What it Means to be a Herdsman: The Practice and Image of Reindeer Husbandry among the Komi of Northern Russia

Joachim Otto Habeck


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Abstract Habeck examines the practice of reindeer herding in the Russian Far North. His vivid account of the everyday life of Komi reindeer herders and their family members as they interact with their bosses, the town, the market and oil companies, reveals both the reach of their agency and its limitations. Through a meticulous analysis of each of these domains, Habeck shows how public discourse about reindeer husbandry as a traditional life-style derives from outside the Komi reindeer-herding communities, yet it has powerful effects on the local actors’ ability to frame their own existence. He argues that the concept of tradition, despite its many positive connotations, places Komi reindeer herders in a “golden cage” which leaves no space for acknowledging their drive to innovation and flexibility.

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