Embracing Confusion and Questioning Clarity

16th Annual Soyuz Symposium, Indiana University Bloomington, March 4-6, 2017

This year the annual conference of the Soyuz Research Network for Postsocialist Cultural Studies focused on methodological challenges in the social sciences. Drawing on the legacy of research in socialist and postsocialist contexts, the participants of the Symposium discussed ways to contribute to contemporary debates in academia and respond to global political developments. And while the intensive two-day discussion left more questions than answers, its stimulating discussions and debates offered a pleasurable puzzle for researchers to wrestle with.

The annual symposium was hosted at Indiana University Bloomington with support from the IU Russian and East European Institute, and co-sponsored by the Miami University of Ohio. Embracing Confusion and Questioning Clarity: On Matters of Method in Postsocialist Studies was a provocative overarching theme for 25 panel presentations and a summary round table.

“In light of the recent political transformations in the US and Europe, which have been marked by the resurgence of Cold-War rhetorics and tropes, we believe our community has much to offer to public debate and critical understandings of the current political moment.” — Larisa Kurtovic, Soyuz Convenor

The keynote address was presented by Christina Schwenkel, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Director of the Program in Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California Riverside. Titled, “The Things They Carried (and Kept): Revisiting ‘Ostalgie’ in Vietnam,” the address challenged a long-established focus of the postsocialist studies on the region of Eastern Europe and post-Soviet countries. The discussion of Vietnamese material culture, hierarchies of possessions, and circulations, shifted the usual East-West dichotomy often dominant in postsocialist studies. The talk critically questioned the tendency toward “methodological nationalism” in favor of more rigorous and demanding transnational approaches.

One of the conference emphases was locating new formats for academic conversations. As part of this discussion, the Symposium offered a public screening of a documentary about Ukrainian labor migrants, Road of a Migrant (2015) by Olena Fedyuk. The screening was followed by a Skype session with the film director and a discussion about film as a methodological solution for ethnographic research.

The Soyuz symposium is well known for its support of graduate students and young professionals. This year, it hosted a special event by Indiana University Press: a workshop on publishing your first book. Jennika Baines, acquisitions editor at IU Press, moderated the event and provided practical tips on how to approach publishers and transform a dissertation into a book manuscript.

Soyuz will continue its tradition of organizing an annual conference, but is also looking for new avenues for scholarly conversation. Larisa Kurtivic, Soyuz’s Convenor, noted:

This year, we’ve expanded into new formats of engagement, including film screenings, publishing workshops, and closing roundtables—all of which made for a very dynamic and productive conference. In the future, we will continue to reimagine the annual symposium as a place for new kinds of scholarly exchange, including those focused on para-academic and non-academic publics. In light of the recent political transformations in the US and Europe, which have been marked by the resurgence of Cold-War rhetorics and tropes, we believe our community has much to offer to public debate and critical understandings of the current political moment.

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The Soyuz Research Network for Postsocialist Cultural Studies is an interdisciplinary forum for exchanging work based on field research in postsocialist countries, ranging from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Soyuz is an interest group in the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and an official unit of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES). The Soyuz symposium has met annually since 1991 and offers an opportunity for scholars to interact in a more personal setting. More information on the Soyuz Research Network can be found here.

Tetiana Bulakh is a PhD Candidate at Indiana University.

Deborah Jones is contributing editor for the Soyuz Postsocialist Studies Network’s AN column.

Cite as: Bulakh, Tetiana. 2016. “Embracing Confusion and Questioning Clarity.” Anthropology News website, May 8, 2016. doi: 10.1111/AN.423

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