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The authors in this thematic issue reflect on the current “ontological turn” in Russian social sciences and humanities, and especially on the influence the turn exerts on various anthropological sub-disciplines and research domains. This introduction reviews publications in Russian academic journals, article collections, theses, books, and book chapters that best illustrate current ontological preoccupations in Russian anthropology. The ontological turn encompasses diverse interests and topics and is often labelled as “material,” “object-oriented,” “speculative-realist,” or “praxiographic.” In fact, we are dealing with multiple interdisciplinary “turns” that intersect and overlap, while interlinking many domains of the biological sciences, geographical sciences, social sciences, and humanities. In Russia, the ontological turn (actor-network theory, material semiotics, symmetrical anthropology, sociology of translation, object-oriented ontology, speculative realism) unfolds in different domains of research that can be grouped into four main fields: 1) medical anthropology, body studies, and death studies; 2) urban anthropology; 3) anthropology of science and techno-anthropology; 4) museum anthropology and material culture studies. The contributions to this issue illustrate current research in medical anthropology, body and death studies, urban anthropology, technoanthropology, museum studies, as well as Siberian ethnography using the perspectivist model.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union opened a new phase in the anthropological study of Siberia, as researchers from Western Europe, North America, and Japan joined their colleagues of the former Soviet Bloc in the field. This occurred just as a number of new trends emerged in the field of anthropology, including those referred to as “the ontological turn” or “the anthropology of ontology.” To what extent could the latter, originally developed on the basis of research in Amazonia, be applied to Siberia? In this article, we offer a critical re-reading of contributions by some of the authors who have attempted to apply ontological perspectives to Siberian materials. The works we review include both comparative studies of the ontologies of different people, including Siberians, and ethnographies of particular Siberian communities. In conclusion, we illustrate certain criticisms that have been made of ontological approaches by examining how two of the authors under review – Philippe Descola and Rane Willerslev – have drawn on classic ethnographies of northeastern Siberia, particularly the works of Waldemar Bogoras on the Chukchi.