By Jennifer J. Carroll
The Soyuz Symposium, an intimate conference designed to connect contemporary scholars working the fields of socialism and post-socialism, was hosted by the Ellison Center on the final weekend of February 2015. This event brought together more than two-dozen scholars from numerous disciplines (including sociology, history, anthropology, law, Slavic studies, and computer science) to share their work on the history, social politics, and lived experiences of socialism and post-socialism throughout the European, Central Asian, and East Asian regions. The theme of this year’s Symposium was “Shifting Territories: Historical Legacies and Social Change.” Conference participants tackled these concepts by presenting their research in six panels over a period of two days. The full Symposium program is available on the Ellison Center website.
Soyuz, short for the Soyuz Research Network for Postsocialist Cultural Studies, is an interdisciplinary organization of scholars working in postsocialist studies. This group was formed just over 20 years ago by a group of New York-based anthropologists with the aim of fostering scholastic and interpersonal support among young scholars conducting research in the newly-accessible former Soviet region. The Symposium was the first manifestation of those goals, designed with the intention of creating a community of mutual assistance and fostering theoretical and methodological conversations applicable to the study of socialisms and postsocialisms, broadly defined. Soyuz is proud of its noble, if humble, origins and is now a major intellectual hub in the fields of socialist, postsocialist, and Soviet studies. Today, the organization is formally constituted as the Post-Communist Cultural Studies Interest Group of the American Anthropological Association and is recognized as an official unit of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.
This year, Soyuz and the Ellison Center were delighted to welcome Dr. Bruce Grant, and anthropologist and founding member of the Soyuz Research Network, as the Symposium’s keynote speaker. Dr. Grant’s lecture, entitled “Donkey Wars: Satire, Place, and Political Imagination in the Caucases,” explored the complex, meaningful, and often humorous history of a satirical publication published in Azerbaijan more than a century ago. Valentina Petrova, Ellison Center Outreach Coordinator, produced a full write-up of Dr. Grant’s wonderful lecture for this blog following the event.
Several members of the University of Washington community also took part in this annual conference. Dr. Joze Alaniz, Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, presented research on the Czech comic artist Tomáš Kučerovský and his visual representations of past and imagined architectures, commenting on the artist’s approach to space and memory. Dr. Alaniz also acted as the discussant on a panel on popular media, which included papers on the use of cinema, television, and Internet forums in the formation of national narrative and identity. Computer science graduate student Katerena Kuksenok presented her original research on the use of social media during Ukraine’s Maidan revolution. Dr. Laada Bilaniuk, Associate Professor of Anthropology, offered her comments as the discussant for this panel, which included not only Kuksenok’s work but also papers on emotion, law, and consumerism during and after Maidan.
The Soyuz Symposium is held in a different location each year and is dependent upon the financial support and hospitality of its host organizations. The success of this event could not have been possible without the warm welcome offered by the University of Washington community. Soyuz is grateful for the administrative and financial support offered by the Ellison Center, the Donald W. Treadgold Memorial Lecture Fund, and the Department of Anthropology, all playing a crucial role in bringing this event to fruition.
Jennifer is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Washington Department of Anthropology, as well as Programming Coordinator for the Soyuz Research Network for Postsocialist Studies.