The concept of etnos—one of the more controversial anthropological concepts of the Cold War period—is contextualized by looking at its “life history” through the biography of one of its proponents. Sergei Mikhailovich Shirokogoroff was a Russian/Chinese anthropologist whose career transected Eurasia from Paris to Beijing via Saint Petersburg and the Siberian borderlands of the Russian Empire. His transnational biography and active correspondence shaped the unique spatial and intellectual configuration of a concept that became a cornerstone of both Soviet and Chinese ethnography. The theory of etnos turned out to be surprisingly stable, while circulating through various political and intellectual environments ranging from England, Germany, and China to Imperial, Soviet, and modern Russia. This case study presents a history of anthropology wherein networks and conversations originating in the Far East of Eurasia have had unexpected influences on the heartlands of anthropology.
Bibliographical noteWe thank the 12 commentators for their insights and their invitations for fresh research. The new intellectual terrain of this concept, adopted by Kremlin politicians and social movements alike, deserves more anthropological attention.
- SOVIET ETHNOGRAPHY