Portico in spring

Popular geopolitics in Russia and post-Soviet Eastern Europe

This two-day workshop is intended to advance research into the societal or ‘citizen-level’ dimension of geopolitics in Russia and post-Soviet Eastern Europe.  Participants will be invited from a range of social science and humanities disciplines to address the following interrelated questions:

  • How do citizens (‘the public’) in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other post-Soviet states view ‘the West’, their regional neighbourhood and their countries’ place within it?
  • How are geopolitical narratives in these countries sustained or challenged by domestic and transnational media, popular culture, government policies (including education and public diplomacy) and processes beyond state control (e.g. travel, migration and increasing internet access)?
  • How might approaches, methods and evidence from different disciplines be combined to further our understanding of such issues?

See further details on the workshop. Attendance is by invitation only, but anyone interested in the results of the workshop should contact Joanna Szostek

The topicality of the workshop can be judged by the ongoing unrest in Ukraine, where the popular appeal of a ‘European’ future and antipathy towards the Moscow-oriented alternative prompted hundreds of thousands to protest against the government during ‘EuroMaidan’. In Russia, popular mistrust of the West has persisted since the end of the Cold War, a fact which has shaped Moscow’s international conduct and been exploited to justify suppression of (allegedly ‘Western-funded’) domestic opposition. Both Western and non-Western states now engage in various forms of public diplomacy, hoping to enhance their image in the eyes of foreign populations and thereby increase support for their international agendas. Yet popular perceptions of the foreign ‘other’ and its relationship to the national ‘self’ tend to have deep roots in a complex nexus of influences, including education, personal experience, popular culture and mass media. Furthering understanding of these
dynamics in the post-Soviet context is the overarching aim of the proposed event.

The workshop is being led by SSEES (Dr Joanna Szostek, UCL Mellon Fellow) in collaboration with the UCL Department of Geography (Dr Jason Dittmer, Reader in Human Geography). There is considerable potential for cross-fertilization between work on ‘popular geopolitics’ conducted within Geography [1] and work on public opinion and the media conducted within Political Science/Area Studies [2]. The workshop is intended to facilitate such cross-fertilization by bringing together experts
from both these disciplines and others, including Anthropology, Sociology, Media/Communications and Cultural Studies.

The workshop will be held under the auspices of the UCL Mellon Programme 2013-2015, the theme of which is ‘Communities, Globalisation and Cultural Exchange’. The Mellon Programme is currently funding a study of geopolitical attitudes among Russian university students, results from which will be disseminated and discussed at the workshop. The workshop is expected to result in an edited volume. Dr Szostek is also in contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council with a view to disseminating relevant findings beyond academia to policy-makers and public diplomacy practitioners working in the post-Soviet region.

Joanna Szostek


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