Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 6 (2016), 2 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: Alla Salnikova


Choi Chatterjee / David L. Ransel / Mary Cavender (Hrsg.): Everyday Life in Russia Past and Present. Indiana University Press, 2014. 430 S., 12 Abb. = ISBN: 978-0-253-01254-8.

Table of contents:



Though it would not be a mistake to say that studies of everyday life have entered the mainstream of modern historiography, there are still many opportunities to further examine, and even reexamine, the quotidian. Questions remain not only regarding the essential nature and content of the quotidian, but also its boundaries and possibilities as a field of research. Likewise, its analytic categories and interdisciplinary connections, modes and styles, language, and images are also open for debate. No wonder, then, Olga Shevchenko, one of the contributors to the reviewed book, begins her chapter with a provocative claim: I am not entirely sure what everyday life means (p. 52). And as David Ransel brings out clearly in his excellent historiographical and theoretical overview regarding Russian studies, in a large number of cases the publications are simply standard historical accounts with the everyday life label tacked on to attract readers (p. 18). Of course, this is true not only in Russia.

Fortunately, this volume provides answers to many questions concerning both methodological and concrete aspects of the quotidian in Russia. It continues a number of discussions and deliberations that took place during the interdisciplinary workshop Everyday Life in Russia and the Soviet Union, which was organized at Indiana University Bloomington in May 2010. The organizers of this workshop, and later the editors of the book, took on a highly ambitious task, seeking to expand their intellectual horizons and cast their research net as broadly as possible (p. 1). As this volume proves, they succeeded. Such difficult objectives were made possible thanks to the development of a productive methodology based on:

a) Broad interdisciplinarity (including anthropology, history, literature, and film studies);

b) A longue durée approach flexible enough to incorporate all continuities, discontinuities, and even break-ups across space, place, and time (including imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet daily life in both the capitals and provinces); and

c) Methods of research borrowed from post-colonial and transnational history.

In an analytic afterword, Sheila Fitzpatrick overviews and comments upon these methodological innovations, which conceptualize and identify specific models, norms, anomalies, long-term trends, and historical changes in Russian everyday life.

The reviewed volume consists of five thematic sections: Approaches to Everyday Life; Public Identities and Public Space; Living Space and Personal Choice; Myth, Memory, and History of Everyday Life; and Coming Home: Transnational Connections. All of the above-mentioned methodological foundations can be found throughout the book, though the contributions are thematically organized, as indicated by the section titles.

Interdisciplinarity can help broaden subjects of research, as well as theoretical boundaries. The editors explain that they sought to highlight and integrate current work in a variety of fields in which the analytic focus is on identities and subjectivities that were formed in the nexus of everyday life (p. 2). Such plurality manifests itself in the wide range of different approaches seen in the book in terms of both methodology and sources: philosophical texts; various models of sociality and subjectivity; conceptual models of everyday events, power, discourse, and language; analytic models of conscious and unconscious; and more. Discussions about analytic categories of Russian everyday life, such as povsednevnost’ and byt, are also very important. Cultural practices, power relations, and learned behavior that regulated everyday existenceare explored through the examination of so-called contact zones of daily life (Mary Louise Pratt, 1992) where “grand historical events and ideological contests are personally experienced” (p. 2). In this vein, Douglas Rogers identifies new conceptual approaches to studying post-Soviet everyday life. He explores how folk practices and local craft festivals contributed to a “new aestheticized byt” masquerading as a “corporate social responsibility” project initiated by the Russian oil-producing giant Lukoil in the Perm Region in order to legitimate its enormous wealth. He likewise investigates the influence of this project on the lifeways of different strata of the local population and their attitudes toward the newcomer. In a similar fashion, David Ransel examines a real threat to ‘ordinary’ people in post-Soviet Russia, namely the process of transforming socialist property into private property. This has led to the loss of different areas of common use, which directly affects common people’s everyday lives, as well as recreation and business activities, depriving them of personal and collective rights. Both authors are familiar with using the anthropological “participant−observer” method and rely on a great number of oral history sources (for example, David Ransel’s research is based on interviews with workers collected from 1994−2003 in the industrial suburbs of Moscow). These sources enable the authors to interiorize the post-Soviet reality to the extent that their chapters sometimes seem to have been written by insiders.

Some of the chapters emphasize gendered aspects of the quotidian. Elizabeth Skomp examines the themes of maternalism and motherhood in Soviet “women’s” literature written during the Brezhnev era. Natalia Pushkareva identifies both general and specific issues relating to the everyday experiences of contemporary female academics in Russia. Though some of her claims could be contested (for example, her assertion that, in Russia, “people who work in the institutions of higher education have fewer research demands than do scholars in the Academy of Sciences” [p. 98]), Pushkareva demonstrates in an excellent fashion the methodological and informative potential of oral history.

The problem of living space, one of the most beloved and well-studied topics in modern historiography, is addressed in this volume in chapters written by Deborah Field, Steven Harris, Susan Reid, and Ilya Utekhin. Notably, Utekhin latterly embarks upon an entirely new study of the post-Soviet kommunalka. All of these chapters, though, demonstrate the multiplicity and diversity of state-personal relations in private living spaces and trace cultural practices of power through both individual “cooperation” and self-interpretations of quotidian experiences. Readers will be particularly interested in Susan Reid’s brilliant chapter which draws upon the material turn to analyze the content of cabinets in private Khrushchev-era apartments. Through individual stories, she then narrates the creation of modern individuality. I would only add that it is not correct (from an ethical point of view) to call Khrushchev apartments “Khrushchev slums” (khrushcheby) (p. 9). This pejorative term was often used in the 1990s by the militant post-Soviet media to reject the “Soviet project” as a whole, or by the new Russians and haughty children of the rich, the so-called gilded youth, who were ashamed of having inhabited such apartments. Nevertheless, for many Russians – not just in the 1960s, but even now, particularly among young families and migrants of modest means – these small apartments, particularly those renovated in the 2000s, are a desirable place of residence.

The next thematic section, Myth, Memory, and the History of Everyday Life, is a productive exploration into historical memory. It is organized around interdisciplinary perspectives on the reception of and attempts to mythologize lost Soviet “living nature” studies through the use of fictional films (Peter Pozefsky), documentaries (Serguei Oushakine), and prose (Benjamin Sutcliffe).

The longue durée methodology proposed by the editors seems highly productive for this field. However, only one of the seventeen chapters concerns pre-revolutionary Russia, and even then, only the nineteenth century. Written by Mary Cavender, this chapter examines attempts by the progressive Russian nobility to improve the country’s economy and the health of its people by introducing advanced scientific practices in agriculture and medicine. Though not always successful, such endeavors greatly influenced the provincial gentry’s mode of behavior and language of self-representation. It is unfortunate that the everyday life of other social classes was not used in accounting for the “mosaic” character and multiplicity of Russian everyday practices in the nineteenth century.

Innovative transnational and post-colonial approaches to everyday Russian studies can be found in the final part of the volume, which traces experiences and interpretations of Soviet and post-Soviet daily life by foreigners, including Chinese students in military training during the 1920s (Elizabeth McGuire) and visitors from the United States in the pre-war Soviet era (Choi Chatterjee). Karen Petrone’s comparison of the US veterans returning from the Vietnam War and the Soviet veterans returning from Afghanistan is of particular interest. This part of the book would have been more methodologically informative, though, if it had been supplemented with the exploration of everyday life among different ethnic groups in the Soviet Union, or post-Soviet non-Russian migrants (foreigners in their own country).

This volume serves an innovative step forward in the study of everyday life, opening a new path for academic research into the Russian quotidian. It proves once again not only how rapidly everyday life changes (as the scholars mention, the here and now lasts for only 2.9 seconds), but also how the extremely varied nature of Russian povsednevnost’, given both its synchrony and diachrony, will continue to provide a powerful impetus for further investigation.

Alla A. Salnikova, Kazan

Zitierweise: Alla Salnikova über: Choi Chatterjee / David L. Ransel / Mary Cavender (Hrsg.): Everyday Life in Russia Past and Present. Indiana University Press, 2014. 430 S., 12 Abb. = ISBN: 978-0-253-01254-8, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Salnikova_Chatterje_Everyday_Life_in_Russia.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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