Paxson, Margaret

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Paxson, Margaret


Education: McGill University, B.A.; University of Montreal, Ph.D.


Office— Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Ronald Reagan Bldg. and International Trade Center, 1 Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20004-3027. E-mail— [email protected]


Anthropologist and writer. Kennan Institute, Washington, DC, senior associate.


Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village, Woodrow Wilson Center Press (Washington, DC), 2005.

(Preparer, with Megan A. Yasenchak amd Jennifer Giglio)National Security and Human Rights: Conference Proceedings: June 29, 2006, Moscow, Russian Federation, Kennan Institute (Washington, DC), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including the Wilson Quarterly and Washington Post magazine.


Anthropologist Margaret Paxson works for the Kennan Institute, which, in conjunction with the Woodrow Wilson Center, focuses on bridging the gap between the world of ideas and the world of public affairs by bringing together scholars and government specialists to discuss political, social, and economic issues as they pertain to Russia and other states created after the fall of the Soviet Union. Her areas of expertise include Russia; rural society, culture, and economic organizations; and agrarian religion and traditional healing.

In her book Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village, the author "respectfully and carefully chronicles the ways in which the past—both ancient and recent—shapes daily life in a small settlement in northwest Russia," according to Roy R. Robson in the Moscow Times. Solovyovo is the fictionalized name of a real village beside a lake in the Russian north. Farmers have lived in the area since the time of feudal landlords. Based on anthropological field work that Paxson conducted in the village beginning in the mid-1990s, the author reveals how the past, present, and future interact in villagers' lives. In the process, she describes how villagers organize, transmit, and enact social memory through a variety of means, including narrative, religious practice, and social organizations. Commenting on the author's field work, Robson noted: "Paxson set about integrating herself as much as possible into the community while simultaneously observing it. To that end, she spent a year and a half living with two villagers, a husband and wife, in their log-cabin."

Commenting on social memory in her book, the author writes: "Social memory is not a series of events, strung like beads on a necklace, one after the other. The death of Stalin, destruction of a church, or return of a soldier is part of a landscape of memory, where events are filled with various logics, rhymes and reasons. In the same way that a ‘symbol’ is nothing without a ‘culture’ to house it, an event has no meaning in social memory without its context."

In her book, the author provides a close look at the villagers' many cultural components, from agricultural traditions and the Russian Orthodoxy faith to the communistic values of the Soviet Union. Her studies have enabled Paxson to delve into the many unique and surprising ways that the locals have combined these seeming disparate cultural influences that, according to Robson, include "a layering of communist ideology, Christian tradition and magic." For example, villagers believe that anyone who wanders from the village into the forest may expect to encounter the surprising, including miracles and forest sprites. The villagers also do not have the standard concept of time that most modern cultures follow in that they believe that time and space is fluid in terms of speeding up and slowing down or stretching and contracting. Within this context, Paxson writes about the important role that the village calendar plays in their lives. In her book, the author writes, "The narrative imagination has its own forests," adding: "The interviews that I conducted with the people of Solovyovo and nearby locales yielded a tremendous wealth of symbolic and social data. When the necessary thresholds were crossed and conversations began, it was clear that my interlocuters had entered into symbolic worlds that were defined by their own boundaries, dominant metaphors, and affective associations."

Another aspect of the local culture that the author relates is how villagers use their own forms of medicine to heal the body, mind, and soul, with an emphasis on their belief that social practices are the primary causes of illness. The author also writes of the villagers sense of svoi or "my own," a Russian concept that typically defines the household in relation to the village.



Paxson, Margaret,Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village, Woodrow Wilson Center Press (Washington, DC), 2007.


Russian Review, July, 2006, review of Solovyovo.

Slavic Review, summer, 2007, Caroline Humphrey, review of Solovyovo, p. 372.

Times Literary Supplement, January 5, 2007, Caroline Humphrey, "Something to Live For," review of Solovyovo, p. 27.


Moscow Times, (December 3, 2007), March 31, 2006, Roy R. Robson, "The Village Chronicle," review of Solovyovo.

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Web site, (December 3, 2007), review of Solovyovo and brief profile of author.