New Analytical Perspectives on Civilizational Paradigm

Seminar at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki
Organised under the auspices of the Centre of Excellence "Choices of Russian Modernization", cluster on Culture and Philosophy
Organizing comittee: Sanna Turoma, Vesa Oittinen, Kåre Johan Mjør

TIME: 1-2 December, 2016
VENUE: Aleksanteri Institute, Conference room, 2nd floor (Unioninkatu 33). PLEASE NOTE THAT THE SEMINAR WILL TAKE PLACE AT THE ALEKSANTERI INSTITUTE PREMISES ON THURSDAY AND FRIDAY.
SPEAKERS : Sergei Akapov, Maria Engstöm, Irina Kotkina, Fabian Linde, Olga Malinova, Mikhail Maslovski, Oleg Riabov, Tatiana Riabov, Viktor Shnirelman, Mikhail Suslov, Galina Zvereva.
PROGRAMME

Samuel Huntington's bestselling book The Clash of Civilizations (1996) has had a lasting impact on post-Cold War think tanks and policy-makers not only in the US but also in Russia. At the same time, the book has been a target of severe critique by many theoreticians of various schools of thought. In the aftermath of 9/11 Edward Said criticized Huntington's use of culture, identity, and civilization as totalizing and simplistic concepts. Imagining the West and Islam as civilizations, as Said asserted, was conjuring them up as "vast abstractions that may give momentary satisfaction but little self-knowledge or informed analysis." Used as it was in the then current debate, the concept of civilization concealed the disorderly reality rather than revealed the political and cultural complexity of its making. The abstractions of civilization were "better for reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding of the bewildering interdependence of our time", as Said concluded.

In Russia, the civilization discourse, although part of the global trend, has its specific traits. Rooted in the 19th-century debates about Russia's place between East and West, the "geographical fact" (Chaadayev) and the civilizational distinctiveness derived from it, have been reinterpreted in various intellectual formations for diverse political ends from Danilevskii to Dugin, the classical Eurasianists to Lev Gumilev's followers, and pre-revolutionary Avant-garde artists to post-Soviet filmmakers.

The research on Russia's civilizational discourse is a burgeoning academic field. There is a growing literature about the use of the concept in contemporary Russian political speech and by public intellectuals. This seminar seeks to explore to what extent the discourse on civilization penetrates Russian identity formation in a broader sense, while it also aims to attain a deeper understanding of its historical preconditions. First and foremost, however, the seminar aims at relocating the study of the civilizational paradigm in new conceptual and theoretical frames.

Speakers will present critical approaches to the study of the concept of civilization and/or related topics and themes, which have so far gained little or no scholarly attention. The papers will investigate Russian discussions about civilization from gender, postcolonial, economic, and Marxist perspectives shedding new light to the civilizational discourse in Russia and the Soviet Union. The objective is to reconsider the uses of the concept and to reflect on the theoretical, philosophical, and analytical perspectives on the civilizational debate outside the conventional understanding of civilizations as essentializing entities.