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Book Talk: Mixed Messages

Date & Time

Feb. 19, 2021
12:30pm – 1:30pm ET


Focusing on language and media in eastern Siberia, Mixed Messages (Cornell University Press, 2020) engages debates about the role of minority media in society, alternative visions of modernity, and the impact of media on everyday language. The book demonstrates that language and the production, circulation, and consumption of media are practices by which residents of the region perform and negotiate competing possible identities. What languages should be used in newspapers, magazines, or radio and television broadcasts, and by whom? How exactly do discourses move into, out of, and through the media to affect everyday social practices? In this book talk, Kathryn Graber addressed these questions through her ethnography of the Russian Federation's Buryat territories, a multilingual and multiethnic region on the Mongolian border with a complex relationship to both Europe and Asia.

Selected Quotes

Kathryn Graber
"Ulan-Ude, which was my focus, is perhaps best known for hosting the world's largest head of Lenin, but it's also a multi-ethnic, multilingual, post-Soviet city that bears the traces of Buryatia's long integration into the Russian empire and the Soviet Union in more subtle ways than the giant head. There are Ukrainians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Tatars, and so on in Ulan-Ude in addition to native Evenki, Soyots, and Buryats, alongside Russians. It's majority Russian by ethnicity, according to the 2020 census, and overwhelmingly the language of public life is Russian, which leads to a kind of stereotype that it's a primarily Russian-speaking city. And indeed, part of what being urban, gorodskoi, part of what being urban in Buryatia is is speaking Russian, and that's not just true in Buryatia."

"One of the main things that I show in the book is that Buryat is looked down in some contexts but is valorized in certain other contexts by certain audiences. So in other words, it's not a matter of simply being prestigious or not, it's not a matter of Buryat being not prestigious and Russian being prestigious and vice versa. So reasons you might temporarily use Buryat even if you use Russian most of the time in your daily life include because you're going to a Buddhist datsan or a Shamanic ritual that's heavily associated with Buryat-ness, perhaps because you're demarcating a domestic space that's comfortable with friends or family, or perhaps because your coworkers use Buryat and you're trying to fit in."

Hosted By

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more

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