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Seminar Series: Serguei Alex. Oushakine: 'Fighting a New Cult: Thing-Theories of Late Socialism'

Tuesday, May 16, 2023, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

The paper focuses on the increasing role of aesthetics in the Soviet Union in the 1950s-1970s. This “aesthetic advancement” (esteticheskoe nastuplenie) as it was called in the 1960s, demonstrates an interesting epistemological bifurcation in understanding the role and the importance of material things in the life of late Soviet people. On the one hand, there were active attempts to determine rational limits of material consumption by establishing a hierarchy of tastes and aesthetic norms, which could be taught by experts and, correspondingly, appropriated by Soviet people.  But on the other, there were similarly strong attempts to focus on a purposefully and effectively organized material environment. It was this environment (not norms and rules) that was supposed to nudge and orient the individual towards more effective styles of consumption. Crucially, in both cases the material thing occupied the center of discussion – either as an object of contemplation/consumption, or as an active matter and agentive substance. The talk explores the increasing importance of materiality by examining late soviet thing-theories.

Serguei Oushakine teaches at Princeton University in the department of Anthropology and Slavic Languages and Literatures. Among his latest publications are the edited volume The Pedagogy of Images: Depicting Communism for Children (2022; U of Toronto Press ), and A Medium for the Masses: Photomontage and the Optical Turn in Early Soviet Russia (2020, Garage Museum, Moscow).

Online participants and non-CEU participants who would like to attend in person, please register here.