Dr. Natalia Ryzhova

Project position: Key researcher, Excellent researcher
Discipline: anthropology and economics
Research field(s): Development, post-Socialist transformation, informal economy, cross-border mobilities, property rights, securitization
Area(s) of study: Russia – the Russian Far East; China – Heilongjiang province

Dr. Natalia Ryzhova obtained her first degree (the Russian equivalent of Ph.D.) in economics in 2005, and higher Ph.D. (Doctor of Science) in 2013. She also holds an MPhil in Social Anthropology from Cambridge University (2014). As an economist who believes in the value of anthropological thought for understanding (non)development, Natalia focuses on post-Socialist transformations of the Russian Far East. Most of her work has been about “informal,” or real, economic practices in the region. She studied intermediation in cross-border mobilities, land property rights, smuggling, shuttle trade, and bribes. As part of her ongoing personal project, Natalia is studying restricted access border zones and the demilitarization of the Russian Far East.

In the Sinofon project Natalia leads the“Sustainability” group which combines approaches from anthropology and environmental studies to study social relations and emerging practices in the context of sustainability and resource management in the peripheral agrarian borderland regions of countries neighbouring China (e.g. Russia, Mongolia, Central Asian states, and Vietnam). The guiding question of the working package is how various actors relate to agricultural and trade stimulus given to neighbouring countries by China, who has growing demands in food, agricultural products and raw materials globally. This encompasses the ways recent ‘agricultural’ expansion of China affects environmental changes in borderlands; at the same time, it speeds up the development of new technologies across the region, such as IT technologies in agriculture, e-commerce in trans-border trade, introduction of GM seeds, etc. The objective is to provide layered and fine-grained ethnographic accounts of farmers and traders involved in such activities.

She can express herself on cross-societal topics and comment on:

  • For 20 years, she has been studying the impact of the Chinese “Open Border Belt” on neighboring regions. She revealed, described, and explained a variety of informal practices in cross-border trade, and e-commerce. She was involved in studying the peculiarities of “Chinese bazaars” evoluting in the Russian Far East. Although these practices have local particularities, they also continue to be global phenomena, and hence, vital for European countries;
  • Long-term research interest in cross-border mobilities (migration and tourism) helps Natalia read into the dramatic consequences of a harsh shutdown of national borders. These consequences include not only “evident” economic losses, but also the abrupt reproduction of the practices and discourse of power, changes in ethical sentiments, cultural meanings, as well as group identities. The current COVID-19 crisis is one of the most evident examples of such a “shutdown“;
  • Natalia studied the way of life in controlled access territories in post-Soviet Russia, such as closed border areas and (abandoned) military garrisons. This ethnographic knowledge allows her to provide a layered understanding of post-Socialist transformation, including demilitarization, the disappearing and reappearing of restricted access border zones, control of freedom of movement;
  • It is often seen that the process of economic degradation can be a possible solution in reducing catastrophic climate changes. The Russian Far East, at first glance, presents an ideal “natural experiment.” However, the region has not seen any significant ecological recovery. Natalia’s studies explain that economic degrowth is a “bad model” of coping with climate change and this should be noted by the Czech Republic and other post-socialist European countries, which share much of their institutional design and post-soviet legacy.


  1. Ryzhova, N. and Zhuravskaya, T. 2019. Housing in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia: The Transformation of Property Relations and Everyday Resistance. Universe of Russia. 28 (3): 48-66.[Article in Russian: Жилищный вопрос в советской и постсоветской России: трансформаци яотношений собственности и повседневная политика]
  2. Zhuravskaya, T. and Ryzhova, N. 2019. Calling for the state: illegal gold mining on the Russian Far East. Ethnograficheskoye obozrenie. 4: 29-44. [Article in Russian: Призывая государство:нелегальная золотодобыча на Дальнем Востоке]
  3. Ryzhova, N. 2018. E-commerce as a new technology: creativity and alienation of trust. In Trust,mistrust and “calculation”: Sino-Russian border economies. Ed. by C.Humphrey. AmsterdamUniversity Press.
  4. Ryzhova, N. 2018. Invisible Trade: Sovereign Decisions on the Sino-Russian Border. InRoutledge Handbook of Asian Borderlands. M.Saxer, A. Horstmann, A. Rippa. Routledge.
  5. Ryzhova, N. 2014. Land and power: approaches to study property (a case of extralegal land use by Chinese farmers. Journal of Sociology and social anthropology (Moscow), 5:5-33. [Article in Russian: Земля и власть: подходы к исследованию собственности (случай неформальногоземлепользования китайских фермеров)]
  6. Ryzhova N. National border, administrative rent and informality: Market Entrance for Chinese traders and Farmers // Eurasia Border Review (Japan), 2014. Vol. 5 (1).
  7. Ryzhova, N. and Lee, E. 2013. Gold, the State and Market Actors: Legal vs. Illegal Practices of Interaction. Inner Asia, 15 (1): 5-32
  8. Ryzhova, N. 2013. Economic integration of border regions. Khabarovsk, Economic Research Institute. [Book, in Russian: Экономическая интеграция приграничных регионов]
  9. Ryzhova, N. 2012. Will the “Tragedy of Accessibility” Occur? The Case of the Amur as a Cross Border Zone of Illegality. In Frontier Encounters. Knowledge and Practice at the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian Border. Ed. by Bille, Delaplace, Humphrey. Cambridge: OBP.
  10. Ryzhova N., Ioffe G. Trans-border Exchange between Russia and China: The Case of Blagoveshchensk and Heihe // Eurasian Geography and Economics, 2009. Vol.50 (3).