skip to content

SL15: Topics in Slavonic Studies: Cultural Histories of the Present

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24. 

In the light of the war in Ukraine, how do we approach the examination of Russian culture, specifically of the contemporary period? What is the ethical way to study Putin’s Russia? And how can the knowledge of post-Soviet cultural history help us comprehend a region riven with contradictions and crises for the past thirty years? This paper covers the period from Gorbachev’s Perestroika to the collapse of the USSR and the tumultuous 1990s to the early Putin years to the annexation of Crimea and until the present. It posits that contemporary Russian culture has been shaped by the coexistence of two ostensibly opposing discourses, the official and the dissident, that have interacted throughout the late- and post-Soviet period in different and often contradictory ways. The paper covers different media, focusing particularly on cinema and literature, with excursions into drama, painting, and performance art. The paper is divided into four topics and two set texts. Each of the topics engages a broad array of sub-topics, including those of identity, nationalism, gender, sexuality, trauma, memory, and nostalgia.

For the handbook please click here.



Set Texts

Viktor Pelevin, Pokolenie „P” (1999)

Vladimir Sorokin, Den’ Oprichnika (2006)




Topic 1: Perestroika and the End of the Eternal State

Recommended primary sources:

Nina Andreeva, “Ne mogu postupat’sa printsipami” (letter to Soviet Russia, 1988)

Liudmila Petrushevksaya, “Svoi krug,” “Gigiena” (1990)

Dmitry Prigov, “Obrashchenia k Grazhdanam” (1986)

Tengiz Abuladze, Pokaianie (film, 1986)

Vasilii Pichul, Malen’kaia Vera (film, 1988)

Rashid Nugmanov, Igla (film, 1988)

Visual Arts: Sots-Art; Komar and Melamid


Topic 2: The Roaring 90s: Trauma, Nostalgia, and Capitalism

Recommended primary sources:

Svetlana Alexievich, Vremia Secondhand (2013, selections) and the Nobel Lecture (2015)

Nikita Mikhalkov, Utomlennye solntsem (film, 1994)

Aleksei Balabanov, Brat (film, 1997)

Aleksandr Sokurov, Russkii kovcheg (film, 2002)


Topic 3: Before Crimea: Nationalism, Violence, and Dissent

Recommended primary sources:

Yelena Gremina, Mikhail Ugarov, Sentiabr’.doc (2005)

Vasilii Sigarev, Plastilin (2000)

Vladimir and Oleg Presnyakov, Terrorizm (2002)

Elena Fanailova, “… Oni opiat’ za svoi Afganistan” (2003), “Lena i Liudi” (2008)

Kirill Medvedev, “Konets Peremiria” (2005)

Aleksei Balabanov, Gruz 200 (film, 2007)

Andrei Zvyagintsev, Leviafan (film, 2013)

Vasilii Sigarev, Strana Oz (film, 2015)

Performance art and actionism: Voina, Pussy Riot, Petr Pavlensky


Topic 4: From New Zastoi to the War in Ukraine

Lidia Yusupova, “zhizn’ M.V.I.”, “blizkim litsom blizkim litsom” from Prigovory (selections, 2020)

Roman Osminkin, “omonovets v balaklave” (2015)

Galina Rymbu, “VRL (Velikaia Russkaia Literatura)” (2020), “son proshel, Lesbiiaa, nastalo vremia pechali” (2020)

Dmitry Kuzmin, “Neskol’ko Slov o Metro i o Gei–identichnosti” (2013)

Oksana Vasiakina, “Veter Iarosti–Pesni Iarosti” (2019)

Kirill Serebrennikov, Uchenik (film, 2016) and Petrovy v Grippe (film, 2021)

Aleksei Fedorchenko, Angely Revolutsii (film, 2014)

Kantemir Balagov, Tesnota (film, 2017)


Preparatory reading: 

For background, students who are planning to take SL15 are advised to look at:

  • Yurchak, Aleksei. Everything Was Forever, until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.
  • Borenstein, Eliot, and Mark Lipovetsky. Russian Postmodernist Fiction: Dialogue with Chaos. New York: Routledge, 2015.
  • Brown, Deming. The Last Years of Soviet Russian Literature: Prose Fiction 1975–1991. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Borenstein, Eliot. Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.
  • Boym, Svetlana. The Future of Nostalgia. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2016.
  • Oushakine, Serguei. “In the State of Post-Soviet Aphasia: Symbolic Development in Contemporary Russia.” Europe-Asia Studies 52, no. 6 (2000).
  • Beumers, Birgit, and Mark Lipovetsky. Performing Violence: Literary and Theatrical Experiments of New Russian Drama. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2009.
  • Bozovic, Marijeta. “Performing Poetry and Protest in the Age of Digital Reproduction.” Essay. In Cultural Forms of Protest in Russia, edited by Birgit Beumers, Alexander Etkind, Olga Gurova, and Sanna Turoma. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2018.
  • Bassin, Mark, Christopher Ely, and Melissa Stockdale, eds. Space, Place, and Power in Modern Russia: Essays in the New Spatial History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018.
  • Clowes, Edith W. Russia on the Edge: Imagined Geographies and Post-Soviet Identity. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011.
  • Etkind, Alexander. Warped Mourning Stories of the Undead in the Land of the Unburied. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.
  • Jonson, Lena. Russia - Art Resistance and the Conservative-Authoritarian Zeitgeist. Routledge, 2017.


Teaching and learning: 

The course comprises four elements: lectures, seminars, supervisions and reading.

  • Lectures: there are sixteen lectures, eight in Michaelmas and eight in Lent.
  • Seminars: there are four seminars in Easter term.
  • Supervisions: there are ten supervisions: four in Michaelmas, four in Lent and two in Easter.



Candidates for Part IB:

A 5-hour timed online examination.

The examination paper will be comprised of two sections: Section A will cover the Set Texts (3-4 questions, including an option of writing a commentary on a passage) and Section B will cover the Topics (8-10 questions). The students will have to answer one question from Section A and two questions from Section B.

For each answer you should write no more than 1,300 words.


Candidates for Part II:

The examination will consist of TWO parts:

1) Lent term Coursework Essay

Answer ONE question from a list that will be released at the end of Lent term. The questions will correspond to two set texts on the syllabus.

You should write no more than 1,800 words.

Essays will be due for submission at the start of the Easter term (the precise date and time to be announced in due course.)

2) Easter Exam

A 3-hour timed online examination.

Answer TWO questions. The questions will correspond to Topics 1-4.

For each answer write no more than 1,500 words.



For the SL15 exam sample please see the Slavonic Past Exam Papers Moodle page.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Daria Ezerova