaces in Siberia. No complexity of events beyond the layering of the Soviet propaganda were ever introduced in the way the past was reconstructed in exhibitions and collections. Not only was the unified narrative held across different museums, but also little change is noticeable how events are narrated in regard to different dams’ constructions.

For instance, Ust-Ilimsk dam’s construction began in 1963, 9 years after the beginning of the Bratsk dam construction and two years after the first stationary generator of Bratsk dam, unit N18, started operating. Ust-Ilimsk dam, too, was magnificent in terms of amounts of energy it produced and also in numbers of the displaced and the dispossessed: 14.2 thousand of people in 61 settlements, were relocated. Nonetheless, Ust-Ilimsk dam was the product of the slightly shifted times, and people’s stories arguably received some more attention: Students of ethnographic laboratories recorded their narratives. The first piercing story of disenfranchised displacement which sounded loud and clear, was written by the writer who lived through what he, contradictorily to the established narrative, perceived as tragedy—it was the novel “Farewell to Matyora” by Valentin Rasputin, published in 1976.

There was a Science-Research Laboratory of Humanitarian Explorations (Nauchno-issledovatelskaya laboratoriya gumanitarnikh issledovaniy) in Bratsk State University, which collected oral narratives of the Bratsk relocation survivors, but according to the university official V., in connection to the crisis of 2008, the laboratory had lost the grant endorsements and ceased to exist in 2012. I tracked down the organizer of this laboratory, who now lives in Irkutsk, and also have a connection with a philologist who have been collecting stories, and I hope that both these lines would yield to results. A number of personal stories were published in the 1990s, and then some I am collecting myself in the village of Anosovo.

I sometimes think: Why do I do it? How could I make it matter, what these people felt and thought back then or are thinking now? Damage has already been done, my findings would not be incorporated by the state or private enterprises in their decision making process. Things about other dams have been written already, from the anthropological, ecological, sociological, geological, and a number of other perspectives. And that is the second of my main difficulties in the field. I feel powerless to justify this research, that has been a matter of my own inexplicable curiosity slowly fusing into the matter of… pain, I would say, if I wasn’t afraid of appearing too maudlin.

First Tooth

When I am in my fieldwork, the news reaches me that my child has lost his first tooth and checked himself twice in the mirror that day (which he usually does not).

It was a time of terror in my childhood when I was losing my teeth, and I wish I could offer him support and my presence at this difficult time. I saw nightmares; I am quite certain that everyone suffers through this time, and only later, as an adult, forgets about it. Something happens to your body that you do not control. A metamorphosis transfigures you, and it entails these painful and disturbing little losses.

My mom told me that when she or her brother or her sister lost a tooth, they ran to the room from which there was a ladder to the attic. They threw their teeth to the square entrance of the attic and said:

“Мишка, мишка, на тобi костяний зуб, а менi дай залiзний.”

(“Mouse, mouse, take my bony tooth, and give me back an iron tooth,” Ukrainian.)

“We all have iron teeth now,” She said smiling, referring to either veneered or prosthetic teeth she and her siblings have.