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‘We Are Both Diplomats and Traders’

Afghan Transregional Traders across the Former Soviet Union

Magnus Marsden

Building on fieldwork with Afghan traders in the former Soviet Union, this article uses the idea of diplomacy to explore the skills and capacities that are central to the traders’ self-understandings and working lives. Of central concern is the way in which the traders often identify themselves as being ‘diplomats’. The expressions of the traders’ diplomatic skills take various forms of everyday practice, as well as material form in choices of clothing and in the design of their offices. In exploring these different markers of being diplomatic in the context of the activities of a long-distance trade network, it is suggested that anthropology needs to attend not only to the possibilities of using diplomacy as an analytical device, but also as an emic category that invests the lives of particular communities with meaning and significance.

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Antagonistic Insights

Evolving Soviet Atheist Critiques of Religion and Why They Matter for Anthropology

Sonja Luehrmann

This article offers a critique of the common notion in contemporary anthropology that a positive attitude toward the people under study is a necessary precondition for a sophisticated understanding of their social world. The empirical sociology of religion that evolved during the last decades of the Soviet Union's existence started from the premise that religion was a harmful phenomenon slated for disappearance. Nonetheless, atheist sociologists produced increasingly complex accounts of religious life in modern socialist societies. Their ideological framework simultaneously constrained Soviet scholars and forced them to pay closer attention to religious phenomena that contradicted political expectations. Drawing on this extreme example of militant atheist scholarship, I argue that studying 'repugnant cultural others' always requires some form of affective motivation. Antagonism can be as powerful, and as problematic, a motivating force as empathetic suspension of judgment.

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Gresham's Law, Conceptual Semantics, and Semiotics of Authoritarianism

Do “Bad” Concepts Drive Out “Good” Ones?

Kirill Postoutenko

The aim of this article is to explore to what extent the rule of economics commonly known as Gresham's law (“bad money drives out good money”) can be extrapolated to verbal language (“bad concepts drive out good concepts”). Consequently, the goal of this article is twofold. First, for Gresham's law to be applied simultaneously to money and language, its unfortunate (“good”/“bad”) and obscure (“drives out”) wording should be clarified. Second, one should identify the contexts in which the validity of the law could be assessed best, and run a very preliminary test. For this purpose, the circulation of the adjective (“hard”, “strong”, or “stable” in Russian) in the word combination (“hard currency”) in use in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s was scrutinized.

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Caroline Humphrey

The article discusses Soviet sailors' experiences away from home and seaborne social relations—the particular sociality brought to the Black Sea region by ships and sailors. The officers and sailors employed by the Black Sea Fleet had much wider horizons than ordinary Soviet citizens—and the small temporary society of the ship interpenetrated with the varied Black Sea inhabitants in limited but significant ways. They contrasted “high seas” of the world's great oceans, the setting for dangerous, daring and profitable exploits, with the enclosed drudgery of the Black Sea routes. The article shows how the Cold War inflected the imaginaries and practices of seamen and others. It argues that an anthropology of the sea can develop an analysis that combines regional specificities with visions that extend beyond the local and national.

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Erica L. Fraser

With the onset of the Cold War and a new nuclear world order, Soviet physicists found themselves at the nexus of scientific research and weapons development. This article investigates the subjectivity of these physicists as an issue of masculinity. Influenced by Connell's models of subordinated, complicit, and hegemonic masculinity, the article finds that the stories nuclear physicists tell about their research in the 1950s are inconsistent and shifting, with the narrators simultaneously remembering unfreedom and privilege. They tell of being conscripted to military work against their will but then enjoying (and deserving) the resulting power, all while maintaining strong homosocial networks in the laboratory predicated on excluding women. Evidence from personal narratives provides unique insight into these multiple masculinities and the way the authors position themselves as (masculinized) Cold War subjects.

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Mapai's Bolshevist Image

A Critical Analysis

Avi Bareli

This article describes and analyzes the image of Mapai, Israel's ruling political party during its first decades, as an undemocratic 'Bolshevist party'. This perception is based on certain associations between socialist-Zionist collectivism and the totalitarian political culture of Soviet communism. The article reviews the public-political background regarding this image in Israeli political discourse and scholarship and then examines the reasons for its ready acceptance. Finally, it is argued that this Bolshevist image has functioned as a rhetorical tool that has allowed public leaders and scholars who had been involved with the Zionist labor movement to distance themselves from it.

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Repairing a 'Ripped Torah'

Repairing Jewish Life in the Former Soviet Union

David Wilfond

I have shared with you stories about the Torah: the Torah that was forbidden to have at home, held captive behind the glass in the Museum of Atheism, whose blessing was unknown to even the learned leaders, that was almost ripped and whose letters once faded are now being filled in by the loving and determined hands of a new generation – letters from our holy language being written for the first time by Jewish children. Together, we have a holy opportunity to partner with the Jews of the FSU to write the next chapter in the Torah of Life of our people.

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Femininity (Con)scripted

Female Images in Soviet Wartime Poster Propaganda, 1941–1945

Susan Corbesero

During the Second World War, legions of Soviet women behind the lines participated in war-time production in both industry and agriculture. Soviet propaganda, despite the overwhelming numbers, contributions and sacrifices of women, graphically portrayed them in ways that both re-established the pre-war patriarchal gender relations of the Stalinist era and circumscribed women’s wartime experiences. This article examines how, during the initial and la er years of the conflict, and in the important and under- studied source of Soviet poster propaganda, the symbolic configuration and recon- figuration of femininity and the female image was transmitted through shifting official policies and attitudes on the role of women. While early posters portrayed women’s wartime participation as atypical, temporary and unwomanly, propaganda by the end of the war featured hyper-feminised representations of women while the Soviet state moved to reassert political controls and institutionalise conservative gender policies to serve the needs of war and reconstruction.

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The Return of Mother Russia

Representations of Women in Soviet Wartime Cinema

Elena Baraban

This article examines the process of symbolisation in the images of women in Soviet cinema. It argues that during the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945) many female characters served as symbolic representations of the country itself, of Mother Russia, determined to defeat the enemy and ready to endure hardships and to cope with deprivation and grief. The start of the resistance against Nazi Germany called for many more depictions of women than was typical in the thoroughly masculinised culture of the 1930s. At the same time, wartime images of women were quite abstract: they recalled posters and often relied on a symbolically charged mise-en-scène.

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Kathleen Osgood and Anna Bara

John McCannon, A History of the Arctic: Nature, Exploration and Exploitation Kathleen Osgood

Julian Agyeman and Yelena Ogneva-Himmerlberger, eds., Environmental Justice and Sustainability in the Former Soviet Union Anna Bara