Russian Language and Identity: Discursive Practices in Post-soviet Russia

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Div of European Languages and Cultures


After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has been dealing with a large number of challenges that affected its sense of national identity: the fourteen constituent republics of the Soviet Union departed, leaving among Russians a mixed feeling of liberation and desertion; the dominant Communist ideology bankrupted and on top of that, the country has been exposed to severe economic and social turbulence. The negotiation by contemporary Russian society of the new ethnic, geographical, ideological and historical dimensions of the national identity takes place in language practice, in other words, in discourses produced at the various levels of society.
So far no comprehensive study of such language practices has been undertaken and the proposed research deals with this gap.
The elites' version of what it means to be Russian is especially formulated in certain public forms of discourse such as for example speeches given at national occasions or in categories and formulas arrived at during the debates in the Russian parliament / the Duma. These views might be supported or challenged in other parts of the society, such as in the media or in the private sphere. As a result, different voices and different ways of expression emerge that will be traced and identified in the project. Over the two periods, roughly corresponding to the two post-Soviet presidencies, of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, the official story of the Russian identity has undergone both, changes in content and the language devices used for its production. One example of this is how the attitudes to the Soviet past changed, from a total rejection of the regime to a much more reconciling position. The complexity and often confusion as to who is seen as member of the in- or the out-group in the picture of the multi-national Russian identity, is another aspect of the identity story that will be explored. Finally, it is important to see how the Russian language itself is employed by different discourses as a necessary component of their view of Russian-ness. The disintegration of the Soviet regime was accompanied by changes in language use: public Russian became more liberalised while rigid norms of the past period were marginalised. In the second period covered by the investigation, the consolidation of the official version of the Russian identity becomes connected with the return to the power of the norm. Thus, the project will make a contribution to the theory regarding the connection between the identity articulation and the language used for that purpose.


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Description It is observed that the general pattern of Russian identity construction correlates with the sociolinguistic views by Pierre Bourdieu: the heterodox discourse breaking down cognitive schemata of the past and legitimizing novel language forms, comes forward in the time of the heretic break. This is manifest in the 1990s when the confusion regarding the identity content, significant shifts in the symbolic value to the informal linguistic code and steb and the 'negative' strategies of discontinuation and demontage prevalent in the discourses. It can be said that the Putin period of discursive production corresponds to the orthodox stage described by Bourdieu. Here, the identity narrative becomes prominent and acquires doxic nationalist overtones. Both, the temporal and the spatial discursive dimensions are engaged in the strategies of construction and perpetuation of positive self-image. The national identity is narrated through the reconstruction and reinvention of the heroic past, and revival (The Victory Day) or invention (the Day of National Unity) of celebratory discourses on the commemorative events. Neo-imperial narratives increase the sharp divide between linguistically defined in and out-groups. Discourses of linguistic culture display a tendency towards increased symbolic capital of language normalisation and the appeals to the Russian language as a identity symbol.
However when applied to the Post-Soviet Russia Bourdieu's model needs a substantial adjustment. In none of the above periods, Russian identity makes a truly doxic, unified, and coherent narrative. In fact the study arrives at the conclusion that discourses Russian national identity continues to be fluid and contradictory. Russian identity is suspended between the two major paradigms of the century: the nationalising pull of the post-Communist world and the liquid identity of the late modernity.
Exploitation Route The findings related to a particular period of post-Soviet discursive stage. The fluidity of Russian identity discourse means that the findings need further development and expansion. New approaches to the emerging discursive types for example, the current surge of propaganda, the use of discourse in the so called 'hybrid war' with Ukraine, the neo-cold war rhetoric require new analytical tools and approaches.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Other

Description The findings raised awareness of the complexity and fluidity of Russian identity discourse for understanding of Russian culture and society after collapse of the Soviet Union.
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Professor Patrick Seriot, the Head of the (CRECLECO) at the University of Lausanne visited the Russian in Context Research Unit. 
Organisation University of Lausanne
Country Switzerland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Information taken from Final Report
Description a co-investigator in an interdisciplinary collaborative research project with Professor Brigitte Nerlich and Dr Nelya Koteyko (Nottingham University) 
Organisation University of Nottingham
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Information taken from Final Report
Description an expert partner in the international research project "The Future of Russian: Language Culture in the Era of New Technology", funded by Research Council of Norway (2009-2012). 
Organisation Research Council of Norway
Country Norway 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Information taken from Final Report