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Agnès Blais

SSHRC William E. Taylor Fellowship

SSHRC William E. Taylor Fellowship: Agnès Blais  

““The anthropology of post-Soviet society is developing rapidly. I want to understand how members of human rights organizations in Russia are contributing to the building of a state based on the rule of law that also integrates and reflects Russian culture.”

Russian culture fascinates Agnès Blais. For several years, this PhD student in anthropology at the Université Laval has had a close relationship with Russophile groups in Quebec as well as in France. She even learned the language of Tolstoy in order to undertake research for a master’s degree in social and cultural anthropology, which then led to the publication of her first book.

Blais’ book Une ONG en Russie post-soviétique (“An NGO in Post-Soviet Russia”) analyzes the internal dynamics of a non-governmental organization (NGO) that focused initially on helping street children, and later on helping children grappling with drug and alcohol dependency. Today, the organization campaigns for a more open judicial system and, in particular, champions the rights of Russian children.

The book is filled with stories from the researcher’s field journal, and presents a picture of contemporary life in the former USSR. “I love learning about different cultures,” says Blais. “This is probably why I have been interested in anthropology ever since I knew what the word meant.”

Blais believes strongly in the importance of field studies. “To fully absorb a culture,” she notes, “it is essential to spend long periods with the people who are the driving forces of a society.”

For her doctoral studies, Blais will spend a year with three Russian organizations that are working to combat such issues as racism and the misuse of power in Russia. By bearing in mind the country’s history and culture, the organizations are helping to transform Russian society. The experience will enable her to better understand the organizations’ members—their motivations, networks, operating and financing methods, their concept of justice and their contribution to legal reforms.

After completing her doctorate, Blais hopes to make her career as a professor and researcher. “International journalism also interests me,” she says. One thing is certain: a central interest for her will always be the human dynamics that shape society, and the influence of pro-democracy organizations in particular.

The SSHRC William E. Taylor Fellowship is awarded each year to the most outstanding SSHRC doctoral award recipient.