Maria Sidorkina

PhD student in Anthropology, Yale University

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

Although I lived in Russia until the age of eleven, my way into Russia scholarship was — as for many non-Russians — through literature. In fact, my current dissertation project on Russian publics and politics can be traced back to my first term at Stanford, when I took a seminar on Romanticism and Realism with Monika Greenleaf. Professor Greenleaf, who would later become my undergraduate advisor, had a brilliant capacity to magnify a telling detail so as to render visible an entire literary world. In her course I discovered Gogol and Dostoevsky, and became fascinated by their acute sensitivity to how social relations shape language, and vice versa. My current field, linguistic anthropology, takes up many of the questions raised by these authors, as well as other Russian luminaries, including Volosinov, Bakhtin, and Jakobson.   

How have your interests changed since then?

Between college and graduate school I changed fields from literature to anthropology. Despite an increasing number of interdisciplinary projects bridging the two fields, this was a major transition. In the first few years of my PhD program, I had to reorient myself from the archive to the field; from close reading to thick description; from intellectual genealogies to the mundane contexts of everyday life. Rather than focusing on the life of language in literature, I started studying ideas about language circulating off the written page and outside the scholarly record. On the other hand, getting a feel for two disciplinary dispositions helped reveal their mutual influence. A concern with textuality, literacy, and poetic structure remain central to my work on contemporary Russian communication. 

What is your current research/work project?protests

My dissertation reconsiders the canonical assumption that Russians are good at personal relationships but bad at collective action. Many area scholars have relied on liberal theories of the public sphere to interpret post-Soviet political imaginaries, attending to the ways in which Russians fail to realize themselves as a public. I concentrate instead on the actual practices of activism that have remained resilient after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. My fieldwork on social, cultural and political activists in Novosibirsk, conducted primarily in 2012-13, allows me to consider the “phatic infrastructures” of Russian public life not from the perspective of Russia’s center, but from its often-ignored cultural peripheries. In different parts of my dissertation, I analyze exemplary types of grassroots mobilization: small-scale social protests; public discussions; online counter-publics; flash mobs; and literacy festivals. I suggest that attending to how people self-organize in non-heroic contexts of public life helps us expand our standard vocabularies of citizenship, community and civil society to include previously discounted modes of political agency. 

What do you value about your ASEEES membership?

What I appreciate most about ASEEES is that once a year I can become one of a beehive of scholars discussing topics that may not even get a panel at my own field’s annual meeting, that of the American Anthropological Association (a status quo that many people are out to change). This has inspired me to keep up with ASEEES news and developments, to come to the convention again and again, and to encourage other anthropologists do the same. Another wonderful aspect of being a member of the association is being able to periodically run into those graduate students and professors that inspired me when my own academic trek was just beginning.  


Image Caption: The 2013 Monstration, attended by approximately 5,000 people. The Monstration, a May 1st tradition, has been a platform for linguistic and political experimentation for Novosibirsk’s residents for the past ten years.