Research Project

The project reconsiders the dynamics of late Soviet society for the first time, different to previous and current research, by looking at the developments outside the cities – in the rural Soviet Union. Dynamics of rural society during the last Soviet decades have hitherto been largely neglected, yet they are crucial for understanding the late Soviet Union. Instead of reproducing the traditional narrative of decline, the project proposes a new conceptualisation of the late Soviet village as a specific modus of entanglement between city and village and as a product of simultaneous “ruralisation” of urban life styles and “urbanisation” of rural life styles.

The main focus of the project – modes of self-perception of Soviet people in rural settings between Soviet promises of urban modernity with its technological advance and new consumption culture on the one side, and the legacy of collectivization and local peasant traditions on the other, – will offer an in-depth analysis of negotiations between individuals, groups, and institutions. Previous research on transformations of late Soviet rural society has reproduced a narrative of decline, described as “de-peasantization” or “erosion of the village“ (Goehrke) and “Ruralisation of cities” (Bohn). The current debate on intertwining of urbanisation, the technization of the everyday, privatization and diversification of Soviet rituals and symbols on a local level has left the rural population out. This project closes a significant gap in research by addressing fundamental issues of late Soviet society from a rural point of view and will offer a revision of the disintegration process attested to Soviet society by previous analysis.

To showcase rural subjectivities and modes of community building in the late Soviet village, this project studies three differently structured regions of the European part of the Soviet Union – the Leningrad region, Archangelsk/Vologda region, and Karelia. By focusing on consumption and leisure, youth culture, conflicts of generation, and family networks, on Soviet rituals and public spaces, this project will analyse the fabric of late Soviet rural society from an actor centred perspective. The research will be based on archival sources from St. Petersburg, Vyborg, Kirishi, Petrozavodsk, Archangelsk, Vologda, and Moscow, local and Union press, film documentaries, memoirs, arts (fictional pieces, lyrics or paintings), and narrative oral history interviews. This project doesn’t subscribe to the teleological narrative of the decline and disintegration of Soviet society. Instead, it will unfold modes and potentials for a gradual transformation towards pragmatic flexibility and complexity. Furthermore, the study will contribute to a more nuanced periodization of Soviet history after 1945 by discussing diverse temporalities and modes of development of, for example, the new consumer culture beyond urban centres. Finally, the project will boost the discussion about continuities and stability of Soviet community building mechanisms and subjectivities in rural areas well into the post-Soviet period.

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This project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) for the period Sept 2017- Aug 2021.