“Women Rule This Country”: Women’s Community Organizing and Care in Rural Karelia

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Meri Kulmala


Especially after the recent reform of the local self-government, Russian municipalities suffer from insufficient resources to provide well-being for their citizens. Resolutions to local social problems are sought by mixing state and non-state efforts. These efforts are carried out predominantly at a grassroots level by women from the public and voluntary sectors. The article discusses women’s community organizing in several villages of a municipal district in Russian Karelia in the 2000s; thus, it focuses on the understudied, but very elementary, level of government from the viewpoint of citizens on the borders of Russia. Drawing on the ethnographic data, I show that community activism relies on middle-aged and well-educated women holding a good position in municipal institutions. Thus, the roles of the activists and administrators blur, which makes the sharp division, predominant in the scholarly literature, between the state and civil society misleading. New forms of agency compete, coexist, or merge with old Soviet practices of social support and activism. I suggest that the logic of action of this women’s community organizing relies mainly on the domestic, civic, and inspired orders described by Boltanski and Thévenot (2001).

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Author Biography

Meri Kulmala

Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland