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Into the void: Rethinking Dostoevsky’s Radicalism

By Lisa J Walters, on 29 November 2017

Dr Sarah J. Young, Senior Lecturer in Russian

Over two blustery October days as Storm Brian loomed to the west, scholars, students and intrepid members of the public gathered at UCL to look east and discuss the latest developments in Dostoevsky studies. The conference, titled ‘Revolutionary Dostoevsky: Rethinking Radicalism’ to tie into this year’s events marking the centenary of the Russian Revolutions, recalls Dostoevsky’s legendary status as a prophet of revolution and totalitarianism, as well as his own revolutionizing poetics.

The theme for the conference places in the foreground the contradictions and tensions that continue to make Dostoevsky’s works such a rich source of debate and discussion, not least the paradox of this supposedly conservative writer – at least in his mature years – whose characters, as Carol Apollonio noted in her entertaining keynote address, are never satisfied with the status quo. The idea that Dostoevsky might have as much to tell us about the so-called ‘alt-right’, Islamic fundamentalism or the perpetrators of ‘lone wolf’ massacres, as he did about the revolutionary Populists and anarchists of his own era, or indeed the murderous repression of Stalinism, indicates that his subject was fundamentally a deeper one. Beyond the vicissitudes of ideological fashions, and the provocateurs and opportunists who use them to justify violence (and who appeared in more than one presentation), the state – and fate – of the human soul is always at stake in Dostoevsky’s novels.

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What do we know about FDI?

By Lisa J Walters, on 24 October 2017

By Randolph Bruno (UCL), Nauro Campos (Brunel) and Saul Estrin (LSE).

The conventional wisdom is that although economic effects of FDI on the host economy are mostly positive, they are conditional. For example, they depend on host countries having reached critical levels of human capital or institutional quality. This column provides a systematic assessment of the contemporary evidence. It reports a meta-analysis of about 1100 estimates focusing on countries under those thresholds (i.e., those for which previous studies tend to find no robust effects). It concludes that the economic impact of FDI is less “conditional” than commonly thought. One potential explanation is that, below the thresholds, the difference between “macro” and “micro” effects is substantial while, above them, the difference between private and social returns is smaller. 

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Queering Poland in London

By Lisa J Walters, on 20 October 2017

Starting from the century of Polish women’s movement, and the LGBTQ politics to Polish art in London and Brexit.

Dr Urszula Chowaniec, Senior Teaching Fellow in Polish Language

Emancipation now seems to be in a backlash. In October, Polish women again demonstrated  to commemorate October 2016, when the whole of Poland was dressed in black; when thousands of Polish women and men demonstrated against a proposal to radicalize already one of the most radical abortion laws in Europe. This was also part of the London story; many Polish women also honoured October 2016 a few weeks ago in front of Polish Embassy. The story of women’s emancipation, gender politics and migration was a leading theme of many SSEES’ seminars and talks. Let’s recall some facts….

When I start my Polish classes, I ask my students about any Polish people; Copernicus, Fryderyk Chopin, Lech Wałęsa… Women hardly ever appear in the list, so I mention, usually to my students’ surprise, Marie Curie. Read the rest of this entry »

Recycling Future or Free Painting

By Lisa J Walters, on 19 October 2017

Oskar OK Krajewski, Polish Artist in London, on art, recycling, and migration

Dr Urszula Chowaniec, Senior Teaching Fellow in Polish Language

Thousands of small objects… hundreds of fragments linked together in a seemingly random way create an ideal shape; a colourful space  interlaced with light and flickering glimpses, as if just for this sculptured form all the tiny items were intended. Was it only by accident or misunderstanding that they used to be a piece of computer, toy, or TV remote? They really meant to be Recycled Future.

Recycled Future is Oskar OK Krajewski’s centre sculpture presented during his exhibition at Oxo show (1-5 November, 2017). It is an amazing piece made of over 25,000 parts of old broken everyday objects. As a central piece, the whole exhibition is called Recycled Future. OK admits that this piece is representative to all his recent artworks. It took Oskar about 5 years to complete the whole show. He never works on one project at the time, rather he distracts himself over many works, and therefore it gets slower to complete the piece. But this is how ‘OK’ creates.

Recycled Future by Oskar OK Krajewski

Recycled Future by Oskar OK Krajewski

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Revolutionary Dostoevsky

By Lisa J Walters, on 16 October 2017

Dr Sarah Young, Senior Lecturer in Russian

This post was first published on sarahjyoung.com

Photograph of Dostoevsky published with permission of the Dostoevsky Museum, St Petersburg

Photograph of Dostoevsky published with permission of the Dostoevsky Museum, St Petersburg

How might we think of Dostoevsky as a radical writer? In his later years he certainly seemed anything but. From his searing critique of nihilist ideas in Notes from Underground and Crime and Punishment, and his scathing portrayal of revolutionaries in Demons, to his increasingly virulent Orthodox nationalism and support for the authoritarian Tsarist regime expressed in his Diary of a Writer, his reactionary views appear to be in no doubt. Yet he understood the depths of human misery and the need for utopian visions and the transformation of society. He always maintained an interest in social justice that seems contrary to his political position, and his death was mourned by thousands of radical students. In his youth he did move in revolutionary circles, and much later acknowledged that even if he might not have found been a leader of such a movement, he was, and remained, capable of being a follower. His novels – typically of their focus on the extremes of human behaviour – show that fanatical atheism and fervent religious faith are two sides of the same coin, something he saw as a particularly Russian trait. Was this then just a reflection of the tensions in his own character and the ideological transition he experienced, or perhaps sought, within himself?

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Is Russia Practicing a Dry Run for an Invasion of Belarus?

By Lisa J Walters, on 25 September 2017

Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

This piece was originally posted on foreignpolicy.com on 18 September 2017. Podcasts are available at: http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/09/22/staring-down-the-barrel-of-russias-big-guns/ and on iTunes

With tensions worsening between the two countries, Russia’s massive military exercise is firing a couple thousand warning shots at a reluctant ally.

Russia does military exercises regularly, but this year’s version, underway right now, deserves especially close attention. It’s called Zapad (“West”) and involves thousands of troops doing maneuvers on the borders of the Baltic states and Poland. The motivating scenario is to defend against an imagined invasion of Belarus by foreign-backed extremists. One of the fictional enemy states, “Vesbaria,” seems to be a thinly disguised Lithuania; the other, “Lubenia,” looks a bit like Poland. There will no doubt be the usual low-level provocations, with Russian planes buzzing borders, that will make the whole passive-aggressive show of strength look more like an invasion of the West than the other way around.

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A reading list for the summer?

By Lisa J Walters, on 25 July 2017

Dr Elodie Douarin, Lecturer in Economics

Planning to read this summer? I have come up with a short list of recommendations. You can expect a little bit of an economic bias (that’s generally what I am interested in). Some of these books are directly relevant to my teaching or research, others just felt relevant…

So I am throwing my little list below with the hope that some of my colleagues will come up with their own list of suggestions… I am listing the books in alphabetical order. Any comment welcome!

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Foreigner talk : A seminar on language acquisition, variation, and change in a migrant context and the linguistic representations of Others

By Lisa J Walters, on 26 June 2017

 

Eszter Tarsoly, Senior Teaching Fellow in Hungarian Language

In his 1975 paper entitled Toward a Characterization of English Foreigner Talk, Charles Ferguson mentions three types of modified speech used in communities with speakers whose command of language is seen as lacking or inferior compared to an adult native speaker’s competence. The three types of modified speech are: ways of talking to deaf people, baby talk, and foreigner talk. Ferguson argued that by studying these modified ways of speaking we gain insights into such notions as “simple”, “basic”, and “deep”, which characterise general discourses of language. In addition, the study of baby talk has proven to be of value for understanding child-language development and the study of foreigner talk may contribute to analysing the process of pidginization, the development of new language varieties, and language change.

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Pot Calls the Kettle Black: Russian Report Describes the Spread of ‘Modern Technological Populism’

By Lisa J Walters, on 16 June 2017

Prof Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

When it comes to political dirty tricks, you can rely on the Russians to know how to call things by their right name.  Russians also have the habit of using terminology to describe the wider world that is reflexively useful for conceptualising Russia itself. A recent Report by a new Russian think-tank on ‘Modern Technological Populism’ has therefore caused quite a stir; both because Russia has been accused of not-so-covert support for populists like Donald Trump and Marine LePen, and because the Report is the first product of an institution directly linked to the Kremlin.

The think-tank in question is the ‘Expert Institute of Social Research’ (which in Russian has the acronym EISI), founded in the autumn of 2016 and launched in March 2017. The EISI is attached to the Presidential Administration and is presumed to reflect the thinking of the new Kremlin propaganda chief, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and his ‘Strategy 2030’.

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Beyond Fake News: How Trump’s Disruptive Technology Mirrors Russian Political Technology

By Lisa J Walters, on 13 June 2017

Prof Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

The investigation into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia has already uncovered many layers and levels. More will no doubt be found; but the search would be assisted by a better understanding of just what has gone on in Russia these last twenty years. Hacking may have generated the most lurid headlines, but is just one of many techniques in the arsenal of what Russians call ‘political technology’.  And the West needs to take a closer look at itself – the U.S. election was simply the most dramatic example yet of the consequences of the dangerous combination of political technology with ‘disruptive technology’.

Political Technologies Read the rest of this entry »