The research project Northern neighbours. Environment and Modernization in Literature of the Russian Arctic (Kone Foundation 2019–22) examines the representations of nature in literature written in the North of Russia and the changes that have taken place in it during the 20th century.
The research focuses on Nenets, Kola Sámi, Chukchi, Russian and (ethnically Russian but culturally distinctive) Pomor literatures. The focus is on the ways in which these literatures express the relationship between the human and the non-human in the context of modernization processes such as colonization, technologicalization and urbanization. Our research provides new and complementary perspectives on the discussion of the relationship between people, technology, and non-human nature within posthumanist and ecocritical research.
The project is based on the idea of neighbourliness between northern people and northern nature on the one hand, and northern communities on the other. We study nature both as a natural environment and as a built urban environment, in both of which the human interacts with the non-human. Correspondingly, literature of the Arctic has developed at the intersection of different cultures. Indigenous literature is transnational in nature. It has developed alongside longstanding close cultural contacts with particularly Russian literature and culture, while the indigenous literary and oral tradition has influenced Russian literature of the area.
The diverse effects of the early colonization of the northern territories of European Russia and the modernization that accelerated during the Soviet period are visible in the northern nature and culture. The problem of the relationship of the centre and the periphery is a recurrent one in Russian literature on the Arctic, in which the North is often portrayed either as a romanticized cradle of Russian culture or as an uncivilized area that needs to be conquered by science and technology.
Nevertheless, alongside the discourse of conquest, there are other ways of perceiving the relationship between culture and nature. Especially the so-called “Village Prose” of the 1960s to the1980s raises ethical and moral issues related to the exploitation of natural resources. For indigenous peoples, such as the Nenets and the Sámi, literature itself has been a means for representing modernness. Indeed, indigenous literature depicts the North as both a homeland as well as a recipient of such tropes of modernity as light, electricity, industry and socialism. In post-Soviet literature, on the other hand, the history of the Arctic is often portrayed through urbanization. Also in literature, the relationship between urban space and natural environments raises questions about northern colonization and the relationship of the present generation to the Soviet past.