Melissa Caldwell’s most recent book is Living Faithfully in an Unjust World: Compassionate Care in Russia (California, 2016). It takes up themes about humanitarianism, insecurity, and religious intervention in contemporary Russia. Anthrocybib had the chance to ask her more about it over email.
Participants: Melissa Caldwell (UC Santa Cruz) and Hillary Kaell (Concordia University)
HK: You have done twenty years of fieldwork in Moscow. Tell me a bit about how the economic and social changes you have seen prompted this study.
MC: When I first began crafting my dissertation research in the early 1990s, I was interested in how Russia’s emerging capitalist economy was becoming realized in changing consumer practices, most notably the arrival and spread of Western food products, restaurant and grocery store cultures, and eating practices. By the late 1990s, the Russian economy was increasingly unstable, and there were shortages of both basic consumer goods – including food – and money. All of these changes were happening within a context in which the Russian state was ceding responsibility for social welfare to individual citizens and private organizations. Low-income Russians – especially the elderly, disabled, veterans, and single mothers – were especially affected. Charities, nonprofits organizations, religious communities, and development agencies increasingly stepped in to provide assistance. I became interested in how questions of need and deservingness were presented, and then in the ways in which ordinary people compensated for shortages and insecurity. Over time, I became fascinated by the ethics and practices of care and compassion that were intrinsic to assistance.