National Identity in Russia from 1961: Traditions and Deterritorialisation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Medieval & Modern Languages Fac


The rise of nationalism is one of the most prominent and worrying phenomena in modem Russian culture. The proposed project moves beyond ideology, political programmes, and voting patterns in order to examine views of the nation and Russianness among ordinary Russians, and to explore how far these may be traced back to the late Soviet era. The sources include previously unexplored archival material, questionnaires, and interviewing/oral history. The central themes are 'tradition', by which we mean cultural memory, a self-consciously recognised relationship with the past, and 'deterritorialisation', which refers to the stresses placed on national and personal identity by migrancy, travel, and emigration. The period chosen for close study includes the post-Stalin and transition years, which witnessed a thoroughgoing attempt by the Party authorities to revive what were seen as 'positive' traditions, yet at the same time an officially-sponsored depopulation of the Russian village, conventionally seen as the bedrock of national identity, and the granting of mobility rights (albeit in a restricted sense) to ever larger sections of the population. Working in collaboration with Russians so that we can explore national identity from the inside, as well as writing about it from a distance, we plan to publish a number of pathbreaking studies on subjects such as the cultural history of identity documents, St Petersburg as the city of 'living history', Russian food as an expression of national identity, the role of museums in fostering cultural memory, the representation of the nation in the Russian media, patriotism and attitudes to 'foreigners' among skinheads In St Petersburg and Vorkuta, and the lives of Russians living in Britain. We are also planning to set up a broader research network that will exchange views in order to place Russian nationalism of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in national and international context Russia is often, but perhaps wrongly, considered a 'special case', so we propose to investigate similarities and differences between Russian views of the nation and those in other countries that till recently had a large peasant population and have a history of authoritarian rule, such as Ireland, Hungary, Greece, and Italy, as well as comparing the situation in the Russian Federation with that in other parts of the former Soviet Union. The structure of the project involves a network of 40 scholars, including a core group of 4 Russian and 5 British academics, each of whom will work on a particular aspect of our general theme. Anticipated output includes research monographs (Baiburin, KeIly, Omelchenko/Pilkington), sections of books (Beumers, Lovell), and articles (Baranov, Byford, Kushkova}. A discussion of theories/methodologies of research in national identify will be organised in Antropologicheskii forum/Forum for Anthropology and Culture, published by the Russian Academy of Sciences/Kunstkamera in St Petersburg. Alongside academic: books and articles, we plan to organise two workshops and a major international conference, and to create a website that will be exploitable as a research resource, with an annotated international database of research on Russian nationalism. We will also set up a searchable online database of life history interviews which will form part of the Archive of Russian Personal History and Everyday Life at the University of Oxford, and which will be accessible by other scholars researching twentieth- and twenty-first-century Russian culture. The involvement of Russian participants will smooth access to archival holdings not generally accessible to Western scholars, facilitate contact with informants, and ensure that work done for the project attains a high profile in Russia (we will be pre-publishing material from the monographs in leading Russian journals, e.g. Neprikosnovennyi zapas and NLO, as well as US/UK refereed journals).


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Prof Catriona Kelly (Author) Migratsiya i Diaspora' [Migrancy and Diaspora]. in Antropologicheskii forum.

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Prof Catriona Kelly (Author) Etnograficheskii muzie i ratsionalizatsiya sistemy'. in Etnograficheskoe obozrenie.

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Prof Catriona Kelly (Author) Review of Rachel Polonsky, Molotov's Magic Lantern', 10 April 2010. in The Guardian.

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Prof Catriona Kelly (Author) Sovetskaya pamyat' (special number of the journal, with introduction). in Neprikosnovennyi zapas.

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Prof Catriona Kelly (Author) Sbornik v chest' S. M. Loiter'.

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Prof Catriona Kelly (Author) Poslednee sovetskoe pokolenie v Velikobritanii'. in Neprikosnovennyi zapaz 64 (2), 2009, 96-116.

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Prof Catriona Kelly (Technical Report) (2008) Nationalism and Xenophobia as Research Topics'. Rount-table discussion.

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Zitzewitz J. (2010) Pravo na imya

Title Home is Where the Bread Is (Gde khleb, tam i rodina) 
Description A play partly based on the interviewing work that was done by Victoria Donovan while she was working on our AHRC project (also supported by the Geschichtewerkstatt, Germany). Victoria Donovan and two other researchers wrote a play based on their interviews about migrancy, which depicted women's experience of migrating from rural areas and small towns to big cities. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2010 
Impact The performance in the UK Consulate, St Petersburg was well-attended and created a lot of discussion. 
Description There has been considerable impact on the academic public (e.g. Catriona Kelly's Remembering St Petersburg and article on historiography of the Soviet era are in the top 5% of downloads on Russian Cultural Anthropology since the Collapse of Communism is already in paperback, and Soviet and Post-Soviet Identities is considered by CUP to be selling well. St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past has also reached a general readership - it was Yale UP's Book of the Month for January 2014 and was presented at the Oxford Book Festival and various events for the public, e.g. a talk at Pushkin House and the Winchester Russian circle. The book has its own Facebook page also. It was shortlisted for the Pushkin Russian Book Prize in 2015 and longlisted for the Historia Nova Prize in the same year. Areas of the research have also led to outreach in a practical sense - e.g. in August 2014 Catriona Kelly wrote an expert statement for an immigration case in Scotland referring to the effects on two children of primary-school age of possible refusal of leave to remain to the parents (the children had been in the UK for five and a half years). In 2018, Catriona Kelly will present a paper on heritage preservation at the Bannye Chteniya in St Petersburg. The research has also led to contacts with young researchers in the museum world and to an invitation to write a short response in a discussion of urban issues in St Petersburg for the widely-read local business newspaper Delovoi Peterburg. This in turn led to an invitation to participate in the 2017 International Cultural Forum in St Petersburg (which had to be declined due to a previous engagement, but was a significant sign of interest, since normally official guests are professionals from outside the academic sector). In January 2020, Catriona Kelly was invited to act as consultant for a bid by urban architects on the design of a new park in St Petersburg.
First Year Of Impact 2007
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural


Description John Fell Fund, University of Oxford
Amount £28,032 (GBP)
Funding ID HUM Kelly 121_432 
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2012 
End 11/2014
Description Soviet Traditions 
Organisation European University at Saint Petersburg
Country Russian Federation 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I co-ordinated (with the help of my post-docs) several workshops under the AHRC grant, in which scholars and students from the EUSP took part. Since then, I have helped suggest themes and speakers for workshops that have been organised in St Petersburg.
Collaborator Contribution We began running this series of workshops under AHRC funding, and since then, the EUSP has taken over the series and paid for Western scholars and research students to take part (for example, in September 2014 there were three participants in Oxford). The EUSP also offers support for my annual multi-entry visa (which would cost at least 250 pounds to organise through an agency).
Impact Anthropology, history, cultural studies. As well as the workshops mentioned above, several people who took part in the AHRC collaboration continue to present papers and lectures at the EUSP, for example in the Anthropology Faculty's Urban Anthropology series. It was directly at my suggestion that this series was started, and it has been extremely successful for the last 4 years. The seminar, and our workshops, are often attended by specialists from the museum network and from cultural associations such as the Likhachev Foundation.
Start Year 2008
Description Appearance at Oxford Literary Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The talk was sold out and the audience enthusiastic and attentive. There were a lot of questions afterwards.

Increased Kindle and hard copy sales of my book on St Petersburg; interest in visiting there from those who had not been before.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description media interest (Russian national identity) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact This was a contribution to a discussion of the Pussy Riot case in September 2012. I explained the result of the case as destroying any middle ground in Russian politics. The programme was BBC World Tonight, which has large audiences, and I had some positive feedback from listeners afterwards.

I regularly get asked for media comment and advice on similar topics afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012