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Alexander Pershái

Managing Editor, “The Bridge-MOCT”

Alexander Pershái is the Managing Editor, Development and Communications Executive of “The Bridge-MOCT”, the newsletter of the International Association for the Humanities; Consultant on gender, nationalism and diaspora issues for international development projects; Research Fellow at the Centre for Gender, European Humanities University (Lithuania); Lecturer, the Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University (Canada).

When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies?

I specialize in cultural theory,Slavic languages, nationalism and diaspora studies, Eastern European studies, and gender studies.Born and raised in Belarus I was originally trained in Philology with majors in Slavic languages and theoretical linguistics. At the end of the 1990s, gender studies started to interest me; specifically I was intrigued by how the category of gender intersects with language and power. I questioned this relationship in the Candidate of Sciences Degree Dissertation which I completed in the Department of Theoretical and Slavic Linguistics of Belarus State University. I engaged the notions of sexism and heteronormativity expressed in the Russian, Belarusian, Polish, and English idiomatic expressions. My dissertation analyzed the importance of different social institutions such as marriage, class or age in the reproduction and reinforcement of heteronormative standards and traditional nuclear family. This was the second Kandidatskaya dissertation in gender linguistics completed in Belarus. The results of this study came out in a recent monograph entitled “Semantics of Gender: On Gender Stratification in the Idiomatic Expressions” (Vilnius: European Humanities University Press, 2014).

How have your interests changed since then?

Since 2005, my research focus switched to Belarusian nationalism and national identity. The self-reflection on the problematic political situation in present-day Belarus constituted a large part of this change of direction. I also needed a different, more theory-based intellectual domain to tackle the intersections of Belarusian identity, nationalism theory, post-socialist transformation, and local intellectual discourses. Therefore, I pursued my Ph.D. in cultural studies at Trent University, which I successfully completed in 2012. My doctoral dissertation entitled “The Nationalist Discourse in Post-Socialist Belarus: Dilemmas of Nationalism Theories and Local Intellectual Context” investigates what theories, genres, tropes, and intellectual trajectories are commonly used in contemporary discourse on Belarusian nationalism. Currently, I am working on a monograph based on this study.

What is your current research project?

I experienced both post-Soviet and North American doctoral degree programs. The systemic, conceptual, and disciplinary differences between the degrees, as well as “globalization” of academia all helped to catalyze my current project. I investigate how post-Soviet and Western academia correlate and influence each other considering: a) the “standardization” of degrees, disciplinary approaches, and professional academic requirements; and b) the shortage of tenure track vacancies and the growing number of sessional 1-term-based courses that usually require a specific “narrow” expertise instead of embracing a scholar’s full potential. I draw my observations and analysis from various teaching jobs I have in Lithuania, Belarus, and Canada, as well as from my position of managing editor and communications executive at “The Bridge-MOCT”, the newsletter of the International Association for the Humanities. The combination of research and academic development allows me to offer new insights into the ongoing transformations of the post-Soviet academia. 

What do you value about your ASEEES membership?

International cooperation and professional organizations such as ASEEES play a crucial role. I follow ASEEES on social media to stay current with recent publications in my research fields and opportunities for professional development. I find the annual ASEEES Convention to be of particular importance. It is the largest event in Slavic and Eastern European studies in North America. It offers me an opportunity to present my work, meet new people and reconnect with old colleagues, establish relationships with potential publishers, and endless possibilities for professional networking. I attended the convention for the first time in 2012; I look forward to attending it for years to come.

Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?

When I am lucky to have some free time, I spend it doing yoga and reading Eastern philosophy. I am also active in social activism. I co-edit a Russian- and-Belarusian speaking educational journal “Zhenschiny v politike: noviye podkhody k politicheskomu” (“Women in Politics: New Approaches to the Political”). It is a collaboration with the Belarusian women’s NGO “Adliga: The Centre for Gender Initiatives” which is currently based in Czech Republic because the Belarusian government oppresses local non-for-profit organizations.