ASEEES, 2017

Ekaterina Emeliantseva Koller presented a part of the project at the 49th Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) in Chicago, Il, November 9-12, 2017 with the paper: ‘They Sold Their Cow to Buy a TV’: Late Soviet Rural Subjectivities and Changing Regimes of Value.

Panel: Studying Late Soviet Material Cultures: Structures and Subjectivities between Urban and Rural

Chair: Victoria Smolkin, Wesleyan U

Papers: Alexey Golubev, U of Houston: When Spaces of Transit Fail Their Designers: Social Antagonisms of Soviet Stairwells and Street
Kirsten Bönker, Carl von Ossietzky U of Oldenburg: TV Sets Capturing Soviet Domestic Spaces
Ekaterina Emeliantseva Koller, U of Zurich: ‘They Sold Their Cow to Buy a TV’: Late Soviet Rural Subjectivities and Changing Regimes of Value

Discussiants: Alaina Maria Lemon, U of Michigan / Olga Shevchenko, Williams College

Panel description & abstracts

The panel seeks to approach the complexity of societal fabric of the late Soviet society by focusing on things and spaces that mattered for Soviet people. Looking at subjectivities and structures through materiality and material cultures will allow to transgress and to challenge dichotomic descriptions of Soviet society be it of people vs. regime or rural vs. urban. With examples from their current research on the late Soviet Union, the speakers will address various aspects of everyday practice and late Soviet subjectivities by focussing on material objects and materiality in spaces.

Alexey Golubev will analyse transit spaces of socialist neighbourhoods, focusing on the hallways in Soviet apartment blocks. Designed as utilitarian spaces for the fast passage of people from home to work or leisure activities, they revealed an ability to accumulate people and connect them in various ways, which Soviet authorities and intellectuals often interpreted as threatening to the public good. The paper argues that Soviet hallways established different affective regimes of Soviet people’s interactions with urban space and provoked some of the hidden social conflicts of late socialism that became reflected in socially dominant structures of the Soviet self.

Kirsten Bönker’s paper analyses shifts in Soviet lifestyles by looking at the place the TV set acquired in Soviet life in the context of the Cold War competition.  The considerably improving housing supply during the 1960s paved the way for a specific Soviet domesticity and previously unknown possibilities of shaping one’s private lifestyle. Inspired by Lynn Spigel’s description of the way the TV set re-arranged the post-war American living room the paper focuses on quantitative, technical and aesthetic dimensions of Soviet television consumption in order to highlight the impact of television sets on domestic interiors. Television became, as Bönker argues a rather ambivalent force of privatisation when Soviet consumers accepted it in its promotion of the new home-centred Soviet lifestyle and the nuclear family.

Ekaterina Emeliantseva focuses on late Soviet rural subjectivities by looking at changing regimes of value (Apparduraj) in the life-worlds of villagers while trying out new consumption and leisure styles. During late 1960s and 1970s, significant investments into agriculture and programs on improvement of living standards in the Soviet countryside raised expectations of villagers for such novelties as urban furniture, music instruments, refrigerators, washing machines or TVs. The way people acquired these articles, the meanings they attached to them in a process of singularization of objects (Kopytoff), when for example selling a cow to buy a TV set, reveal as the paper argues patterns of situational urbanity and allow for a more dynamic and multilayered understanding of urbanisation processes in late Soviet society and specific Soviet subjectivities outside urban centres.

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