The European Subject and the ‘Homo sovieticus’

The project investigated discursive strategies and practices of the cultural production of specific “European subjects” with regards to the construction of the “Homo sovieticus” (A. Sinov’ev).

Within Soviet culture, the subject was considered problematic. Newer research sparks a controversial debate on whether such distinctions as the “Soviet subject” or “Soviet subjectivity” are justified. On one hand, based on Hannah Arendt’s proposition of the “total atomization of Russian mass society,” a theory of both the impossibility of the personal as a structure of values and of the “process of the displacement of subjectivity” (B. Dubin) is represented in Soviet culture. O. Charchordin takes a similar direction. He sees the Soviet Union as a land of “forced individualists.” On the other hand, autobiographical texts, diaries, letters, and other documents related to the “work on self-identity” (most notably those from the 1920s to the 1930s) are viewed as a something of a laboratory of “Soviet subjectivity” (J. Hellbeck, I. Halfin and others).  It’s a historical fact that the genuinely collective, utopian project of Soviet culture has always aimed at a mobilization of its people. In recent years, based on this observation, historical and cultural studies have focused on specific forms and practices of interaction between the individual and the available concepts of identity controlled by power politics.

This is where the project’s specific interest was situated. With the help of selected examples as well as an interaction of Georgian-Soviet and Russian-Soviet perspectives, we focused our research on two main areas:

  1. The figuration of the “cultural (Soviet) hero”
    We built upon previous research on the Soviet modernization with regards to the discourse on the concept of the national and to first reflections on the cultural hero as a character able to adapt both political-ideological as well as sacral features within various cultural-historical and medial constellations (workshop 2010). We specifically asked for signifying and mobilizing functions of the cultural hero in the culture-based making of the “new Soviet human.” In that context, we analyzed both media-specific strategies of heroization as well as the legacy of ancient narrative patterns or characters (such as Prometheus).
  2. Forms and practices of a Soviet éducation sentimentale
    The establishment of the Stalinist system and the subsequent systematic control and conversion of emotional energies such as from grief to triumph (especially the grief over the victims of the war through optimism and pathos formulas of pride) are also part of the cultural work surrounding the “Soviet subject.” This Soviet form of éducation sentimentale remains largely unexplored. We asked just how the “Homo Sovieticus” is constituted emotionally, and which methods were used to communicate, raise, exercise, and represent “Soviet” emotions.

Our research was structured by the following central questions: How do literature and film (posters) conceptualize and represent the “Soviet subject”? With which attributes, emotions, and scopes for action is it provided? How does it relate to the concept of the “new human”? Which practices and methods should the individual utilize to “work on oneself” and to become a “new,” a “soviet human”? How does an individual treat oneself in the context of autobiographical testimonies, given a culture which paints its external, publicly visible image as one of triumph, cheer, happiness, and optimism?

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2011–2013
Head researcher(s): Franziska Thun-Hohenstein
Associate Researcher(s): Giorgi Maisuradze, Matthias Schwartz


Zaal Andronikashvili, Giorgi Maisuradze, Matthias Schwartz, Franziska Thun-Hohenstein (ed./eds.)

Genealogien. Konstellationen. Praktiken

LiteraturForschung Vol. 28
Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 2017, 644 pages
ISBN 978-3-86599-316-8
Zaal Andronikashvili, Susanne Frank, Giorgi Maisuradze, Franziska Thun-Hohenstein, Stefan Willer

Konzepte und Praktiken in der Sowjetunion und im kulturellen Vergleich

Interjekte 2
2011, 47 pages
DOI 10.13151/IJ.2011.02


15 Jun 2012 – 16 Jun 2012

Von Trauer zu Triumph. Praktiken einer sowjetischen Éducation sentimentale im kulturellen Vergleich

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Seminarraum 303

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10 Oct 2011 – 11 Oct 2011 · 10.00 am

Freundschaft. Konzepte und Praktiken in der Sowjetunion und im kulturellen Vergleich

Staatliche Ilia-Universität Tbilissi, Kakutsa Cholokashvili 3/5, Tbilissi 0162, Georgien

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