Project

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Do-it-yourself practices and technical knowledge in late Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia

English title Do-it-yourself practices and technical knowledge in late Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia
Applicant Geslin Philippe
Number 137796
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut d'Ethnologie Université de Neuchâtel
Institution of higher education University of Neuchatel - NE
Main discipline Ethnology
Start/End 01.11.2011 - 31.10.2013
Approved amount 140'363.00
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Keywords (12)

self-made objects; do-it-yourself; practical knowledge; materiality; appropriation; auto-consumption; society & technology; amateurism; hobby; Soviet Union; post-socialism

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

The proposed project seeks to contribute to the anthropology of everyday life in socialist and post-socialist societies by examining an important but previously neglected social phenomenon under late socialism in the Soviet Union. The project proposes an investigation of practical knowledge in the USSR focusing on do-it-yourself (DIY) practices that were widespread during the Soviet period. In addition to traditional arts and crafts, ordinary Soviet citizens constructed television sets, radios, refrigerators, and a number of smaller gadgets used in everyday life. Furthermore, they did so in the context of official Marxist-Leninist ideology, which asserted the indivisibility of the worker and the product of his or her labor.

We plan to inquire into: (a) the relationship between, on the one hand, practical skills and day-to-day routines and, on the other hand, knowledge and ideology; (b) the ways in which particular knowledge becomes mobilized across spatial and temporal contexts (e.g., shifts from workplace to domestic space, from work hours to free time); and (c) the controversial meanings of “materiality” in Soviet and post-Soviet society. This project will challenge commonly constructed oppositions between consumption and production, manual and intellectual labor, work and leisure time activities, invention and routine, high and popular design, and educated and everyday taste.

Our initial interest in practical knowledge derives from an observation on how widespread self-made, remade and repaired objects are in post-Soviet Russia. The fact that these practices continue in the post-Soviet period challenges a commonly accepted notion that they developed as a result of shortages in consumer goods that characterized the Soviet era. Rather than reducing the prevalence of DIY practices to economic inefficiency, we plan to investigate them in the context of the institutional organization of both the economic and educational systems, particularly with respect to professional and common-sense knowledge, and practical skills.

Thus, we will study the construction of “knowledge” while contributing to a larger field, that of the social history of the late USSR. This project will rely on a research design which combines historical and anthropological approaches in order to perform multi-sited ethnography of the DIY phenomenon in the USSR.  Data will be collected through observation, interviewing, collecting and visiting material cultural objects from private and state museum, and, of course a thorough literature reviews (of the Soviet press, archival documents, and the historical ethnographic literature).

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Recycling Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value
Lucy Norris (2013), Recycling Indian Clothing: Global Contexts of Reuse and Value, in Laboratorium, (2), 205-208.
The 1960s and the Development of Mass Culture: Notes on the Soviet Modernity [1960e i razvitie massovoi kulturi: zametki o sovetskom variante modernosti]
Vasilyeva Zinaida (2013), The 1960s and the Development of Mass Culture: Notes on the Soviet Modernity [1960e i razvitie massovoi kulturi: zametki o sovetskom variante modernosti], in Ab Imperio, (1), 159-174.
Do-it-yourself practicies: Technical knowledge in late Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia
Vasilyeva Zinaida (2012), Do-it-yourself practicies: Technical knowledge in late Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia, in Tsantsa, (N°17), 178-181.
TRIZ community: The logic and ethics of the Soviet inventor” [Soobschestvo TRIZ: logika i etika sovetskogo izobretatelia]
Vasilyeva Zinaida (2012), TRIZ community: The logic and ethics of the Soviet inventor” [Soobschestvo TRIZ: logika i etika sovetskogo izobretatelia], in Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, (N3), 29-46.
Ou sont les restes de communisme? Récyclage de la mémoire soviétique dans les expositions et les oeuvres d'art
Vasilyeva Zinaida, Ou sont les restes de communisme? Récyclage de la mémoire soviétique dans les expositions et les oeuvres d'art, in A Contrario, (19), 53-67.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
EHESS France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Centre franco-russe de recherche en sciences humaines et sociales de Moscou Russia (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
Université de Genève, Unité de russe Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
European University in St.Petersburg Russia (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Projects of Modernity: Constructing the Soviet in the European Perspective Talk given at a conference 24.06.2013 University of Perm, Russia Vasilyeva Zinaida;
Congress 2013 of the Humanities and Social Sciences, SSS Round Table Socialist Commodity Talk given at a conference 01.06.2013 University of Victoria, Canada Vasilyeva Zinaida;
Atelier transdisciplinaire "Déchet" Individual talk 23.05.2012 Université de Lausanne, Switzerland Vasilyeva Zinaida;
research seminar Individual talk 17.04.2012 European University in St.Petersburg, Russia, Russia Vasilyeva Zinaida;
Doing ethnography on the Soviet science cities Talk given at a conference 09.04.2012 Moscow, Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Center for Humanities, Russia Vasilyeva Zinaida;
the First Princeton Young Scholars’ Interdisciplinary Conference on Soviet Science and Technology “The Great Experiment Revisited: Soviet Science and Techno-utopianism” Talk given at a conference 10.02.2012 Princeton University, United States of America Vasilyeva Zinaida;


Abstract

The proposed project seeks to contribute to the anthropology of everyday life in socialist and post-socialist societies by examining an important but previously neglected social phenomenon under late socialism in the Soviet Union. The project proposes an investigation of practical knowledge in the USSR focusing on do-it-yourself (DIY) practices that were widespread during the Soviet period. In addition to traditional arts and crafts, ordinary Soviet citizens constructed television sets, radios, refrigerators, and a number of smaller gadgets used in everyday life. Furthermore, they did so in the context of official Marxist-Leninist ideology, which asserted the indivisibility of the worker and the product of his or her labor. We plan to inquire into: (a) the relationship between, on the one hand, practical skills and day-to-day routines and, on the other hand, knowledge and ideology; (b) the ways in which particular knowledge becomes mobilized across spatial and temporal contexts (e.g., shifts from workplace to domestic space, from work hours to free time); and (c) the controversial meanings of “materiality” in Soviet and post-Soviet society. This project will challenge commonly constructed oppositions between consumption and production, manual and intellectual labor, work and leisure time activities, invention and routine, high and popular design, and educated and everyday taste.Our initial interest in practical knowledge derives from an observation on how widespread self-made, remade and repaired objects are in post-Soviet Russia. The fact that these practices continue in the post-Soviet period challenges a commonly accepted notion that they developed as a result of shortages in consumer goods that characterized the Soviet era. Rather than reducing the prevalence of DIY practices to economic inefficiency, we plan to investigate them in the context of the institutional organization of both the economic and educational systems, particularly with respect to professional and common-sense knowledge, and practical skills. Thus, we will study the construction of “knowledge” while contributing to a larger field, that of the social history of the late USSR. This project will rely on a research design which combines historical and anthropological approaches in order to perform multi-sited ethnography of the DIY phenomenon in the USSR. Data will be collected through observation, interviewing, collecting and visiting material cultural objects from private and state museum, and, of course a thorough literature reviews (of the Soviet press, archival documents, and the historical ethnographic literature).The project will be accomplished in a 24-month period and take the form of a PhD thesis directed by Professor Philippe Geslin at the Institute of Ethnology of the University of Neuchâtel. Research results will be published as a PhD thesis (in English) and in two articles in highly ranked professional journals in Europe, in French and in Russian. Keywords: self-made objects, DIY, practical knowledge, skills, materiality, appropriation, environment, auto-consumption, society and technology, amateurism, hobby, Soviet Union, post-socialism.
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