Russische en Slavische studies - East Seminar


The first EAST seminar of Fall 2019 will take place on Thursday, September 26 at 17.00 in Bushuis/OIH E102.
Dr. Sudha Rajagopalan (UvA) will talk about the Journeys of Soviet things: cold war entanglements in Cuban and Indian homes.

Journeys of Soviet things: cold war entanglements in Cuban and Indian homes

A spate of new scholarship on the politics of socialist materialities continues to document the routine recasting of socialist things as objects of affection and ironic nostalgia in the former East block. In light of this, my current research is an intervention that reminds us of those Soviet things that undertook complex itineraries into contexts removed from their original site of conceptualisation and production. Soviet household goods and artefacts for personal use were acquired through formal and informal trade, during travel or as gifts in countries near and far flung in the global South. Drawing mainly on oral accounts, this project analyses the itineraries of Soviet children’s books, technological artefacts, and other such objects in India and Cuba, with the purpose of examining the stories of self /object and the articulations of geopolitical identities that emerge in the narrations of these objects’ journeys. Why study things? Because they acquire narratorial power as they are invested with meanings and values by the people who own and use them, and they become the conduits through which we experience the world. Things, therefore, are the link between popular culture and foreign policy. My paper offers initial and tentative findings from my ongoing research project, unpacking the significant ways in which Indians and Cubans’ experiences of modernisation and geopolitics were mediated through the acquisition and routine use of Soviet objects. Soviet things of every variety were expected to be emblematic of Soviet modernisation, technological advancement and solidarity with the South. My objective is to understand whether local encounters with such objects reflected these lofty geopolitical goals in practice and whether any aspects of the grand narratives of competing modernisations eventually really mattered (and if they did, how) to those who came to possess, use, cherish or eventually discard things of Soviet origin acquired during the Cold War.

Sudha Rajagopalan is Senior Lecturer in East European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. A historian and cultural studies scholar, her book Indian Films in Soviet Cinemas: the Culture of Moviegoing after Stalin (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2009) was a pioneering, ethnohistorical study of Soviet movie reception of Indian cinema. Rajagopalan’s work since then has been on participatory practices and identity work within Russian digital media cultures and has been published in major journals, including Celebrity Studies, International Journal of Cultural Studies, European Journal of Cultural Studies and Transformative Works and Culture. She is a longstanding member, additionally, of the editorial/steering committee of the international, peer-reviewed journal Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media.

Please mail if you are interested in attending.