Slavic and Eurasian Studies

Maria Sidorkina

Assistant ProfessorPh.D. Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology, Yale University

Maria Sidorkina



REE 345 • Power And Resistance In Rus

43055 • Spring 2020
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM PAR 103
GC (also listed as ANT 324L)

How do political activists in Russia speak to the state? In turn, how does the state encourage, respond to, and censor activist speech? This class will shed light on Russian state power as it is analyzed “from below” by ordinary citizens who seek to shape its politics and policy. We will take protests seriously as events to reveal their place in national and international histories of contention, as well as consider interactions between protest participants and the social and physical spaces in which protests take place. We will also situate Russian protest events with respect to ordinary moments of cultural, social and political life. Finally, we will explore the—often surprising—experiments with collective action that Russian activists have taken up after decades of dealing with illiberal and opaque mechanisms of local and national governance. 


As part of thinking about state-citizen interaction beyond the margins of the liberal project, we will get an overview of the history of political speech from Soviet late socialism to the present. We will then take stock of the 2011-2012 Fair Elections protest movement—a pivotal moment in the Putin era—and apply our insights to analyses of state and protest activity since that time. As part of theorizing postsocialist (and in many ways post-liberal) protest, we will unpack some of methodological debates central to Russian protest studies, such as whether we should call properly “political” those actors that who aim to change the political system or those for whom the efficacy of protest is measured by solving problems in particular cases (e.g. wage arrears, environmental destruction, homophobia, etc.) 


Discussion (10% of grade); Weekly paragraph-long responses (10%); Two case study papers (30%); midterm exam (20%); final essay of 10-12 pages (30%)

REE 388 • Ethnography Of Digtl Media

43100 • Spring 2020
Meets W 2:00PM-5:00PM BUR 231
(also listed as ANT 391)

Have you ever broken up with someone using a text message? Felt your senses extended by a new gadget? Or wondered why trolls troll? In this course, we will investigate new digital technologies and their impact on social worlds. While the course will begin with a brief overview of old media paradigms (the novel, the newspaper), we will spend most of our time exploring new social kinds (the troll, the hashtag, the GIF archive, the emoticon, the TikTok challenge). Readings will focus on “practical” contributions to conversations about media, but we will bring in classical theoretical texts as needed. The goal is to develop a rigorous understanding of new media forms, and to design ethnographic data collection methods for projects that can answer a variety of questions about digitally mediated interaction.

A substantial part of the course will consist of an ethnographic research project on some aspect of digital life that students will design in collaboration with others. Students working independently and in small groups, at home and in class, will contribute to different components of this project. To do this, students will conduct research exercises using “Evernote,” a note-taking application that can be used to create snapshots of public interactions, pool data, and present findings. Group presentations early in the semester will serve as the testing ground for the proposed research project. A conference-style midterm paper on a research topic will serve as the rough draft for a final paper. Additionally, weekly blog responses to assigned readings will be required.

Grade Breakdown:

  1. Do the assigned readings and exercises and be active in discussing them each class (10% of grade).
  2. Ethnographic research journal (10%). You will keep an ongoing journal of your participant observation online using Evernote. Resulting snapshots, transcripts and field notes can be used for your own research and shared with others.
  3. Reading responses, 1 paragraph long (10%). Due at the beginning of each class (except first day of semester). 
These are not graded for writing style. But they must constitute clear evidence that you carefully did the reading, and so are ready to actively participate in the discussion.

  4. Presentation on preliminary research results (10%).
  5. Summary, synthesis, extension, and critique of 1-2 readings in first half of class in relation to research topic, 5-7 pages long. (30%)
  6. Final paper (40%): development of the midterm essay based on instructor and student comments, and in light of readings covered in second half of class, 10 pages long.

REE 345 • Politics And Performance

42760 • Fall 2019
Meets TTH 9:30AM-11:00AM BIO 301
(also listed as ANT 324L)

Description: During presidential elections, we often talk as much about how politicians speak as about what they say. This heightened attention to language provides a superb opportunity to dig deeper into our own culture of political communication from “Abe” to “W”: from Obama’s “precisiongrip gesture” to Palin’s “Whitmanesque” forms of address; from Hilary’s register-shifting to Trump’s gestural caricatures. The last election cycle has also given observers cause to examine rhetorical technologies that seem not our own—such as “Kremlin propaganda techniques,” the weaponization of “fake news” and populist demagoguery. Over the course of the semester, students will think through the power struggles of political process by closely attending to language, rhetoric and performance. Combining fieldwork, theoretical speculation and engaged research we will contribute to community knowledge about public speech and civic life, and, in the end, help shape our local public culture.

In our readings, we will trace the rhetorical norms of Euro-American politics from their prehistory to today; and contrast them with technologies of speech prevalent in public spheres that have not been shaped by liberalism—including 4chan forums (the native habitat of the “troll”) and illiberal regimes such as those of the former Soviet Union, where, observers claim, politicians act as if “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible.” Students will read liberal critiques of propaganda and public “manipulation,” as exemplified in works such as George Orwell’s 1984; and get a taste of anti-liberal technologies of communication in Victor Pelevin’s Generation "П". Ultimately, however, we will historicize and deconstruct the binary of “liberal” and “illiberal” cultures of public speech by closely attending to practices of language, rhetoric and performance that circulate across first, second and third-world divides. On the local level, students will conduct group ethnographic exercises focused on how local sites of debate and discussion could be transformed to expand community conversations around issues of local concern.

Readings: All readings will be available as PDFs on the class server. However, significant amounts of reading will be drawn from these books:

 Teresa Bejan (2017) Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press

 Susan D. Blum (2016) Making Sense of Language: Readings in Culture and Communication, Second Edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

 Alaina Lemon (2017) Technologies for Intuition: Cold War Circles and Telepathic Rays, University of California Press

 Michael Lempert and Michael Silverstein (2012) Creatures of Politics: Media, Message, and the American Presidency. Indiana University Press. DocuSign Envelope ID: 207BBD8E-A764-495D-AE9F-B373B68E2CA8

 Natalia Roudakova (2017) Losing Pravda: Ethics and The Press in Post-Truth Russia. Cambridge University Press

 Alexei Yurchak (2005) Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation

Grading: The bulk of the work over the course of the semester will include reading, conducting research projects, and working towards a final paper. Further specifications for each assignment and the due dates will be posted to the course website. Students are required to:

 Prepare the readings and fully participate in discussing them (10% of grade).

 Weekly paragraph-long responses to the readings, due on the first day of class each week (10%).

 Write occasional in-class, open book, assignments addressing key course concepts (10%).

 Keep an ethnographic journal (10%). 

 Complete research assignments (30%). 

 Submit a final essay of 10-12 pages (30%) which uses the class readings to analyze an example of discussion or debate practice.

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  • Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies

    The University of Texas at Austin
    2505 University Avenue, Stop F3600
    Burdine Hall 452
    Austin, TX 78712