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Author: David Goldfarb
Author / Instructor: Daria Bocharnikova, Ilya Kalinin
Credits: 8

Humanities: The Role of Culture in Post-Socialism

The aim of this module is to explore the cultures and mechanics of modernization, which is commonly understood as a process of transition to a “modern” society. Using the rich material of recent history of Eastern Europe and Russia we will try to understand not only a specific role that culture played in (post-)socialist societies and spaces but also the workings of culture in today’s societies across the globe. In particular, we will explore how the state administration of cultural production and civil society’s requirements for the cultural sphere as a sphere of social autonomy mediate and reinforce the processes of modernization. Throughout the course we will define culture as a sphere of symbolic values and social practices, as well as a material reality determining concrete physical parameters for communication between human subjects and their cultural environments. 


Part I. The Pragmatics of Culture and Revolution: From “Soviet Experiment” to “Post-socialist Transition”

The first part of the module covers the workings of culture in societies undergoing radical political, economic and social changes. In this part we argue that it is virtually impossible to understand a specific role that culture plays in post-socialist societies without paying a closer attention to the cultural history of the preceding epoch. It is especially important to turn to the history of the “Soviet experiment” as often a demonstrative break with the recent past or, on the contrary, a passionate assertion of cultural continuity determined the socio-political dynamics in the countries of the former Eastern bloc.


Part II. Culture and Post-socialist State Building

The second part of the module will analyze culture as a symbolic resource used for shaping new borders of post-socialist independent national communities and states. Culture functions in this case as the foundation for constructing the system of relevant “others”. This new symbolical geography helped to define both domestic and foreign political agenda of the newly declared states. 


Part III. Culture and Post-socialist Societies

The third part of the module covers the role that culture plays in re-arranging post-socialist societies. The main specificity of the post-socialist situation is the limited capacity of the political elites and state apparatus to administer the cultural processes even if the aspiration for total control remained unchanged. After 1989/1991 the sphere of cultural production undergoes a profound change becoming much more complex and diversified, integrated into international flows and constantly redistributed between the competing agents.

Example task from the Humanities Module

Write an essay of 600-800 words comparing the portrayal of the leader in one Soviet and one East European work.  While you may choose to compare the compulsory texts, The Successor and Repentance, with the permission of the instructor you may choose to use other texts, whether from the additional reading list or others.  Your comparison should focus on how the works you discuss interpret the workings of the leader cult as a foundation of the socialist state.   Please submit this essay through the assignment function of Blackboard.