Prof. Dr. Günther Schlee


Dr. Kirill Istomin


Dr. Joachim Otto Habeck


Other Phase of research:

2004–2008 (B6)

Project Group E: Reflexion and Concepts, Project E8

New Technologies in the Tundra: High-Tech Equipment, Perception of Space and Spatial Orientation of Nomadic and Settled Populations of the Russian Arctic


This project builds on the project B6 realized during the second stage of the Collaborative Research Centre. The main conclusion of that project was that human spatial perception and orientation can be best understood as products of a cognitive system, which includes, apart from one or several human brains, also other objects and phenomena. These can be the means of transport, orientation equipment, reindeer, etc. The different forms of spatial perception shown by the groups of tundra population can be best explained by the fact, that their members experience space and solve spatial cognitive tasks in different cognitive systems. This also leads to differences in their patterns of spatial behavior.

In the current project, the research will be focused on the dynamics of the described cognitive systems and the changes they produce in the social sphere. The main object of this research are the changes in spatial cognition, spatial orientation and land use of different groups of tundra population following the introduction of satellite and mobile telephones as well as GPS. These groups include nomadic and semi-nomadic reindeer herders, fishermen, traders, industrial workers, members of the local administration and settled villagers living in two tundra regions on the both sides of the Urals (picture 1) and having specific ethnic backgrounds (e.g. Nenets, Komi, Khanty, Russians, etc.). These groups differ considerably in their way of life, strategies of land use and the equipment they rely on in their every-day life. As a consequence, we may also expect differences in their spatial cognition and methods of spatial orientation and creates relatively well defined spatial spheres of action for each of the groups.

Mobile and satellite telephones as well as GPS have rapidly spread among all groups of tundra population during the last five years. This has greatly improved the communication between persons and made distant places in the tundra more accessible because traveling does not require so much knowledge of the territory and orientation skills as it used to do. Therefore, we may assume that the technical innovations influence the orientation abilities as well as the conceptualization of space by changing such basic categorical dichotomies as distant/close and centre/periphery. More importantly, these innovations change the spatial spheres of action of different groups and their potential of social, political and economic control over the tundra and its resources. Therefore, social change is likely to follow the technological one.

In the framework of this project, an attempt will be made to document these changes using both quantitative and qualitative methods. We hope that such a study will contribute to the understanding of human spatial cognition in general, e.g. through a contribution to the further development of the Theory of Distributed Cognition. On a more general level, this study will contribute to the long-lasting debate on the link between technological and cultural development.


Prof. Dr. Günther Schlee

Redrawing the map of the Horn: the politics of difference. In: Africa 73 (3) (2003), 343-368.

Régularités dans le chaos. Traits récurrents dans l'organisation politico-religieuse et militaire des Somali. In: L'Homme 161, 1 (2002), 17-49.

with Karaba Sahado: Rendille proverbs in their social and legal context. Köln 2002.

with Diallo, Y. (eds.): L'ethnicité peule dans des contextes nouveaux. Paris 2000.

Nomades et l'Etat au nord du Kenya. In: A. Bourgeot (ed.): Horizons nomades en Afrique sahélienne. Paris, 219-239.

Ritual topography and ecological use. The Gabbra of the Kenyan/Ethiopian borderlands. In: Parkin, D./ Croll, E. (eds.): Bush base: forest farm. London/ New York 1992, 110-128.

Traditional Pastoralists - Land Use Strategies. In: Republic of Kenya, Ministry of Livestock Development: Range Management Handbook of Kenya Vol. II, 1 (1991), 130-164.

Identities on the move: clanship and pastoralism in northern Kenya. Manchester, New York 1989 (Reprint: Nairobi, Hamburg, Münster 1994).

Nomaden und Staat. Das Beispiel Nordkenia. In: Sociologus 34, 2 (1984), 140-161.

Das Glaubens- und Sozialsystem der Rendille. Kamelnomaden Nordkenias. Berlin 1979.

Dr. Kirill Istomin

with Dwyer, M. J. Theories of Nomadic Movement: A new Theoretical Approach for Understanding the Movement Decisions of Nenets and Komi Reindeer Herders. Human Ecology. In Druck.

with Donahoe, B. Izmenenie praktiki regulirovaniia dostupa k resursam u nekotorykh olenevodcheskikh narodov Sibiri. Popytka teoreticheskogo obobsheniia [The change of tenuriality among some Siberian reindeer herding peoples. An attempt of atheoretical generalization] In: Funk, D. A. (ed.) Rasy i narody: sovremennye etnicheskiye i rassovye problemy. Vypusk 33, pp. 128-163. Moskva: Nauka 2007.

with Dwyer, M. J. Mobility and Technology: understanding the vulnerability of two groups of nomadic pastoralists to reindeer losses. In: Nomadic Peoples vol. 10, no. 2 (2006), pp. 142-165.

My smotrim na mir - mir smotrit na nas: predmetno-prostranstvennye otnosheniia i ikh oboznachenie kak element semioticheskoi kartiny mira [We look at the world -- the world looks at us: spatial relations between objects and their meaning as an element of the semiotic map of the world]. In: Fadeeva, I. E. (ed.): Semiosis i kul'tura: sbornik nauchnykh statei, vol. 2, pp. 130-136. Syktyvkar: Komi Pedagogicheskii Institut 2006.

Komi-izhemskoe olenevodstvo: istoriografiia dvukh vekov izucheniia [Reindeer husbandry of the Izhma Komi: historiography of two centuries of investigation]. In: Studia Juvenalia, vol. 2 (2005), pp. 88-102. Syktyvkar: Komi Nauchnyi Tsentr.

Oil and reindeer - traditional methods of pasture selection among Komi herders and the relevance to conflicts over land use. In: Northern Veche: Proceedings of the Second NRF Open Meeting. Akureyri: Stefansson Institute; University of Akureyri 2004, 184-187 [English version] und 187-190 [Russian version].

with Dronova, T. I.: Mezhetnicheskoe vzaimodeistvie v Pechorskom krae: nentsy, russkie (ust'-tsylema) i komi-izhemtsy [Interethnic interactions in the Pechora Region: Nenetses, Russians of Ust'-Tsyl'ma and Izhma Komi]. In: Etnograficheskoe obozrenie 5 (2003), pp. 54-67.

O nekotorykh malozatratnykh merakh po uluchsheniiu vzaimodeistviia mezhdu neftianymi kompaniiami i olenevodami [On some inexpensive measures for improving relations between oil companies and reindeer herders]. In: Mir korennykh narodov - Zhivaia Arktika 13 (2003), pp. 101-105.

Living in Chum: Social Relations and Personal Behavioral Strategies among Komi Reindeer Herders. In: Pro Ethnologia: Publications of the Estonian National Museum 10 (2000), pp. 49-81.

Kolva Volost and the Kolva Ethnographic Group as an Example of Transition from Settled to Nomadic Way of Life. In: Pro Ethnologia: Publications of the Estonian National Museum 8 (1999), pp. 19-34.

Dr. Joachim Otto Habeck

2005. What it means to be a herdsman: the practice and image of reindeer husbandry among the Komi of Northern Russia. Münster [etc.]: LIT. xxiv, 271 pp.

2006. "Experience, movement and mobility: Komi reindeer herders' perception of the environment". Nomadic Peoples, New Series 10 (2): 123-141.

Mit Timo Pauli Karjalainen 2004. "When 'the Environment' comes to visit: local environmental knowledge in the Far North of Russia. Environmental Values, 13 (2): 167-186.

with Peter Kuhry [Piter Kuri] and Vasilii Ponomarev (eds.) 2005. Ustoichivoe razvitie Pechorskogo regiona v izmeniaiushchikhsia usloviiakh prirody i obshchestva [Sustainable development of the Pechora Region under changing environmental and societal conditions]. Syktyvkar: Institut biologii Komi nauchnogo tsentra Ural'skogo otdeleniia Rossiiskoi Akademii Nauk. 74 pp.

with Tony R. Walker, Timo P. Karjalainen, Tarmo Virtanen, Nadia Solovieva, Viv Jones, Peter Kuhry, Vasily I. Ponomarev, Kari Mikkola, Ari Nikula, Elena Patova, Peter D. Crittenden, Scott D. Young and Tim Ingold 2006. "Perceived and measured levels of environmental pollution: interdisciplinary research in the subarctic lowlands of northeast European Russia". Ambio, 35 (5): 220-228.