Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists
Primary Theme: The Political
Secondary Theme: Resistance
Just a few years ago many scholars of Russia and other formerly socialist states claimed that the transition from state socialism in this part of the world was over (e.g. Platt 2008). Socialism was so prominently in the past, they suggested, that it made little sense to continue calling these countries post-socialist. “After all, no one now refers to Western Europe as ‘post-feudal’” (Dunn and Verdery 2015, 1). But today much of Western media and academia link the growing political crises between Russia and the West with Russia’s alleged inability to abandon its communist past. The rise of Putin’s “political authoritarianism,” the conflict in Ukraine, the spread of “post-truth” and “fake news”, and the claims of the Russian interference in “Western democracies” (in the form of the internet trolls and chemical agents) are discussed in the familiar language of the old Cold War. The world is immersed again in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. If post-socialism was once over, it now seems to be back with a vengeance.
At the same time, a dominant discourse in anthropology today, with its focus on the post-colonial division of the world into the “global South” and “global North,” seems unable to grasp this quick and broad resurgence of the Cold War. To understand this process we need to bring a discussion of the post-socialist transformations back into the center stage of the anthropological debates. Our panel will explore what analytical power the focus on post-socialism as a global condition still has and how it may help us decipher the current state of the world. Analyzing the language of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Aleksandra Simonova develops an argument about the political embeddedness of the language while showing how anthropological categories supposed to be universal have also absorbed politically embedded meanings. Olesya Shayduk-Immerman examines the usage of such terms as 'freedom', 'agency' and 'politics' applied to the late Soviet phenomenon of the Jewish movement and discusses misunderstandings caused by the uncritical transfer of arguably “universal” western concepts to interpret the Soviet experience. Using Herzfeld’s concept of ‘cultural intimacy’, Zinaida Vasilyeva demonstrates how Russian self-stereotype that constructs Russians as both technologically backward and, nevertheless, smart and resourceful, contribute to the political negotiations between individuals and the state. Rusana Cieply analyzes the hunting practices of the Siberian Selkup, to explore the productive ways for conceptualizing human and non-human interactions, shaped by both animistic beliefs and scientific epistemologies. Finally, comparing anthropological scholarship on Russia and China, Daria Savchenko questions the potential of anthropology to critically engage with the imagined geography, produced within its own field and argues that this scholarship creates a new ‘alterity’, imagined as untrustworthy, threatening and reminiscent of the former communist Other.
Dunn, Elizabeth and Verdery, Katherine. 2015. Postsocialism in Emerging Trends. The Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource, eds. R.Scott and S.Kosslyn.
Platt, Kevin. 2008. Post-Soviet is Over: On Reading the Ruins. Republics of Letters: the Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts 1, no.1.