20 and 21 May 2016
Despite many promising recent advances, much of the public—and scholarly—debate about contemporary Russia remains dominated by three tendencies: an excessive focus on the political system and its elites, the use of a conceptual apparatus originally developed to make sense of Stalinism, and a view of Russia as unique and abnormal, informed by a time-honored tradition of selective international comparison.
The aim of this Berlin Colloquium was to develop new approaches to understanding the transformation of Russian society in recent decades that would eschew these tendencies. To this purpose we brought together a small group of about twenty scholars: sociologists (as well as geographers and anthropologists) studying contemporary Russia and historians whose work spans the final decades of the USSR and the post-Soviet period. Together we experimented with new analytical concepts that might replace traditional, normatively charged terms such as “homo sovieticus,” “post-socialism,” “apathy” or “atomization,” “modernization” and “traditionalism.” We took 1980 as our symbolic start date—the year that marked the end of the 1970s oil boom and mass participation of Russian conscripts in the Afghan war, joining the mostly Central Asian soldiers deployed there since 1979. This began an almost uninterrupted series of military engagements that have had profound implications for Russian society.
The conference was held in English.