The Soviet Man in the Case and Outside

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Abstract. This article examines closeness as an analytical category in Soviet history writing. This category is often used in popular and scholarly works to describe social aspects of Soviet history and to implicate that the Soviet historical experience was radically different from life elsewhere and that the USSR represented an “alternative modernity” or was not modern at all. The article develops several conceptual and empirical counter-arguments against the claims that Soviet society was fundamentally closed and that this closedness played a key role in the making of the “Soviet man” as a historical phenomenon. Along with its fears and xenophobia, Soviet society was remarkable for numerous forms of cosmopolitanism and interest in the outer world. Many of these forms were encouraged by the state while others emerged “from below” in a spontaneous manner. In their desire to transform the Soviet Union into a modern state, the Soviet leadership built a network of institutions that were on a par, and often were superior, to their Western analogs such as socialized medicine and the statesponsored system for science communication. These institutions contributed to the making of modern subjectivation practices through medicalization of the Soviet body and new epistemic regimes. At the same time, large-scale urbanization in the USSR formed new communities whose social tastes and norms were similar to urban cultures of other industrialized nations. This further stimulated cross-cultural exchange across the Iron Curtain. As a result, the historical experience of living in the USSR represented a paradoxical combination of state control and appropriation of multiple elements of global modernity.

Keywords: Soviet Union, historical anthropology, Soviet person, socialist modernity, social modernization.

For citation: Golubev A.V. The Soviet Man in the Case and Outside, in Novoe Proshloe / The New Past. 2021. No. 4. Pp. 8–20. DOI 10.18522/2500‑3224‑2021‑4-8-20.

The article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).    

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