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They want to take over everything from abroad - dresses, theories, art, philosophical trends, hair styles, everything, - and they relentlessly discard our own achievements, our Russian tradition. And who can condemn all of this, when it's all so natural after so many years of puritanism and fasting, being closed in and closed off from the rest of the world. Svetlana Alliluyeva , p. Fifteen years have passed since I completed the fieldwork that forms the basis of this study, which is now being published for the first time - in Russian.

In those years, the world I here describe - Leningrad in the early 's - has changed so fundamentally that it has, in a certain sense, ceased to exist. In this sense, what follows must be read as history. But in another sense and as so many times before in Russian history , the old world lives on beneath the new as its precondition, without which the present must seem meaningless. For an understanding of the post-Soviet Russia of our own day, this account by a Westerner of the state of mind and means of life that characterized the late Soviet period may thus prove of interest. When I originally wrote this book in 1 I was, inter alia , motivated by a typically anthropological passion: to show that the Soviet Union was not a static abstraction, an artificial construct of "totalitarian" ideology, but a living social organism, a complex and subtle compound of lifeworlds, a social Texture inhabited by real people with real lives to live.

While Western sovietologists and Soviet ideologues unanimously proclaimed the centralized monolitnost' of the Soviet empire, I had experienced Leningrad as particularistic and pluralistic to the point of complete disorganization. The Soviet Union simply could not be a totalitarian dictatorship, I reasoned. It was an "unplanned society", as anthropologist Janine Wedel has later said of Poland. And while the experts insisted that the unspeakable power of the "Communist" states had frozen their societies in perpetual immobility, my informants' lives were filled with violent upheavals, sudden opportunities and chance encounters, and Soviet history itself seemed - as anthropologist Bruce Grant has recently phrased it - to have been a continuous "century of perestroikas".

Perhaps most striking, in view of later events, people in Leningrad in were constantly telling me that still more dramatic changes were on their way. It is true that many of them envisioned these changes as a spiritual apocalypse, while I, as an anthropologist, speculated about the collective, social forces at work. Still, it was not hard to conclude that "something" was maturing deep down in the vast, chaotic social organism that was the Soviet Union - that heavy, ponderous forces were gathering and pressing against the barriers that contained them.

This imagery seemed terrifying at times, since there was so much bitterness and pain at the root of what was taking place. But there was also hope - hope that sanity might prevail, that change could take place in a more or less peaceful manner as indeed it so far seems to have done. In this context, I felt the need to express my belief that life in the Soviet Union was more often individualistic and creative than deadened by totalitarian conformity, that people were motivated by "passionate realism" rather than fear of power.

The real pain of 1. My work, thus, came to have an implicit focus on the possibilities for change in the Soviet system. I did not foresee the demise of the Communist Party or the break-up of the Soviet Empire. Nevertheless, my text points forward to our own age, and there is a basic compatibility between the analysis I proposed in , and the changes that have later occurred see the Epilogue of the present volume for some further thoughts on this.

This is for me confirmed by the fact that many of the conclusions I draw about the Soviet Union below, have later and independently of me gained wide acceptance in the anthropological literature on the post-Soviet societies. On the other hand, a number of issues that are raised by my analysis seem, in hindsight, to have been insufficiently treated in the following.

I have therefore included two short papers as appendices to this volume, which update my thinking 1 on the methodology and ethics of my investigation Appendix One and Appendix Two , and 2 on my analysis of Russian values Appendix Two. Since the advent of glasnost' and perestroika and the breakdown of the Soviet empire, a whole new field of study has appeared in Western social and cultural anthropology. Students of what is commonly referred to as "post-Communist anthropology" have described many interesting aspects of life in various parts of the former Soviet empire, and stimulated a creative and thought-provoking debate on general questions of social organization and human relationships in the region.

Still more importantly, anthropologists have been consistently skeptical to the policies of economic "shock therapy" favored by many influential Western actors, and to the belief that total dismantlement of existing economic and political structures followed by rapid and consistent marketization, would by itself cure all the real and imagined evils of the "Communist" system.

Through intensive studies of the effects of reform in local contexts throughout the former Soviet empire, anthropologists have demonstrated the deeply contradictory processes at work, and shown that when abstract policies are applied to real social situations, they have unpredictable and often counterproductive consequences for examples, see de Soto and Anderson , Hann , Kideckel , Verdery a, , Creed and Wedel , Burawoy and Verdery Contributions to this literature have come both from Western anthropologists and increasingly from colleagues in East Europe, where, as one of the minor results of the changes taking place, socio-cultural anthropology and, in a wider sense, qualitatively oriented social science is now emerging as an academic discipline.

We are witnessing the birth of what Richard Fardon has dubbed a "regional tradition in ethnographic writing". What Fardon means by a "regional tradition" is a complex and evolving set of assumptions of what constitutes "relevant research strategies" in a given ethnographic region. Fardon emphasizes that regional traditions are both limiting and creative.


Melanesia in fact enabled the study of exchange in anthropology, in the sense that the exchange systems of the Trobrianders, as described most notably by Malinowski , , revealed for the first time the vast complexity that even a relatively "primitive" system of moneyless exchange might have. At the same time, the researcher's insistent focus on exchange may restrain him from doing work on other problems that might be equally interesting; or else, through the power relations of the academic establishment, may prompt him to discourage his students from such work.

The anthropology that is being done in East Europe today is quickly acquiring the attributes of a new "regional tradition". The caveat is that we have problems delimiting the region as such. The cultural variety within the area that stretches from Eastern Germany to Mongolia, from the Caucasus to Kamchatka, is very great, and the people living in various parts of it may often seem to have more in common with their neighbors across the border than with people living at "their" region's other end.

One is, so to speak, reproducing the power of the Soviet state by treating its former domain as a unit of study. One should recall, however, that many other ethnographic regions are "politically" defined, although the political events in question usually lie much further back in time. The Mediterranean is perhaps the prime example, an ethnographic region that remains conterminous with the Mare Nostrum of imperial Rome, in spite of its later division into a Christian and an Islamic sphere.

Still, to my mind, the title "post-Communism" is something of a misnomer, since it defines our sphere of interest not in geographical terms, but in the terms of a now defunct political ideology. Like it or not, we are studying a geographical region. There exists a large "Soviet Studies" establishment in Western academia, and although this has by now mostly renamed itself "Post-Soviet", it is still applied to the same physical area, because this is where its cadres have their expertise and research experience.

For anthropologists such considerations carry particular weight.

Sparrow's Ramblings

Doing fieldwork anywhere in the "post-Communist" world presupposes the acquisition of a corpus of complex practical skills and cultural knowledge - that differs widely from what is needed, e. Anthropologists must acquire this corpus in order to do fieldwork at all.

Brush Strokes S1 Ep13

And because we learn from colleagues with similar skills, we have founded a community of anthropologists who have done work in the "East European" region, and this community has proceeded to define the standards and interests of a "regional tradition" - which we might refer to as does a well-known journal as the Anthropology of East Europe. East Europeanist anthropology is a regional tradition in the making, and as such presents a somewhat unfinished and at times makeshift face to the world.

The research community is rather small, with few older researchers with senior academic positions at prestigious universities, and a multitude of young students making interesting and unexpected contributions. The roots of this tradition go back to the work of sociologists, anthropologists and rural economists in the early years of the 20th century.

These students, many of them East European e. Bogoraz , Chayanov , Galeski , Stahl , were particularly concerned with the problems of the peasantry, and founded an influential school of rural anthropology. Most prominently, Polish sociologists developed a fieldwork-based school that is closely reminiscent of Western sociocultural anthropology see Wedel for a cross section of the work of this school on informal organization in Communist Poland , and similar conditions prevailed for example in Yugoslavia and Hungary. In such countries, cooperation with Western colleagues was not uncommon, and a number of Western researchers who had been active before the war continued work in the area into the 50's and 60's for examples, see Benet ; Halpern , , ; Sanders In the Soviet Union, in contrast, sociological and anthropological research was effectively silenced under Stalin see Tumarkin , and - in spite of the interesting empirical work that started appearing in the 70's e.

Arutyunyan , Staroverov , Boyko , Pimenov , Kon , Shlapentokh ; for an early Western contribution, see Dunn - we have only recently seen a return to the social science "mainstream" see Tishkov for a critical evaluation of the condition of contemporary Russian ethnography.

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Meanwhile, in the West, during the 70's and early 80's, a new generation of East Europeanist anthropologists had appeared, and a number of paradigmatic monographs, mostly on rural themes, were published see Hann on Hungary; Humphrey [] on Buryatia; Kligman , Sampson and Verdery on Romania; Wedel on Poland. All in all, however, we may conclude with Halpern and Kideckel , p. Starting in the late 80's, this small, specialist field has seen unprecedented expansion, as previously inaccessible regions are explored, new questions are asked, and the number of students doing fieldwork steadily increases.

Most of the leading figures of this new tradition are still the researchers that were active back in the early 80's, but today their students are also contributing to the field. Increasingly also, various traditions of anthropology - and more generally, of sociological research based on qualitative methods - are forming or reasserting themselves, often against significant opposition from traditional academia, in all the East European countries.

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In these circles, innovative and often interdisciplinary approaches are being pioneered, which challenge the rather airy generalizations that are often proposed by Western researchers. In St.

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  • Petersburg, for example, alongside traditional academic institutions several of which have undergone significant internal reform , there have arisen a Faculty of Ethnology at the new European University www. Vakhtin and a Center for Independent Social Research - Centr nezavisimykh sociologicheskikh issledovanii www. As in the West, we find a young, enthusiastic, and often innovative research milieu. One of the greatest problems of writing about Russia in the mid's was the almost complete lack of general sociological theory of Soviet society.

    Quite a number of interesting empirical studies of East European societies had appeared, but the theoretical debate, which is otherwise so lively in anthropology, was virtually absent. The study of East European societies was still heavily dominated by the paradigmatic theory of totalitarianism, which put prime emphasis on the presumably all-powerful state. Of course, totalitarianism theory was never completely hegemonic, and much of the empirical research that was conducted in anthropology as elsewhere in fact contradicted central tenets of the totalitarian model.

    Nevertheless, there existed no developed theoretical alternative to this model, and few efforts were made to revise existing grand theory such as Marxism, structuralism or Weberianism to suit the circumstances of East Europe. In writing the present volume, I was therefore explicitly attempting to build up an alternative theoretical framework, and to develop a number of analytical concepts related to empirical Soviet society. Since my work was never published, however see Footnote 1 , it has had little or no influence except on my own students.

    But this of course does not mean that other anthropologists were insensitive to the need for general theoretical approaches to the East European societies see Halpern and Kideckel , p. The most prominent of these is that of Katherine Verdery , whose monograph describing life in a Transylvanian village was published in Early in the next decade, Verdery published a second monograph on urban Romanian intellectuals a and a number of theoretical studies b, , that detail a complex model of the inner workings of "socialist society". This model draws in part on the work of Hungarian and Romanian scholars e.

    Konrad and Szelenyi , Kornai , Campeanu , in part on general anthropological theory e. Polanyi , and in part on empirical studies by Western anthropologists e. Humphrey During the 90's, both Verdery herself and a number of other prominent anthropologists of East Europe have developed her model further, and there seems at present to be something of a consensus that it represents an exceptionally fruitful avenue of inquiry.

    I find it interesting and encouraging that there are many striking parallels between Verdery's account of "socialist society" and my own description of the Soviet Union below. We agree that the monolithic power of the Soviet state was a sham. In fact, the state was weak, and hampered by what Hungarian economist Janos Kornai , ; see also Birman has called a "shortage economy". This state governed a society fragmented into Islands enterprises, kolkhozy , bureaucratic institutions etc.

    In this scheme, the state functioned as the primary redistributor of resources and wealth within a "supply-constrained" economy of shortages, and Islands competed for access to its wealth:. At all points in the system, jobs or bureaucratic positions are used as platforms for amassing resources. Personal influence, 'corruption', and reciprocal exchanges are some of the major mechanisms. This sort of behavior goes on throughout the society but is especially important for bureaucrats, whose entire reputation and prestige rest upon their capacity to amass resources.

    Any bureaucrat, any bureaucratic segment, tends to expand its own domain, increasing its capacity to give - whether the 'gift' be education, apartments, medical care, permission and funds for publication, social welfare, wages, building permits, or funds for investments in factory infrastructure. Throughout the bureaucracy, then, there is rampant competition to increase one's budget at the expense of those roughly equivalent to one on a horizontal scale, so as to have potentially more to disburse to claimants below.

    That is, what counts most in the competition among social actors within allocative bureaucracies is inputs to one's segment , rather than outputs of production. Verdery emphasizes the systemic centrality of the "second economy" in Soviet-type societies, and the peculiar role played by "culture", as a battleground between state and oppositional legitimacy.

    Ramblings of a Seasoned Soul: Brush Strokes of Life in Words: Volume 1

    The importance attached to "culture" by a regime that professed materialism as its official ideology was indeed one of the more paradoxical features of the Soviet system, and Verdery attaches great importance to it. It is linked, in her theory, to the pivotal role played by the intelligentsia in the legitimation of Soviet-type regimes, as well as to the sudden eruptions of intelligentsia-led nationalism that accompanied the breakdown of the Soviet world.

    More generally, Verdery following Humphrey describes the growth of East European nationalism as a result of the fragmentation of socialist societies into competing "semi-feudal" domains Islands.