pdf version of class syllabus available here
1:30-3:20 pm, Tues. & Thurs. in MEB 246
Professor Laada Bilaniuk
Office: Condon Hall 530
Office tel.: 543-5393
Office hours: by appointment
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was an enormous social experiment. Its goal was to bring into being a classless society, with a new type of person, one who would be hardworking, altruistic, and rational. How did the Soviet system attempt to manage bodies and minds to achieve the envisioned goal? How did people experience being Soviet? And now, what does it mean to be “post-Soviet”? What has unified and divided the vast territory of the former USSR, which covered one-sixth of the world’s inhabited land, stretching across eleven time zones (now administratively condensed into nine)? How did the USSR—and now the fifteen independent successor states—take part in the global flows of cultural and economic practices?
In this course we will explore the USSR and the successor states through a wide array of anthropological studies, situated from Eastern Europe to the Russian Far East and from northern Siberia to the Caucasus region in the south. We will pay particular attention to health and medical practices, as the management of labor was a central part of the Soviet project, with hygiene and reproduction key foci of state policies. We will also explore the intersection of materiality and ideology, in how places and spaces have been managed and created, and how material conditions and economic practices have shaped interpersonal relations and social power. We will consider how history has been variously reinterpreted and used to define and justify the present; how politics impinge on people's sense of culture, language, identity, and well-being. We will explore how people experience and participate in the construction of social divisions such as class, gender, ethnicity, race, and citizenship, and how these have been transformed with the formation and demise of the Soviet system in global context.
Throughout the course, we will consider critically the anthropological methods that we encounter. The course readings will present an array of methods: participant observation, interviews, surveys, discourse analysis, analysis of material culture, archival research, and others. We will read works by Westerners as well as post-Soviet insiders analyzing their own cultures (and scholars whose identities lie between these poles), and explore the implications of anthropological work. Students will conduct their own research using material available on the internet, to analyze a website of their choosing. The course will be conducted in seminar format, centering mainly on critical discussion of readings, with occasional lectures and films.
Reading highlights and class participation. Students are expected to complete the assigned readings before each class for which they are listed, and to participate actively in class discussions. For each class that has assigned readings, students should submit a “reading highlight write-up” (explained below) in the online discussion for that day. Occasionally this assignment may be modified to a different brief homework related to the readings. Participation may also include brief in-class writing. If you have an excused absence, I will accept the write-up late, before the day you are next in class.
**Reading highlight write-ups: For each of the readings assigned for a given day, identify a passage that you find particularly good at presenting a key point, which you would like to discuss more either to understand it better or to criticize it (or both). Explain in a sentences or two what you find problematic or warranting further discussion.
Website review (write-up and presentation). Choose a website tied to the Post-Soviet area. It may be presenting or marketing something from the region, or it can be an official government site or the site of a non-governmental organization. Write a 4-5 page (typed, double-spaced) review of the website, examining how the site aims to construct a particular identity(ies) or value system(s), and what ideologies (of rights, health, value) are implicit in the form and content of the site. Provide the web-address in your paper. In addition to the written analysis, you will be asked to do a brief oral presentation to the class (you will be able to project the website for the class, and you may use Powerpoint or Prezi as well). Graduate students should conduct a more extensive internet research project, with a 10-page write-up.
Quizzes. There will be quizzes given in class every two weeks, based on readings, films, and discussion. The quizzes will vary in format, including short answers and essays. The first quiz will have a map component.
40% Class participation and reading highlights
10% Website review, presentation