Friday, April 15, 2016

Russian Scholars Divided on Whether Urbanization Reduces or Intensifies Traditional Ethnic Attachments

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 15 – Like their counterparts in Western countries, Russian scholars are very much divided on whether rapid urbanization leads to the loss of traditional ethnic identities or whether it in fact makes these identities more salient for their bearers, according to Anton Bredikhin, an ethnographer who has written extensively on some of Russia’s smallest nationalities, including the Ubykh.

            Given that the Russian census shows that “more than 60 percent of the villages” of Russia are at risk of disappearing, with about 20 percent of those which existed in Soviet times having already disappeared and another 20 percent having fewer than 10 residents each, the debate between the two positions is far from trivial given that most of the loss of population in rural Russia over the last century has been the result of rapid urbanization.

            On the portal, Bredikhin says that Valery Tishkov, the former director of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, is the leader of those who see urbanization as destroying traditional ethnic identities and promoting broader ones, and that Leokadiya Drobizheva, head of the sociology institute’s Center for Research on Interethnic Relations, is the most prominent of those taking the alternative position (

            According to Bredikhin, Tishkov is convinced that “in such a megalopolis as Moscow the dissolution of nationalities and culture are occurring in favor of a Russian-language Russian culture and Russian identity.  Assimilation in this situation has a voluntary character, thanks to the desire of ethnoses to acquire competitiveness in the large Russian social system and in the capital megalopolis.

            And that involves, Tishkov says, “the loss of ethnic cultural tradition which is much stronger in an individual who lived in a rural area.” Bredikhin cites Tishkov’s article, “World Metropolises and Problems of Inter-Ethic Concord,” Zhizn’ natsional’nostei, no. 4 (2010), p. 41.

            Drobizheva takes the opposite position, Bredikhin says. “In her opinion, ethnic identity in cities is present no less than in the rural milieu” and is supported by “a multitude of identities of residents of the urban milieu.  Ethnic mobility,” she writes, “acquires a more expressed and in a city much more often than in a village are encountered people who have an interest in ethnic solidarity or who experience negative feelings to people of another nationality.”

            The sociologist’s views are presented in an article, “Does Ethnicity Disappear in an Urban Milieu? Certain Answers to Puzzles of a Big City,” Izvestiya vysshykh uchebnykh zavedeniye. Povolzhskiy region. Obshchestvennye nauki, no. 3 (27) (2013), pp.73-83.

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