Summary report

Executive Summary: Project Goals, Tasks, Successes and Failures

The main conceptual goal of our project was to encourage the members of the project and their students to re-think their relationship to the Soviet, both in terms of the past (especially in terms of making experiences of the late Soviet period more accessible to today’s students) and the present (e.g. the continuing effects of Soviet legacies, whether they are recognized as such or not). We also formed the group around the goal of exploring the diversity of experiences of the Soviet in the periphery, and on complicating an overly politicized understanding of the Soviet.

Scholars involved in this project pursued individual research and curriculum development projects that have contribute to the state of knowledge about the Soviet in everyday life throughout the former Soviet Union and across the supposed historical divide of 1991. The project resulted not just in the meetings and activities of the group itself, but in concrete products that will help share our reflections and efforts with other teachers. The group produced a website that serves as a resource for teachers designing courses or course modules on the Soviet in everyday life. Nine members of the group will be publishing research articles undertaken as part of this project and four of these articles will be published as a special issue on work and home in Soviet everyday life in a 2014 issue of the journal Laboratorium.

We solicited feedback from all of the people involved with the project over the last three years, both participants and faculty (20 of whom responded), and the results of that survey (detailed below) indicate that the main success of the project has been the creation of and participation in a regionally, disciplinarily diverse and “high powered” academic network. The main weakness of the project was the organization, with respondents noting that the sessions were too short and the lack of activity between sessions.

Part I: Narrative Summary of Thematic Structure/Sequence, Main Project Activities and Their Outcomes

During the first year of the project, we focused on the theme “contrasting approaches to studying the Soviet.” From the beginning, it was our intention that after the initial contact session, the activities of this project would be largely dictated by the needs and the input of the participants. After the initial orientation to the theoretical and methodological frameworks provided by the faculty, much of the subsequent project activity will be driven by the work of the participants. Within this loose framework, however, the first year of the project focused on

  • exploring different research traditions both within and outside the former Soviet Union and contrasting how disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and social history approach research and teaching on Soviet experiences of everyday life.
  • developing thematic research groups for ongoing intersession activities.
  • asking participants to set their own goals in terms of teaching and research and following up on those goals before the next year of the project begins.
  • the spring contact session will focus on research methods (research design, analysis of evidence, applications in the classroom) through seminars co-led by faculty participants

During the second year, our project focused on defining and exploring the thematic concerns of the literature on Soviet in everyday life, with the result that we reached a consensus about what are the main contours of the field:

  • Disjuncture. This theme unites the problems associated with social spaces that are “broken” in some sense, and thus that people, practices and institutions have to transform themselves as they extend across these disjunctures.  The break can be in time, space or other dimension of society.
  • The making of Soviet persons. This theme encompasses the practices, processes, and institutions that make Soviet (and post-Soviet) people the people they are/were.  This can include the circumstances in which people are formed, the state or other agendas for forming people, the kinds of people that result.
  • Mobility. This theme concerns any aspect of social life that involves movement of persons, either geographically or socially.  It concerns the institutions and practices that enable, compel, or limit and regulate movement. 

In the third year of the project, we focused our efforts on two main deliverables: 1) a modular multidisciplinary course which will serve as an online resource for teachers who wish to build a syllabus for a course relating to the Soviet in everyday life, or for those who want to just incorporate a unit on a particular topic related to this theme; and 2) a publication devoted to the research conducted by the junior faculty involved in this project. We also added thematic elements that complimented the above foci on disjuncture/personhood/mobility. Our 2012 summer session was conceived of as “Bishkek as a laboratory of the Soviet in everyday life,” and we used the city, as well as excursions to other urban and rural areas, extensively in our discussions of seeing the Soviet in the Soviet periphery.

Part II: Sustainability of the Project Accomplishments and Follow-on

In addition to the aforementioned ongoing collaborations (the completion of the website and the special journal issue) there are other projects that are continuing beyond the end of the ReSET. First, a group of participants and faculty based in Bishkek began a study of the everyday life of the provincial Soviet academic, conducting biographical interviews with senior scholars in Kyrgyzstan. They plan to collect more interviews and to produce a publication based on their research, either jointly on a common theme of the interviews, or individually as a collection of methodological reflections. There are also dyadic collaborations continuing, for example, Laura Adams and Daria Dimke are collaborating on an English version of an article she produced in Russian during the ReSET, with the aim of publishing it in a Western sociology journal.

Part III: Programmatic Support Provided by ReSET: reflections on the ReSET program mission and main effects, focus of support and interaction with HESP and ReSET Advisory Committee.  

ReSET is a somewhat unwieldy program that nonetheless provides great results. It encourages lofty visions that are difficult to implement. It is very difficult to organize, especially if the organizers try to meet the goal of being inclusive and benefitting a broad spectrum of educators. The guidance coming from the program documents, individual conversations with program staff, formal and informal communication with the advisory committee members was often contradictory. At the same time, most of that guidance was in and of itself valuable feedback, and it is good that this infrastructure was in place to give feedback. Our project was necessarily expensive because it brought together people from all over the world and the program staff was very proficient and understanding in letting us work out how to accomplish our mandate within a reasonable budget and time framework. So overall it was a mixed bag for the organizers of this ReSET, but that has more to do with the nature of our particular project than with the program itself or its representatives. In the end, it succeeded in its intellectual goals and surpassed our expectations in terms of the concrete outcomes.