My research on language and media in post-socialist Eurasia lies at the intersection of two clusters of problems. The first is the role of media in indigenous language shift, endangerment, and revitalization, which I have been studying in Russia’s Buryat territories, a multilingual region of eastern Siberia on the Mongolian border, since 2005. I am especially interested in the centrality of affect and emotion in language shift and revitalization, and in how affective senses of belonging are (or are not) enabled by mass-mediated interactions. Methodologically, I have a keen interest in advancing the ethnography of media, especially the ethnography of journalism, to bridge the traditional production/consumption divide. By examining the daily work of media makers, the actions and reactions of audiences, and the media themselves, I trace the movement of language produced in institutional settings backwards and forwards through other domains of daily practice. My work on minority-language media in Russia has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays program, and the Social Science Research Council, among others.
This research is the basis for my current book project, tentatively entitled Mixed Messages: Language, Media, and Belonging in Asian Russia. In the book, I argue that media and language are practices by which residents of the region perform and negotiate their citizenship on a daily basis within different scales of belonging: the federation, the republic, and the city or district, as well as clans, ancestral lineages, extended families, and Buryat- and Russian-speaking publics that are aligned with state borders unevenly at best. Massive social transformations over the 20th and 21st centuries have left many people in Buryatia with a sense of profound loss, and seeking reclamation. The specific media and linguistic resources available for performing this reclamation have been shaped, however, by major state-driven modernizing projects that were never felt to be complete, and that ironically prompted (or hastened) the very changes now being battled against. Mixed Messages shows the impacts of minority-language media on society as they actually unfold on a daily basis, including their unintended consequences.
The second, related cluster of problems includes materiality, technology, circulation, and notions of property. I am particularly interested in how intellectual and creative property are figured within socialist and post-socialist contexts, which I am developing into a new long-term ethnographic project on the Mongolian cashmere industry. This project explores the production and global circulation of Mongolian cashmere to determine how different forms of value—economic, social, linguistic, moral—accrue to material goods and subsequently transform society and culture through their transnational movement. While cashmere’s value may seem to derive exclusively from its physical characteristics, the Mongolian cashmere industry is also considered a major “success story” by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). WIPO highlights the protection of intellectual property rights, particularly the Gobi trademark, as the key condition enabling goat herders, fiber brokers, fashion designers, artisans, and businesses alike to profit from cashmere fiber while simultaneously sustaining traditional knowledge and lifeways and protecting the natural environment. This research examines how the people involved in this complex social web treat, talk about, and value cashmere as it moves from the bellies of goats through its transformation into a luxury product.
All of my research is indebted to my interdisciplinary training in Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies. To this end, I have been involved with collaborative projects on pre-Revolutionary Orthodox missionary linguistics (with Jesse D. Murray; see our article in Slavic Review) and contemporary shamanism in the Lake Baikal region (with Justine Quijada and Eric M. Stephen; see our article in Problems of Post-Communism). I joined IU in 2012 as a postdoctoral teaching fellow following a Title VIII fellowship at the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.