Do-it-yourself practices in the former USSR (1955-1989)

Auteur Zinaida VASILYEVA
Directeur /trice prof. Philippe Geslin
Co-directeur(s) /trice(s)
Résumé de la thèse

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).

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