Head of the Organising Committee
Sanna Turoma
sanna.turoma [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Coordinator
Kaarina Aitamurto
kaarina.aitamurto [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Secretary
Maarit Elo-Valente
maarit.elo-valente [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Intern
Miikka Piiroinen
miikka.piiroinen [at] helsinki.fi

Conference e-mail:
fcree-aleksconf [at] helsinki.fi

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki
phone +358-(0)50-3565 802

aleksanteri [at] helsinki.fi


Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Anna Razuvalova (Institute of Russian Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences)

Konstantin Bogdanov (Institute of Russian Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences)

Alexander Panchenko (Institute of Russian Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences)

Panel abstract: Conspiracy Theories in Late Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia

Conspiracy theory is a powerful explanatory model or way of thinking that influences many cultural forms and social processes throughout contemporary world. Generally defined as "the conviction that a secret, omnipotent individual or group covertly controls the political and social order or some part thereof" (Fenster 2008: 1), conspiracy theory includes a number of principal ideas and concepts that make it adaptable for broad variety of discourses and forms of collective imagination. Proceeding from necessity to explain and localize evil as social and moral category, conspiracy theories produce ethical models that oppose 'us' to 'them', 'victims' to 'enemies', 'heroes' to 'anti-heroes'. At the same time, conspiracy theories are extremely teleological; they do not leave any room for coincidences and accidents and explain all facts and events as related to intentional and purposeful activities of 'evil actors'. Quite often, conspiracy theories are grounded in holistic world view that leads, in turn, to particular hermeneutic stile. Reality is always considered to be deceptive; 'simple', 'superficial', and 'obvious' explanations must give place to more complicated intellectual procedures aimed at disclosure of 'concealed truth'. From this perspective, the concept of mystery appears to be the most powerful element of conspiratorial narratives that operate in both pre- and postindustrial societies. Recent academic research of conspiracy theories provides a set of interpretations ranging from medicalization ('social /political paranoids') to the concept of 'popular knowledge' as specifically postmodern phenomenon. It is obvious, however, that social, political and cultural power of conspiratorial narratives should not be underestimated. In modern and postmodern societies, conspiracy theories often motivate political action and social praxis, accompany transformation of institutional and informational networks, provoke moral panics and changes of identities.

This panel deals with conspiratorial beliefs and narratives in late Soviet and post-Soviet Russian culture. Its main focus lays in particular configurations of power, knowledge, and morality represented by popular conspiratorial imagination. According to Serguei Oushakine, post-Soviet conspiracy thinking can be discussed in terms of "patriotism of despair, with its combination of the traumatic and the conspiratorial", that "has become especially emblematic of the postmillennial Russia". As Oushakine argues, "inability to convincingly explain individual or collective losses has resulted in an intensive production of popular conspiracy narratives aimed to bring to light hidden forces and concealed plans of 'evil outsiders'. <…> In these narratives, references to pain and suffering are often linked with fundamental economic changes in the country. Emerging market relations both polarized people and simultaneously activated what Jean and John Comaroff have fittingly called the 'will to connect'" (Oushakine 2009: 74–75). It seems, however, that genealogy of many post-Soviet conspiracy theories is more extensive and complicated in historical, geographical, and cultural terms, so their interpretation cannot be limited to the context of economic and social traumas and transitions of the 1990s and 2000s. The papers presented at the panel will explore conspiratorial ideas and narratives operating in present day Russian literature, political culture, vernacular religion, and healing practices.