Internationale Konferenz
16.06.2022 – 18.06.2022

Socialism’s Divergent Masculinities. Representations of Male Subjectivities in Soviet Constellations and Beyond

Ort: Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Etage, Trajekte-Tagungsraum
Organisiert von Matthias Schwartz (ZfL), Dirk Uffelmann (Giessen University)

From its very beginning, the Soviet Union was a project of substantial reshaping of gender relations. A central goal of Soviet politics was to encourage women to undertake paid work. By transferring virtually all economic and social power to the state, the established gender role of men as breadwinners and patriarchs was challenged. From war communism to the forced industrialization and collectivization and compulsory military service, socialist workers and peasants were more tied to the modern disciplinary power than ever before. On the assembly line as well as in the Gulag camp, new Soviet subjectivities were forged that challenged previously established figurations of the peasant menfolk, sacred fools, patriarchal family fathers, and aristocratic dandies.

In cultural, literary, and media studies, the scarce research on Eastern European and (post‑)socialist masculinities (Wöll 2016) has so far been centered around propagandistic figurations such as the “great family” and tempered socialist heroes (Clark 1981), highlighting how the Soviet man was (un-)made in the Stalin period (Kaganovsky 2008) or tracing his genealogy up to the body politics of the current Russian President Putin (Goscilo 2011) and his image of “hypermasculinity” (Wood 2016). When scholarly investigations focus on everyday practices, they are predominantly devoted to psychological, sociological, and historical questions (Oushakine 2002), situating their approaches conceptually within the paradigm of “hegemonic masculinity” (Connell 1995) and postulating a certain “crisis of manliness.” (Kon 2009) Studies on divergent (homosexual, subcultural, etc.) masculinities have largely focused on their persistence “despite the ‘total’ claims of the state” (Friedman, Healey 2002) and the state’s repressive practices against non-heteronormative sexualities (Mole 2019). In contrast to this, our interest lies in the ambivalent production and artistic figuration of diverse male subjectivities within (post-)Soviet constellations—from abject to glamorous and from inconspicuous to subaltern.

Thus, the conference focuses on aesthetic representations of male subjectivities—textual, visual, or digital—beyond the established propagandistic shapes of normative hegemony. How do such representations negotiate the divergent masculinities of real Soviet socialism that fail to fit into the social-realist and neo-traditionalist imaginations of collective belonging? This comprises ordinary Soviet men such as non-patriarchal husbands, fathers or lovers under the “Soviet matriarchy,” Gulag prisoners, traumatized soldiers, alcoholics, collective farmers, migrant workers, ethnic minorities, the urban youth, glamor boys, members of marginalized subcultures, and members of the showbiz or the intelligentsia, to name just a few.

Based on this research agenda, our starting hypothesis states that the discrepancies between the utopian claim of socialism and the actual everyday life in the Soviet Union produced a multitude of divergent male subjectivities which, in various forms, found their way into artistic representations while, at the same time, deviating from normative gender traits such as hegemony, patriarchy, physical strength, or breadwinning. Furthermore, by assuming that art is capable of producing identifiable personifications of latent or concealed conflicts, depictions of such masculinities may be viewed as a prism through which, conversely, social change can be examined.

The conference is a collaboration between Justus Liebig University Giessen and the ZfL and co-funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).


Fig. above: Photograph by Joachim F. Thurn: Berlin, East Side Gallery. Source: Wikimedia.


Thursday, 16 Jun 2022


  • Matthias Schwartz (ZfL), Dirk Uffelmann (Justus Liebig University Giessen): Welcome and Introduction

Section I: The New Men’s Thaw
Chair: Alexander Wöll (University of Potsdam)

  • Marko Dumančić (Western Kentucky University): The Postwar Soviet Masculinity Crisis: Historical Reality or Semantic Diversion?
  • Tanya Bakhmetyeva (University of Rochester): Peculiarities of the National Hunt Under Socialist Conditions: Hunting and Performance of Masculinity by Socialist Party Leaders


Friday, 17 Jun 2022

Keynote I
Chair: Matthias Schwartz (ZfL)

  • Tamara Hundorova (National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine/Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich): Post-Soviet Traumatized Masculinity through the Generational Lens

Section II: Diagnoses of Decline

  • Anna Sidorevich (Sciences Po Paris): Soviet Masculinity through the Prism of Leningrad Women’s Samizdat
  • Dirk Uffelmann (Justus Liebig University Giessen): Fading Hegemony: The Progressive Divergence of Masculinities in Sergei Dovlatov

Section III: Re-emerging Alterity
Chair: Zaal Andronikashvili (ZfL)

  • Ilona Kunkel (TU Dresden): On the Orientalization of Men from the Caucasus in the Soviet Satirical Journal Krokodil
  • Costanza Curro (University of Helsinki)/Vakhtang Kekoshvili (Ilia State University): The Thieves in Law in Georgia: Resilient, Resisting or Fallen Masculinities?

Section IV: Transgressing Figurations: Literary Depictions
Chair: Clemens Günther (FU Berlin)

  • Julia Vaingurt (University of Illinois Chicago): Vonnegut in Russia, or the Ethics of Literary and Operatic Transvestism
  • Matthias Schwartz (ZfL): Portraits of Beautiful Odd Nerds: Disturbed Males in Soviet Science Fiction


Saturday, 18 Jun 2022

Keynote II
Chair: Dirk Uffelmann (Justus Liebig University Giessen)

  • Serguei Oushakine (Princeton University): “With a Gun and a Guitar”: When Do Soldiers Sing?

Section V: Young Male Heroes: Cinematic Depictions
Chair: Barbara Wurm (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

  • Irina Souch (University of Amsterdam): The Waning of the Young Sincere Hero in Averbakh and Maslennikov’s film Private Life of Kuzyayev Valentin (1968)
  • Viktoriya Sukovata (Cultural Foundation Schloss Wiepersdorf/V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University): Non-Normative Masculinities in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Cinema: The New Masculine Ideals of the 1990s

Section VI: “Real Men” Glamor: Post-Soviet Reappropriations
Chair: Tamara Hundorova (National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine/Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich)

  • Oliver Aas (Cornell University): Kings of the Disco: Post-Socialist Masculinities, “Low-Brow” Music, and the Aesthetics of “Real Men”
  • Alexander Chertenko (Justus Liebig University Giessen): “I Have an Absolutely Manlike Approach to It …” The Case of Nadiya Savchenko


  • Tatiana Klepikova (University of Potsdam): Fathers, Sons, & Gays: Masculinity Narratives in LGBTQ+ Russian Drama after 2013

Concluding Discussion