Ambivalence and Sustainability: A Soiot Approach to the Domestication of Landscapes

Alexander Christian Oehler

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOral Presentation/ Invited Talk


This talk is based on ethnographic fieldwork with Soiot and Tofa herder-hunters of the Eastern Saian Mountains.
This region of southern Siberia has long attracted international scholarship for being one of the earliest places
on earth where reindeer entered the human household to form a highly nuanced relationship with humans. The
talk will argue that this relationship has variously been misunderstood as a product of human domination and
control, and it proposes that indigenous relations with animals inside and outside the household are best
understood outside a wild-tame dichotomy. Although Soiots and Tofas see themselves as the descendants of
the original hunter-herders, the importance of reindeer has receded in both societies. For transhumant Soiot
households focus has shifted to the breeding of yak, horses and sheep. What survives this species transition is
an acute awareness of sentience and autonomy in living beings, including spirit-imbued landscape features. By
focusing on the shamanic concept of 'being in-between,' this talk articulates an alternative approach to the
domestication of sentient beings in southern Siberian landscapes, contrasting Soviet collectivization and
Buddhist conversion narratives.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2018
Event Ambivalence and Sustainability: A Soiot Approach to the Domestication of Landscapes - Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera) and European University, St Petersburg, Russian Federation
Duration: 3 May 20183 May 2018


Talk/Presentation Ambivalence and Sustainability
Country/TerritoryRussian Federation
CitySt Petersburg


  • Reindeer domestication
  • Shamanism
  • Buddhism
  • Interspecies relations


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