Soyuz: The Research Network for Postsocialist Cultural Studies

Soyuz is broadly conceived as a group of anthropologists and other scholars working in postsocialist studies. It is formally constituted as the Post-Communist Cultural Studies Interest Group of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and is also recognized as an official unit of the Association for Slavic, East European Studies and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES, formerly AAASS). We gather at AAA and ASEEES meetings in North America and here on the web to distribute information on our projects.

Soyuz Listserv

Join the Soyuz listserv.

Column in Anthropology News

Read Soyuz’s column in Anthropology News.


Announcements are posted from messages sent to the Soyuz listserv. To post an additional announcement, please email Soyuz webmaster Dafna Rachok (darachok [at] iu.edu).


Call for Paper for the 2020 Annual Soyuz Symposium

It is a great pleasure to announce the call for papers for:

“Sovereignty”: The 2020 Annual Soyuz Symposium

Higher School of Economics

St Petersburg, Russia

May 28-30, 2020

Deadline: February 1, 2020

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Caroline Humphrey (University of Cambridge) and Jeanne Kormina (HSE St Petersburg)

We live in a world of newly competitive reassertions of sovereignty in geopolitical and regional arenas, and in new regimes of security within and beyond national borders. These assertions are no longer grounded in competitive yet universalist models of modernity, such as socialist, welfare state and neoliberal. Some are increasingly indifferent to such distinctions, as in China’s geopolitical projects. Others, from USA to Russia, work through claims to cultural and political exceptionalism. Yet others also perpetually redraw the line between politics and religion, bringing thereby to light a strong nexus between sovereignty and the modern state’s entitlement to define and regulate religion (cf. the Islamic State).

These transformations prompt questions, first, about the range of these sovereignties and their respective subjects, and, second, about theoretical conceptualisation of these multiple and contested forms. Recent resurgence of research interests in sovereignty have been inspired by the scholarship of Agamben and Schmitt who highlight its specific European legacies of Roman law and classical Greek distinctions of bios and zoe. How do new assertions of sovereignty challenge sovereignty’s and international law’s classic Eurocentric foundations? What kinds of political distancing from Europe/the EU do these assertions of sovereignty constitute both from outside Western Europe (Russia and the USA) and within it (Hungary, Poland and the UK)? Conversely, what is taken at face value about these European legacies when they are emulated in the aspirations of the EU ascent and claims to Europeanness from Ukraine and Georgia to the states of the former Yugoslavia? What are spaces from where we engage with these concepts critically? How do these concepts circulate in complex landscapes of interrogation, imitation and disconnection which are simultaneously political and analytical? Given that our conceptualisation often takes ideal-typical form, how do we account for topographies of actually existing sovereignties that cut across different types of power and rule over different kinds of subjects, bodies and populations? Why might the very notions of “type” and “kind” be here problematic?

The 2020 Annual Soyuz Symposium will address these questions by drawing on current research in anthropology and related disciplines such as history, political philosophy and interdisciplinary area studies. We invite ethnographically grounded as well as theoretical papers that chart idioms of sovereignty across the post-Soviet global space. How are they shaped by the history of post-socialist transformations — such as legacies of the former Soviet states’ break-down throughout the 1990s and their resurgence in the 2000s? What are these idioms of sovereignty and rule? How are they articulated and constituted domestically in relationship to their subject populations, bodies and social spaces, and internationally? How do they reshape the concepts of nation and belonging including their currently rising far right versions? What happens when these regimes of sovereignty come into conflict or extend into territories such as Syria, Africa and Latin America? What is “territory” for these forms and idioms of sovereignty? How do they draw on region’s imperial legacies (e.g. Russian and Ottoman)? How do they work through the categories of the secular and the religious? What are these sovereignties’ new scales and arenas? What is digital sovereignty in cyber-warfare and big data, or “sexual sovereignty” that guides rights of sexual minorities and the Russian-US relations in the sphere of international adoption? How are these new arenas visible in transnational border control regimes, such as the EU; transnational infrastructural projects, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative; and relations between central states, sub-national regions, or corporate and NGO actors? In what ways, if at all, are these forms of sovereignty neoliberal? How one can interpret their ubiquitous reliance on subcontracting, delegating and outsourcing services, social obligations, and even violence?

Pease submit paper title and abstract (up to 500 words-long) together with your name, affiliation and contact address to <[email protected]> by February 1, 2020. We expect to make paper selections by February 10th.

Keynote addresses:

Caroline Humphrey (University of Cambridge) “States of Exception” in the Russian Far East

Jeanne Kormina (HSE St Petersburg) Nicholas II body remains in Post-Soviet Russian sovereignty

Symposium organisers:

Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov (HSE St Petersburg), Soyuz Convener <[email protected]>

Usman Boron (University of Toronto), Soyuz Programming Coordinator <[email protected]>

Taras Fedirko (University of Cambridge), Soyuz Book Review Editor, <[email protected]>


In Memoriam: Sonja Luehrmann

Soyuz mourns the passing of one of our most treasured colleagues and most active members, Dr. Sonja Luehrmann. Sonja was widely respected as a leading light among scholars of postsocialism. She integrated ethnographic and archival approaches to examine fine-grained transformations in humans’ everyday habits and convictions, particularly religious practices and beliefs in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. Throughout her research she illuminated the relationship between institutional projects and individual actions, sensitively portraying how individuals respond and adapt as part and parcel of the transformative projects that otherwise seem imposed on them.

In her work, Sonja managed to be both consummately careful and heroically productive. Even before she completed her PhD at the University of Michigan in 2009, she had published her first book, Alutiiq Villages under Russian and U.S. Rule (University of Alaska Press, 2008). Her interest in multiethnic and multi-confessional regions manifested, in her graduate and postgraduate years, in long-term research in Mari El. This research was the basis for Secularism Soviet Style: Teaching Atheism and Religion in a Volga Republic (Indiana University Press, 2011), a book often credited with bringing rigorous theoretical attention to how Soviet atheism functioned not only as an anti-religious project, but also as another form of religious practice and belief. Her book Religion in Secular Archives: Soviet Atheism and Historical Knowledge (Oxford University Press, 2015), which extends these lines of inquiry and opens the study of Soviet atheism, won the Waldo Gifford Leland Award from the Society of American Archivists. Most recently, she edited a collection examining the relationship between sensory perception and ethical values, Praying with the Senses: Contemporary Orthodox Christian Spirituality in Practice (Indiana University Press, 2018). She also published a large number of articles, on topics from Mari witchcraft to icon veneration to gendered kinship practices among activists.

Beyond her own books and articles, Sonja shaped a generation of scholarship at the intersection of Russian studies, postsocialism, and religious studies through her ever-thoughtful engagement in academic conversations. Among her many colleagues, she was known as a singularly generous scholar, frequently reading drafts and providing critical feedback, and was greatly valued and much sought-after as an interlocutor. We will miss her presence at Soyuz symposia and social hours; she was an irreplaceable member of our community.

At the moment of her untimely death, Sonja was Associate Professor of Anthropology at Simon Fraser University and was working on a book about anti-abortion activism in the post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church.


SOYUZ (Postsocialist Cultural Studies Network) Board Elections

The Postsocialist Cultural Studies Network (SOYUZ) is opening up elections to re-elect members of its board. Soyuz is broadly conceived as a group of anthropologists and other scholars working in postsocialist studies. It is formally constituted as the Post-Communist Cultural Studies Interest Group of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and is also recognized as an official unit of the Association for Slavic, East European Studies and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES, formerly AAASS). We gather at AAA and ASEEES meetings in North America and here on the web to distribute information on our projects.
The following board positions are currently opening up for re-election.

Convenor: The duties of Convenor will be to provide leadership and an agenda of activities for Soyuz. The Convenor convenes business meetings in advance of the conventions of AAA and/or ASEEES. The Convenor will handle official Soyuz correspondence. The Convenor will call for elections.

Webmaster: The Webmaster will maintain all aspects of the Soyuz website and list-serve.

Secretary: The Secretary will maintain records of Soyuz meetings and post them on H-Soyuz for members to view. The Secretary will maintain the Soyuz membership list. The Secretary will maintain a record of Soyuz history for institutional membership. The Secretary will serve as a resource for in-coming officers regarding responsibilities and on-going projects in order to ensure a smooth transition.

Programming Coordinator: The Programming Coordinator will work with the organizers of the yearly Soyuz Symposiums. The Programming Coordinator will supervise the process by which Soyuz’s sponsored panels at ASEEES and AAA are selected. The Programming Coordinator will work with the Student Representative when appropriate to plan mentoring and social events at AAA, ASEEES and other conferences.

Book Review Editor: The Book Review Editor will provide a monthly digital round-up of book reviews relevant to Soyuz interests. The Book Review Editor will post the round-up to Soyuz electronic forums.

H-Soyuz Editor: The H-Soyuz editor serves as an ex-officio member of the Executive Committee. The H-Soyuz editor will maintain all aspects of the H-Soyuz list. Per H-Net’s Policies, the H-Soyuz editor is approved by the H-Soyuz advisory board (which is separate from Soyuz Executive Committee) and certified by the H-Net Executive Council.

Anthropology News (AN) column editor (2 positions):  The AN column editor will be responsible for ensuring that a column is submitted to Anthropology News six times each year. The AN column editor may solicit contributions from Soyuz members.

SOYUZ members can nominate themselves or someone else to apply for any of the positions listed above. Prior service on the SOYUZ board does not preclude one from running. If you would like to nominate yourself or someone else, please contact tatiana.chudakova [at] tufts.edu. If nominating yourself, please include a CV and a brief biosketch. Current board members will answer any question you might have about the process and expectations.