Russia: Power, Society, Culture

Year:  2019-2020


Prof. Elena Trubina

Language:    English


Course Requirements (% of final grade)

Final grades for the course will be calculated as follows:

Interview/writing assignment (10%)

Quizzes (15%)

Research paper (25%)

Mini-conference presentation (10%)

Class participation (40%)



Students are expected are expected to have read the required reading for the appropriate class. Understanding lectures will depend on doing readings on schedule. In-class discussions will also require familiarity with the readings. A part of class sessions will be spent placing current events in their political and social contexts.

Tentative course outline and schedule of classes

Class 1: Course Introduction

Explanation of syllabus, course introduction/interdisciplinary approach to Russian politics

Class 2   Soviet communism and its dissolution

In the second class we will look at the causes and consequences of the disintegration of the communist system and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  Using the theories of modernization, we will look at the dynamic of modification and stagnation which marks the Russian history. We will try to understand what the collapse of USSR and the emergence of the post-communist Russia mean both for this country’s long history and globally.


Sakwa, R. (2013) The Soviet collapse: Contradictions and neo-modernisation. Journal of Eurasian Studies 4(1): 65 -77.

Class  3. Electoral authoritarian regime

In the third class we consider how the collapse of the USSR has led to the emergence of the electoral authoritarian regime from a weak state of the 1990s. We examine the reasons why electoral authoritarianism makes implementing socio-economic reforms difficult and how it combines the worst features of both democracies and autocracies.


 Gel’man, V. and A.Starodubtsev (2016) Opportunities and Constraints of Authoritarian Modernisation: Russian Policy Reforms in the 2000s.  Europe-Asia Studies, 68(1): 97-117.

Class 4.   Russian economy: from ‘shock therapy’ to neoliberalism

In the fourth class we focus on the emerging Russian market economy in a globalised world in light of  state–business relations in Russia. We’ll discuss controversies behind the struggle  between the influential interest  groups of the Russian political elite over economic growth, investment, and control of rent sources. The connections between economic growth and social stability will be examined as well as the growing role of security and law enforcement agencies as the economic players.  We also discuss the  weak and negative growth of the Russian economy resulting from  Russia’s aggression against Ukraine 2014, Western sanctions and falling oil prices.


Oxenstierna , S. (2016) Russia’s defense spending and the economic decline. Journal of Eurasian Studies 7 (2016) 60–70.

Class 5. Resource nationalism: Russian reverberations of the global trend

This session will tackle the complicated links between resources and the politics. We begin by discussing the concept of the ‘resource curse’ and ask whether it is correct to think that oil and other resources prevent  democracy from developing and lead to rent-seeking, corruption, undiversified economies. We move on to the notion of resource nationalism and discuss how it legitimizes state control of resource extraction.


Koch, N and T Perreault (2018)  Resource nationalism. Progress in Human Geography 1–21.

Class 6. The global neoconservative turn and its Russian dimension

In this class, we tackle the geopolitical and geo-economic changes that have led to the global the neoconservative turn. Drawing on David Harvey analysis, we discuss the commonalities and differences between the American and Russian neoconservatism, namely the ideas about a strong state, religion, family values, patriotism and militarism.


Laruelle, M (2013) Conservatism as the Kremlin’s New Toolkit: an Ideology at the Lowest Cost. Russian Analytical  Digest.  No. 138.

Class 7. The mass and local protests and the government’s suppression of resistance

This session will focus on the ways in which the Russian citizens contest not only the authoritarian  power,  Putin’s omnipotence and his seeming  «irremovability» but social inequality and problematic decisions of the authorities in many regions. We also discuss the role of social networks in political mobilization  as well as the government’s management of resistance in Russia during and after the 2011–2012 protests by means of strengthened state propaganda and the arrests of the participants of the rallies.

Source:  White S., McAllister I. (2014) Did Russia (Nearly) have a Facebook Revolution in 2011? Social Media’s Challenge to Authoritarianism. Politics:  34(1), 72–84.

Class 8  The Politics of Sports Mega-Events

In this class, we will consider the role sport plays in politics, mega-events and large-scale urban restructuring in ‘high politics’, nation-branding, and symbolic capital building. We will touch upon the reasons for the elite’s love for all things gigantic, including grand projects and mega-events. We will also discuss why politicians in many places launch mega-events in spite of high levels cost overruns, risk and uncertainty. We then narrow down the scope of our analysis by talking about the two mega-events that Russia recently hosted, namely the Sochi Olympics and the 2018 World Cup.


Trubina E. (2017) The Sochi 2014 Olympics: nationalism, globalized place-making and multiscalar legitimacy. Urban Geography (online first).

Class 9. Class in Russia

Drawing upon recent work in the sociology of class and mobility, the anthropology of cultural change, and human geography we will analyse the ways in which individual experiences of achieving a class position relate to the aggregate processes of socio-cultural change. We reflect on the fact that the last two decades in Russia have been marked by a retreat from the language of equality and social justice, and social differences are something that everybody has become aware of. We will consider how the country’s social hierarchies are both changing and strengthening under the influence of economic globalization and the adoption of neo-liberal policies.


Crowley, S (2015) Russia: The Reemergence of Class in the Wake of the First “Classless” Society.  East European Politics and Societies and Cultures. 29 (3):  698–710.

Class 10 Cultural politics and cultural production

This session will  be about  the tensions that cultural institutions and industries in Russia face today. We’ll discuss questions about the autonomy of cultural production vis-à-vis political power and financial control, as well as tensions between Soviet legacy and post-Soviet contemporaneity, new and old forms of cultural institutions and networks, and metropolitan areas and provincial regions. Once again, we investigate the commonalites and differences between the relations among  the arts and the market, culture and commerce, national treasures, and global capitals in this country and elsewhere.


Turoma S., Raatilainen S. and Trubina E (2018). At the intersection of globalization and ‘civilizational originality’: cultural production in Putin’s Russia. Cultural Studies 32:5, 651-675

Class 11 Politics of film/politics in film

From this class on, we will move to a seemingly more ‘light” topics which at the same time allow to see how images are both politically constructed and powerfully form politics by making claims to public memory.   Combining entertainment and politics, they resist the forces of  commercialization  and appropriation by inviting people to reflect on their experience. We will screen and discuss Oscar nominated film by Andrey  Zvyagintsev “Leviathan” as a poignant and compelling  portrayal of corrupt Russia.


Vassilieva, J. (2018) Russian Leviathan: Power, Landscape, Memory . Film Criticism. 42 (1) DOI:

Class 12. Regional and urban politics of the over centralized country.

This class will be about the rise of regional identities in Russia and the ways in which regional initiatives, in particular the ones that appeal to regional identities and enhance local solidarities, are suppressed by the federal government as potentially dangerous for the country’s territorial unity. We consider the growth of the regional local pride in two regions: the Urals and Siberia and the ways in which the consequent cultural and political projects contributed to recent efforts to increase localities’ global exposure through intensive branding and place marketing campaigns. On the one hand, these cultural projects demonstrated that, importantly for highly centralised country, subaltern local narratives and outlooks may be reawakened and given voice. On the other hand, they, paradoxically, increased citizens’ identification with the logic of “branding localities to the tourists”.


Echevskaia  O. (2016) Regional Identity in the Making: Consuming Siberian, Becoming Siberian. Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media (, 16: 101-119.