Soviet Student Dormitories: Structures and Legacies
This article is part of the TRAFO series ”Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the Prisma Ukraïna Workshop “Soviet Student Dormitories: Structures and Legacies“. This event will take place on 16 January 2018 at the Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstraße 14, 14193 Berlin. Margaret Litvin is one of the conveners of the workshop.
Please find the program and more information on the workshop here.
Margaret Litvin is Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at Boston University, USA, and author of Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost (Princeton, 2011). Her current research focuses on reconstructing the tangled legacies of Arab writers’ experiences of Russia and the Soviet Union in the long twentieth century. In 2017-18 she is in Berlin as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow co-hosted by the Forum Transregionale Studien (EUME program) and the Philipps-Universität Marburg’s Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies (CNMS). She is also affiliated with the Institut für Slawistik at Humboldt-Universität.
Why did you organize this workshop?
Prisma Ukraïna invited me to think of a topic that would excite scholars of Russia and the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and the Afro-Asian world. As everyone knows who has ever studied abroad, student dormitories are highly charged places, loaded with memories and meaning. Novels by writers as diverse as Ismail Kadare, Sonallah Ibrahim, and Juri Andruchowytsch give us vivid dormitory scenes that also reveal the underlying social structure and hierarchy of the dorm. Thinking through these sources will help us extend the vibrant scholarly conversation about everyday Soviet “places and spaces.” Plus, many of the participants have personal experiences of their own to contribute to the conversation.
You’ve asked each participant to come prepared with one archival or literary example that illuminates some aspect of a Soviet student dormitory. What do you hope these microhistories will add up to? What questions will they allow you, collectively, to explore?
In my own research the student dormitory has emerged as a kind of microcosm of the whole postwar Soviet “friendship of nations” project with its various aspirations, resentments, and unexpected solidarities. The dormitories brought together citizens of the Russian SSR (including Russians and others), non-Russian Soviets, Eastern Europeans, and people from what was then called the Third World. These people did not necessarily want to live together. Their interactions in the dormitory’s corridors, kitchens, bathrooms, (and yes, bedrooms) refigure some of the major tensions of the Soviet project in a beautiful way, offering us a perspective that takes account of state policy but always foregrounds the experiences of individuals.
In 1994, Yuri Slezkine and others proposed the “communal apartment” as a metaphor for relations between the republics of the USSR. I’m interested to see if we can push that further: could it be productive to imagine the international student dormitory as a metaphor for Soviet inter/national policy and its results? How detailed could this model get? Would it be useful to think metaphorically about different floors, communal areas, the dezhurnaya, etc.?
What are the unique perspectives and insights that the participants will gain from attending your workshop?
I think all of us are excited to learn from each other about the different ways that Soviet student dorms have been experienced and depicted in our many disciplines (literary studies, history, sociology, and cultural anthropology), as well as in memoirs and novels by the alumni themselves.
Citation: Soviet Student Dormitories: Structures and Legacies – Interview with Margaret Litvin, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 11.01.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/8603.