History, Sociology Symposium

Conference : The Making of the 1990’s The Genesis of Post-Soviet Society through Its Material Culture

With the historical hindsight of nearly thirty years, this interdisciplinary colloquium explores the social dynamics of the 1990s through the period’s changing material culture. Eve- ryday “stuff” was transformed with the disappearance of the Soviet system, the irruption of the market, and the opening to the world. The imprint left by ordinary people on things either inherited from the Soviet past or newly introduced generates a powerful human-material interplay. This “universe of things” (objects, consumer goods, but also real estate and technical infrastructures) echoes social relations. 

Conceptualized as a dialogue between history, sociology, an- thropology and economics, we take as a vantage point ma- terial objects to build an argument that things lost, repaired, shared, invented, cared for during the 1990s constitute win- dows on the Soviet social orders, rooted in the past and re-ar- ranged to accommodate the present and imagine the future. 

A lost decade? 

«The 1990s» were so turbulent and feverish, so equivocal and uncertain for many post-Soviet societies that their po- pular and political narratives are torn between dichotomous interpretations. These years – the chronological boundaries remain fuzzy – were experienced in a variety of ways by so- cieties of the former USSR: it is a period of social, political, and economic production that cemented the political dyna- mics of the 2000s in Russia, Belarus, the Baltic countries, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Academic research has brought nuance to the understanding of the 1990s. However, the period has not yet been put into historical perspective. 

Reinventing the 1990s? Creativity and revolution in social relations with things 

One experience that binds these societies across the region in the immediate post-Soviet aftermath: a shared loss of certainty in the broadest sense of the word. Whether by the trauma of war or otherwise violent social collapse, popula- tions lost their points of reference and of visibility in daily life, they saw their representations of the future contracted to address only the immediate present. 

Such a state of permanent uncertainty can also embody creativity: actors invent in order to ensure a semblance of control over their situation and their horizon of expectation. 

The 1990s are treated as a time-space of social creativity, where the present mixes with an in-depth historical investi- gation to go further in seeking to understand how social ties and interactions are fabricated around the material «novel- ties» in the entire post-Soviet space.