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Tracing landscapes of the past in class subjectivity: Practices of memory and distinction in marketizing Russia

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ABSTRACT

The creation of class subjectivities is an important but understudied topic for social memory studies, particularly in former socialist contexts. Soviet policies generated fertile conditions for the intertwining of class subjectivity and popular memory by deploying the categories of “intelligentsia” and “worker” as reified, enduring, and oppositional groups and privileging these groups in contradictory and often hypocritical ways. In this article, I explore the traces such policies left on contemporary, educated Russians’ sense of themselves as long-standing victims of class-based dispossession. Ethnographically, I examine debates I had with Russian friends about Mikhail Bulgakov's popular novel, Heart of a Dog, which depicts the Bolsheviks’ establishment of power in the 1920s through the eyes of an elite physician–scientist. Exploring Russians’ reactions to this story and their sense of its broader relevance reveals how aspiring middle-class subjects embraced a narrative of the Soviet past to justify the emerging inequalities of market reforms. Narrative landscapes of the socialist past illuminate a politics of victimization and moral restitution that underlies the contemporary embrace of inequality and stratified consumption. [memory, class, stratified consumption, health care, postsocialism, Russia]

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