Practice of Family Homesteads (2018)

I analysed 71 academic articles about family homesteads written between 2003 and 2018. Many articles drew parallels with the Western concept of “eco-village”, and emphasised the residents’ desire for self-improvement, social harmony and an environmentally-friendly way of life (Petrov 2008, Kulyasov 2009, Savitsky et al. 2011, Pavlov 2013, Arkhinova 2015, Mukhlykin 2015, Hall 2015, Nesterova 2016, Pozenenko 2016, Walker & Plotnikova 2018). Others maintained that the Russian movement is distinct phenomenon compared to existing movements in the West (Khomyakova 2013, Zadorin et al. 2014, Gornaev 2016). In general, articles were positive, though tentative and sometimes dubious whether many would support the idea.

Authors cautioned against idealising village life, and observed that residents of family homestead settlements ideally preserve social and economic ties with nearby urban areas by commuting, working seasonally or working from home, rather than cutting ties with the modern world (Pozanenko 2017, Walker & Plotnikova 2018). Economists who studied family homesteads as a possible new direction of mainstream economic activity society offered the most convincing arguments in favour of supporting family homesteads at the government level (Pavlov 2013, Dmitriev & Karpov 2014, Kolganov 2017, Kudzheva 2017, Pozanenko 2017).

These articles pointed to substantial benefits from family homestead development:

  • reduction in the cost of welfare, unemployment benefits, healthcare, education and infrastructure borne by the government, since citizens are encouraged to manage their own affairs on the family homestead model
  • scientific and environmental innovation made possible by the closeness to nature experienced on family homesteads
  • practical means of moving towards local and international sustainable development objectives (Kirsch 2012, Svetlikova 2015, Yurevna 2015)
  • logical progression of the environmental and climate action movement more generally (Seleznev & Selezneva 2016, Selezneva 2017)
  • a development of Russian gardening culture established by dacha allotments of the 20th century (Sharashkin 2008, Polskiy 2010, 2013)
  • a modern response to the contradictions of urban life (Donchevsky et al. 2016), or else the political evolution of the Russian people (Shubin 2003)

A significant minority of scholars studied the family homestead movement as a kind of new religion characterised by new age spiritual beliefs (Andreeva 2011, 2012, 2014a, 2014b, 2014c, 2015, 2018, Lyubimova et al. 2012, Filkina 2012, Grigorieva 2013, Pranskevičiūtė 2015, 2017, Ozhiganova 2015, Ryazanova & Tsolova 2015, Sarkisyan & Panchenko 2015), and some found the movement to represent a kind of “ecological religion” (Chernysh 2014, Seleznev & Selezneva 2017). Religious scholars themselves spoke harshly about family homesteads as a dangerous sect (Martinovich 2008, Russia Orthodox n.d.). Yet, evidence contradicts these assertions.

In reality, the movement family homestead movement accommodates a diverse range of beliefs (Bogdanovskaya & Salnikova 2014), has polyvalent identities (Pozanenko 2017), and is not a religious movement (Melekhovets 2018). Central to settlers’ philosophy is the material manifestation of a person’s spiritual intentions (Megre 2002); thus, family homestead settlements can more pragmatically be seen as a successful model of decentralised power structure (Chernyshkova & Popova 2017), an innovation in the self-governance of rural communities (Walker & Plotnikova 2018), or as a social justice vehicle for allowing social mobility and individual self-realisation (Ilin 2015).

Psychological studies saw the development of family homesteads variously as a rejection of modern society (Khomyakova 2013, Davidov 2015, Perminova 2017, Gutyra 2018), or a hopeful, if wistful, manifestation towards an optimistic future (Medikov 2008, Brusnitsina 2013, Surova 2017). One literature study examined the apparent power of prose in the Ringing Cedars’ books to affect social consciousness (Sizonenko 2017).

Agricultural scientists found that residents of family homesteads develop innovative and valuable sustainable farming techniques (Semerenko 2015, Petrov 2008) and also noted advances in waste management (Savistky et al. 2015) and settlement design (Bondarenko et al. 2012). One examined the positive potential for agri-tourism on family homestead settlements (Pynyaev 2010).

A German scholar proposed family homesteads as response to the mechanised condition of modern labour (Köhler 2017) and

other international scholars traced the development of family homestead and other ecological settlements as a significant social phenomenon and driver of employment in the Ukraine (Garmash & Pisarenko 2015, Plotnikova 2014) and Romania (Mardache 2016, Mardache & Atudorei 2013).

Legal scholars traced the history of cadastral law in Europe and Russia (Kudzheva & Bidzhieva 2018) and analysed the draft law On Family Homesteads, variously outlining its positive potential for equitable land reform (Kudzheva 2017) or else criticising apparent internal contradictions of the movement’s aims (Gorelik & Timofeev 2016). Nonetheless, two articles proposed rehabilitation potential of family homesteads for criminals (Gamanenko & Kuznetsov 2015, Yakupov 2005). One cited the movement as an example of effective direct sales technique (Krasheninnikova & Makarova 2016).

Many researchers highlighted challenges and problems with the family homestead movement or doubted its capacity to contribute substantial change, but overall there were few studies that found family homesteads to be a negative phenomenon. Across the range of scholarship, the majority of research found promising sustainability potential in the family homestead concept, but given the disperse and nascent nature of the movement there is little data to support the hypothesis. Journalistic observations tended to suggest that settlers of family homesteads are happy with their decision and would not go back to their old way of life.


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