BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Culture, Media and Politics in the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia

Unit code RUSS30602
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Russian & E. European Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course explores the relationship between culture and power under state socialist system and in contemporary Russia. The first part of the course will analyse the policies of the Soviet government towards the media, as well as towards writers, artists, musicians and other cultural figures and the response of the latter to these policies. Students will be introduced to relevant theoretical frameworks, particularly those developed by Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault, and encouraged to consider the extent to which these frameworks can help us understand the processes in societies which are politically and socially different from those of the ‘West’.

The discussion of cultural developments in the Soviet Union will be linked to major historical events of the twentieth century, such as the Russian Revolution, Stalin’s terror, the Second World War, Cold War, De-Stalinisation and the fall of the communist regime. Cultural figures will be presented as, simultaneously, beneficiaries and victims of the government’s approach to cultural matters. On the basis of selected case studies, the final part of the course will explore the ways in which the Soviet past has been reinvented in the cultural production of Putin’s Russia.


Please note that the knowledge of the Russian language is not required.


The aim of the course are

  • to introduce students to the complexity the relationship between political authorities and intellectuals in the state socialist system
  •  to explore how the relationship between culture and power has changed in Russia post-1991.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  •  Demonstrate a systematic knowledge of Soviet government policies towards various forms of cultural activities
  • Appreciate the changing dynamics of the relationship between the government and cultural figures in different periods of Soviet history
  • Consider changes and continuities between Soviet and post-Soviet periods of Russian history
  • Evaluate critically different types of sources
  • Demonstrate originality and independent thinking in tackling complex issues


Sessions 1-2: Russian culture and the new political order

Sessions 3-5:  Culture and power under Stalin

Sessions 6-7:  De-Stalinisation, Russian nationalism and the new role of the intelligentsia

Sessions 8-9: Politics of culture during perestroika

Sessions 10-11:  Reinventing the past in Putin’s Russia

Teaching and learning methods

The course is taught through a combination of lectures and seminars. Seminars will take the form of student presentations and group discussions around questions and topics to be supplied by the tutor in advance.

The course is very well supported through blackboard. The Bb site contains copies of all the assigned seminar readings; lecture powerpoints; seminar questions and group-work exercises; and detailed instructions about how the assessments should be completed

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to appreciate and understand:

  •  the complexity of the relationship between culture and power under state socialism
  • the changing nature of the politics of culture in different periods of Soviet history
  • the extent to which 1991 was a major divide in Russian political history
  • the relationship between the politics of culture and identity politics during the post-Soviet period
  • the role of 'history wars' in Europe in the first decade of the new millennium

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • evaluate scholarly debates pertaining to Soviet history and Russian politics of culture and identity
  • evaluate the applicability of particular theoretical frameworks to the Soviet/Russian case
  • analyse different types of primary sources

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to improve their: 

  • oral communication and presentation skills
  • team-working skills
  • analytical skills
  • writing skills

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • present their written work in a coherent and well structured form
  • make effective use of relevant sources
  • give an effective oral presentation
  • work successfully as a team with other students

Employability skills

Analytical skills
ability to analyse different types of sources
Oral communication
ability to give oral presentations
Problem solving
ability to assess information critically
Written communication
ability to write clearly and coherently

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 75%
Oral assessment/presentation 25%

Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on all components of the assessment
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Katerina Clark and Evgeny Dobrenko, Soviet Culture and Power. A History in Documents, 1917-1953 (New Haven, 2007)

Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Cultural Front. Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (Ithaca, 1992)

David Brandenberger, National Bolshevism: Stalinist Mass Culture and the Formation of Modern Russian National Identity (1931-1956) (Cambridge MA, 2002)

Polly Jones, ‘Memories of Terror or Terrorizing Memories? Terror, Trauma and Survival in Soviet Culture of the Thaw’, Slavonic and East European Review, 82,2, 2008

Thomas Lah, Late Soviet Culture: from Perestroika to Novostroika (Durham, N C, 1993)

Ellen Mickiewicz, Television, Power and the Public (Cambridge, 2008)

Alexei Miller and Marina Lipman, eds., The Convulsions of Historical Politics (Budapest, 2013)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 12
Seminars 24
Independent study hours
Independent study 164

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Vera Tolz-Zilitinkevich Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Students are expected to do seminar readings in their own time.



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