Socialism’s Divergent Masculinities. Representations of Male Subjectivities in Soviet Constellations and Beyond
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.
Admission is free of charge, there is no need to register in advance.