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Accepted Paper:

Anti-utopianism and common futures in the Russian Far East  
Ed Pulford (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Given state-socialism's powerful progressivism, the USSR's material collapse generated senses of regression as shared material life fragmented in east Russia. Yet since then this region has spearheaded a global shift into a shared Chinese age with its own vernacular Marxist object-mediated futurism.

Paper long abstract:

For people trained to recognise improving material conditions as signs of temporal ‘progress’, the disintegration of physical surroundings conjures up converse feelings of regression. While positivist views of humanity’s advancement were prevalent in both the Cold War’s ‘camps’, state-socialism saw Marxian visions of the march towards communism linked particularly closely to materially-indexed historical stages. In smaller settlements of the eastern USSR where the basic viability of shared material existence was reliant on state-distributed goods, everything from the built environment to clothing and tools were thus expressions of the state’s hold on a certain place in time. This paper draws on ethnographic and historical work in the now-Russian Far East – particularly Khasanskii raion on the Chinese and North Korean borders – to explore the temporal and material shifts which characterise what many call the postsocialist era. From reconfigured relations between local people and the state to reflections on living in an “anti-utopia” amid the ruins of a Soviet ‘settlement of an urban type’, the end of Soviet history may appear largely a time of rupture and reversal. But even amid perceived regression, life has stumbled on as Russian Far Easterners navigate another material-temporal shift: a profusion of Chinese goods entering their world across the nearby border. While eastern Russia may appear uniquely impeded by Soviet ruins therefore, since the 1990s its residents have in fact represented a kind of vanguard for the entire world’s entry into a new Chinese age, an object-mediated commons propelled by its own atmosphere of futurity.

Panel P086b
(Post)socialism as the post-social II
  Session 1 Thursday 28 July, 2022, -