Informal economic practices as a mechanism of adaptation of migrants in the south of Western Siberia in the late 19th early 20th centuries 

Krikh A.A., Mulina S.A., Chernova I.V.


Vestnik arheologii, antropologii i etnografii, 2022, 1 (56)


              page 202212




During the process of development of remote regions of Russian Empire, the state played the most important role, legislatively regulating the resettlement process and penal colonization. Despite the efforts of the state, informal economic practices became the means of adaptation of migrants to the new climatic and social circumstances they were exposed to as a result of migration. The variety of the practices was most vividly manifested during the years of large-scale peasant resettlements to Siberia at the turn of the 19th 20th c. This phenomenon was reflected in the reports, essays and travel diaries of officials, which supervised the land management matters of the resettlement, which made possible the comparison of informal economic practices in different climatic zones the taiga and the steppe. The methodological basis of the study is the concept of the informal economy by T. Shanina, which considers the informal practices as a universal restorative mechanism that makes it possible to soften the most acute social and economic contradictions. That mechanism provides survival in such conditions when other social mechanisms fail. The resettlement households of the taiga regions were characterized by primitive methods of deforestation and felling for sale to the steppe districts, which prompted chances in the nature of urmans. As a consequence of the informal economic behavior of late settlers in the areas with abundant forests, the building density of homesteads became high, which resulted in that even newly formed settlements appeared as solid wooden walls. Such dense building development contradicted the directives of the resettlement officials, which appealed to the building statute regulations. In the southern steppe regions of Western Siberia, the settlers used land holdings on the basis of a seizure right using shifting cultivation system and seeding the fields mainly with wheat without applying crop rotation. In the settlements located at the bitter-salt lakes, hydraulic engineering works were carried out. However, the late settlers ignored such improvements; they denied the suitability of the filters, did not monitor their condition, and even contributed to the pollution of the water reservoirs arranged for drinking. The adaptive result of the informal practices is the increased stability of the peasant economy. Depending on the yields, the new settlers was able to transfer the center of economic operations to and survive difficult times. The development of promysels saved peasant families from hunger and financial collapse, yet contributed to the spread of non-progressive, backward forms of land and resource use, which were based on extensive agriculture and a predatory attitude towards nature.

Keywords: informal economy, traditional use of nature, colonization, peasants, settlers, Western Siberian urmans and steppe.


Funding. The reported study was funded by RFBR according to the research project 19-09-00487 Traditional and modernist village: ethnographic study of the development strategies of rural areas in the South of Western Siberia.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Accepted: 16.12.2021

Article is published: 21.03.2022


Krikh A.A., Omsk, Dostoevsky Omsk State University, prosp. Mira, 55a, Omsk, 644077, Russian Federation, E-mail:,


Mulina S.A., Omsk, Dostoevsky Omsk State University, prosp. Mira, 55a, Omsk, 644077, Russian Federation, E-mail:,


Chernova I.V., Omsk, Dostoevsky Omsk State University, prosp. Mira, 55a, Omsk, 644077, Russian Federation, E-mail:,