Category Archives: Russia

Podcast about my book

Sean Guillory of Sean’s Russia Blog spoke with me the other day about my book “The force of custom. Law and the ordering of everyday life in Kyrgyzstan.” You can listen to the podcast online here or download the podcast here.

In our interview, Sean asked me what inspired me to do a study on “custom” (Kyrgyz salt) and how we can understand the concept anthropologically, how it is communicated, what metaphors are associated with it and in what contexts we can observe it in action.

Sean was also interested in hearing my reasons for not anonymizing my main informants, how people in my fieldsite conceive of their history, what the historical trajectories of the local courts of elders (aksakal courts) are, how Soviet life has been unmade after Kyrgyzstan gained independence, how we should understand the role of the state in the countryside and what the roles of elders and their relationship with villagers, politicians and state administrators are.

Finally, we discuss my decision to end the book with a criticism of the concept of postsocialism which, I argue, is not central for understanding everyday life in Kyrgyzstan.


“Russian and Polar Bears Unite! A Follow-Up.”

What is 19cm high, 20cm wide, weighs only 680grams but carries a President? Right – it’s the Russian Bear!

And what is flying high into the sky? Right – the Bear, too. There is nothing he can’t do – the Bear, I mean. While everyone has been concentrating on Putin, it is the bear that should interest us; that magical, charismatic hero of Russian folk tales, easily fooled by political rhetoric. It is him who is carrying the President on his back across the country (literally, if you look at the statue carefully), and who is now taking him up into the sky in the recent pictogram of Khabarovsk Airport, in Southeast Russia, close to the China border.


What is next? The moon? Oh no, been there, done that, too.

He seems increasingly, desperate, though. The Bear, not Putin. Some memes pictured him crashed, lying in a state-sponsored, vodka-induced coma.




But someone recently had a useful suggestion: Sarah Palin, ex-Governor of Alaska, who, allegedly, said “you can see Russia from my house.” She has had a longstanding, complicated relationship with bears herself, summarized by The Guardian in 2008 into the question “Sarah Palin vs The Polar Bear – who will survive? It’s 2015 now and both Sarah Palin and polar bears have become more endangered, but she is still “seriously interested” in running for President next year. She recently called up her fellow-countrymen to rise up against an overarching American state, shouting: “‘The Man,’ can only ride ya when your back is bent. So strengthen it. Then ‘The Man’ can’t ride ya.”

I think the Russian Bear should take this exhortation seriously, throw that naked President off his back, form an alliance with the Polar Bear and chase both Putin and Palin all around Little Diomede Island.


The Diomede Islands, Big and Little, in the Bering Strait.


Note: originally published on 03 February, 2015 here: The Bear in Space-pictures are taken from Mikhailov, B. 1973. “How the Bear flew into Space”. Leningrad: Khudozhnik RSFSR. (Б. Михайлов “Как медведь в космос летал” Изд. “Художник РСФСР”. Ленинград 1973).