Visiting Fellows Research Seminars


Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar Series features the work of the outstanding scholars who have been invited to conduct their research within the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Programme. The scholars’ topics cover a wide range both geographically, and with regard to methodology, discipline, and focus. The seminars are a platform for advancing and sharing knowledge of the present, past, and future of Russia, Eastern and Central Europe, and Eurasia, and each session has ample time for questions and discussion. All students, scholars, and other interested audiences are warmly welcome to attend!

Seminar Pro­gramme for Autumn 2018

The seminars take place on Thursdays from 14:15 to 15:45 at the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki. Please check the programme below for exact dates and times & possible changes!

In March of 2012, two hundred opposition candidates ran for office in Moscow’s municipal election. Seventy won seats. In September of 2017, over a thousand opposition candidates ran. This time, they captured a quarter of all council seats in the city, shut out United Russia candidates in six rayons, and formed majorities in another twenty. Running in teams, on an explicitly anti-United Russia platform, opposition politicians were able to make significant inroads at a time when Vladimir Putin was reasserting his dominance over Russia’s political landscape at the federal level. These important local gains represent a shift in opposition strategy from mobilization for street protests to electioneering. With new campaign strategies and electoral technologies – the rise of “political Uber” – opposition candidates are running in and winning local elections.

This paper examines, using in-depth observational and interview data, the 2012 and 2017 municipal campaigns in Moscow. A comparative analysis of the two elections demonstrates how members of Russia’s non-systemic opposition are learning and building political capacity. Conceptually, I make the argument that the opposition is tapping into an inherent structural weakness within Russia’s modern competitive authoritarian regime by exploiting the spaces of resistance created left by the fusion of democratic institutions and authoritarian practices.

Dr. Yana Gorokhovskaia will present her work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday 16 August, 2018 at 14:15 in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki. The event will be chaired by Professor Vladimir Gel’man.


From the ‘Calais Jungle’ to the ‘City Plaza’ squat in central Athens, makeshift settlements have become an integral part of refugee journeys to the EU. Such settlements are often ‘off the grid’ and receive no aid or services, except that provided informally by volunteers and activists.

This presentation examines informal refugee settlements in urban areas of transit countries, by focusing on Belgrade and Athens. This paper considers the urban and spatial politics of the refugee ‘crisis’ in transit countries; specifically, it takes a detailed look at cities hosting informal settlements and transient refugee populations, and the actors and spaces shaping refugee lives. It considers how urban spaces are used and adapted by refugees and activists to create temporary settlements and aid network, but also, how authorities employ surveillance and spatial practices aimed at regulating the presence of refugees in centrally located public spaces. In its focus on cities, the presentation also places the informal settlements into a broader context: refugee settlements make use of spaces that are already subjected to pre-existing local politics and contestations over land, regeneration and property development, and this often results in evictions or demolitions of refugee housing. The paper shows inconsistencies in how states approach informal refugee housing; for instance, on the one hand evicting squatters from private properties, but implicitly supporting refugee squats in public and city-owned buildings.

Overall, the paper argues that migration and presence of migrant bodies in public spaces is often controlled and regulated by seemingly innocuous ways, and often through spatial manipulations and use of proxies such as developers and investors. 

Dr. Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik will present her work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on WEDNESDAY 22nd August 2018 at 14:15 in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room (Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki). The event will be chaired by Dr. Brendan Humphreys.


In today’s Russia, the role of specialized non-legal knowledge in pre-judicial and judicial proceedings is ambiguous and contradictory. It is the actors representing state bodies who possess strategic resources while the power position of forensic experts is much weaker. In the conditions of such power asymmetry representatives of state bodies, particularly investigators, often abuse their right to appoint expertise. At the same time expert reports have been used for legitimizing controversial and sometimes clearly unlawful decisions.

The presentation aims to analyze the practices of using expert knowledge in the Russian legal system from the perspective of sociology of law and on the basis of qualitative methodology. The focus will be on the peculiarities of interaction between forensic experts and jurists in court proceedings. To explore this interaction the research uses Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the juridical field and other contemporary sociological approaches. It is important to describe and conceptualize from a sociological perspective whether misuse of expert evidence by investigation bodies and courts is defined by the inner logic of the juridical field or by the pressure from the political field. Special attention will be devoted to the market of expert services and the authors of forensic expert reports. The presentation will consider the main traits and developmental trends of the field of forensic expertise in contemporary Russia. It will be analyzed how the perceptions of the judicial system by forensic experts impact their behavior in the court proceedings and what tactics they use within the juridical field.

Dr. Elena Maslovskaya will present her work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday 30th August, 2018 at 14:15 in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki. The event will be chaired by  Dr. Anna-Liisa Heusala.


This seminar presents my study that explores the encounter of Orthodoxy and democracy from a new perspective. Most importantly, the focus on the interwar Russian diaspora allows a break with the traditional emphasis on the role of the state in this process. In addition, the temporal scope of this study creates an opportunity for seeing Orthodoxy and democracy not as static, but as dynamic phenomena that are subjects to change when occurring in new environments. This approach opens space for comparisons between the attitudes to democracy developed by the different Russian émigré churches between the two world wars. In this regard, special attention will be paid to the two major Russian theological centers in the interwar Europe: the well-known St Sergius Theological Institute in Paris, associated with the so-called Western European Russian Exarchate, and the less studied Russian Synod Abroad, established in Sremski Karlovci (Yugoslavia) in 1921.

Although both denounced the Bolshevik regime and the persecution of religion in Russia, they ended up with different visions of democracy. Allowing an expanded participation of laymen and clergy in church affairs, the Western European Exarchate adopted some key principles of representative democracy. Meanwhile, the Synod Abroad chose to enhance the role of episcopate. Furthermore, if St Sergius Theological Institute gave preference to theological responses to the trial experienced by their country, people and church (e.g., Nicholas Afanasiev’s eucharistic theology), the émigré hierarchs in Sremski Karlovci tended to mix up religion and politics and endorsed monarchy as the most suitable mode of governance for a future Russia, liberated from the Bolshevik menace. In addition, the two émigré church centers differed in their attitudes to the religious other. While the Western European Exarchate established close contacts with Western Christianity and the ecumenical movement, the Synod Abroad adopted an isolationist stand against those who did not share their devotion to Orthodoxy.

Dr. Daniela Kalkandjieva will present her work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday 13 th September, 2018 at 14:15 in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki. The event will be chaired by Dr. Elina Kahla


The talk aims at discerning the governance arrangements shaping the marshrutka sector – a major and highly contested mobility phenomenon throughout the former Soviet Union, which has barely received any academic attention so far. Marshrutkas appear as a fruitful field of research for a better understanding of transformation processes, including changing state-society relations, everyday practices and technological innovations. Starting with a short historical outline of marshrutka sector emergence and development, I will further delve into central theoretical considerations: formal versus informal practices in the transport sector, and mobility justice and its relevance for public transport research. In a following step, I will elaborate upon conflicting logics of governing, which are crucial in shaping the mobility landscapes of post-Soviet cities. I will particularly elaborate on the private versus public organisation of the sector; the conflict between public order and survival; as well as formal and informal rent extortion practices, and their impact on marshrutka drivers’ working environments, and passenger travel conditions. The talk will mostly bring in examples from Central Asia, building on ethnographic fieldwork in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Dr. Wladimir Sgibnev will present his work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday 20 September, 2018 at 14:15 in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki). The event is chaired by Dr. Anna Lowry.


The presentation reflects work in progress on developing a sociological understanding of the provision of social welfare in the Soviet Union. Two main issues are explored. First, I examine the question of whether the key features of the Soviet welfare system can be understood with reference of ideal types of welfare regime such as those developed by Gosta Esping Andersen and others in the debate that developed around his work, or whether it represents a separate and distinct regime, or whether it is best seen as a hybrid form combining elements of different types of regime. Secondly I explore the question of how ‘universalistic’ the mature form of the Soviet welfare system was, examining questions of the extent of inequalities between different social groups in their access to welfare provided through the workplace. This entails questions of how far access to welfare depended in practice on informal decisions by enterprise managers that ignored welfare needs, and how far some groups were excluded because they were homeless, not officially employed or otherwise without correct papers.

Professor Terry Cox, an alumnus of the Visiting Fellows Programme, will present his work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday 11 October, 2018 at 14:15 in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki. The event will be chaired by Professor Markku Kivinen.

Terry Cox is Professor of Central and East European Studies at the University of Glasgow and lead editor of Europe-Asia Studies. He is also a fellow of the UK's Academy of Social Sciences and a past-president of the British Association of Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES). His research interests range from Russian social thought on the peasant question to the politics and sociology of post-communist transitions. Recent edited books include Civil Society and Social Capital in Post-Communist Easter Europe, Reflections on 1989 in Eastern Europe, and with Markku Kivinen, Russian Modernisation: Structures and Agencies (all published by Routledge). Recent articles have been published in Intersection: East European Journal of Society and Politics, Perspectives on European Politics and Society, and the Journal of Agrarian Change.


This presentation will take place next year.



This paper is concerned with co-production as a means of promoting films on an international market. I explore changes in the Russian film industry’s funding structure and some case studies from recent years to assess how narratives have changed and compromises made with international involvement. I try to establish whether co-production helps cinema speak a more universal language and to what extent this detaches the product from its cultural context. In this context, I shall also look at some developments in Russia’s regions, specifically Sakha (Yakutia).

Dr. Birgit Beumers will present her work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday 1 November, 2018 at 14:15 in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki. The event will be chaired by Dr. Sanna Turoma.


The transfer of power is one of Central Asia’s most obscure, and secretly contested, political processes. The deaths of Saparmurat Niyazov (2006) and Islam Karimov (2016) cemented a series of practices that delineated the contours of a regional praxis for leadership change. But did new leaders endeavour to bring about political change in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan? Did the death of first presidents alter intra-élite dynamics within the two regimes, or influence the international dealings of these two states? Long-term Central Asia-watcher Luca Anceschi from the University of Glasgow will offer an alternative research agenda to make sense of political change in two of Central Asia’s most authoritarian political landscapes.

Dr. Luca Anceschi, an alumnus of the Visiting Fellows Programme, will present his work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday 8 November, 2018 at 14:15 in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki. The event will be chaired by Dr. Anna-Liisa Heusala.

Luca Anceschi lectures in Central Asian Studies at the University of Glasgow, where he also co-edits Europe-Asia Studies, the world’s leading academic journal for the study of Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Educated in Napoli and Melbourne, Luca has focused his research agenda on the politics and international relations of post-Soviet Central Asia, with particular reference to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan—the region’s key hydrocarbon producers. He is the author of Turkmenistan’s Foreign Policy: Positive Neutrality and the Consolidation of the Turkmen Regime (Routledge, 2009); his articles have appeared on Europe-Asia Studies, Nationalities Papers, the Central Asian Survey and Demokratizatsiya. In 2015, he was a Central Asia Visiting Fellow at the Aleksanteri Institute.


Drawing on theories of civic engagement and culture (Dahlgren 2009; Dalghren 2013; Dahlgren and Olsson 2005; Kaun 2013; Schudson 1999, Bennett, Wells, and Rank 2009; Hartley 2010, Ratto and Boller 2014; van Zoonen, Visa and Mihelja 2010; Bakardieva 2009), this study investigates Instagram accounts created by communities of citizen-historians as specific practices of civic engagement. More specifically I focus on accounts of three historic preservation activist organisations: Non-commercial foundation Krokhino, organisation Arkhnadzor, and organisation Moskva, Kotoroj Net (Moscow that no longer exists).

The organisations are active in public sphere organising protests against demolishing of cultural landmarks, seeking and managing volunteer groups to help on the heritage sites, arranging public hearings on urgent matters and series of lectures on topical issues to educate and inform publics. They also collect and preserve information on and memories about vanishing architectural gems in Russia via soliciting contributions from members within communities as well as by doing archival research.

Apart of being a platform for promotion of activities and events, as well as marketing of new publications and guided tours, Instagram accounts become spontaneous archives documenting activities of citizen-historians and medial infrastructures in the staging of a new conception of communal relations, and hence, as a device to frame a newly emerging conception of individuality.

I conceptualise these Instagram accounts as digital archives created by communities of feeling that invoke the nation as a community based on affective connections (i.e., an intimate public), emphasising “affective and emotional attachments located in fantasies of the common, the everyday, and a sense of ordinariness” (Berlant 2008, p. 11). The participants of such archives are marked by a commonly lived history and shared emotional knowledge of historical experiences. Empirical data for this study comes from ethnographic research which involved interviews with the makers of the archives conducted in autumn 2016 and content analysis of the digital platforms conducted in autumn 2016.

Dr. Ekaterina Kalinina will present her work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday 29th November 2018 at 14:15 in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki. The event will be chaired by Dr. Sanna Turoma.


This presentation problematizes the changing assumptions about sexuality in Putin’s Russia. Building on cultural and media approaches it addresses the peculiarities of mainstream discursive representations of deviant sexuality in Russian state media. The paper focuses on a contradictory and complex mediation of the deviant sexuality in a primetime humour show called KVN (Klub Vesyolykh I Nakhodchivykh or The Club of the Merry and Quick-Witted), which is a quintessentially post/Soviet phenomenon with a specific tradition of humour. KVN’s particular place in the post-Soviet cultural landscape stems from its longstanding history (1961–to date) and its temporary censorship during Soviet times between 1972–1986 when some of the jokes were found offensive. In the contexts of 2013 ‘gay propaganda’ Russian legislation, which tightened the discourse on non-heteronormative sexuality, this inquiry into the ‘permissible’ discursive representations of excessive sexuality framed within a carnivalesque (Bakhtin, 1981) format of KVN is particularly timely. This presentation focuses on a number of shows (2015–2018) and argues that KVN’s ‘authorised’ mockery of deviant or excessive sexuality inadvertently leads to the mainstreaming of ‘deviant’ cultural codes and potentially destabilising the attempts to ‘normalise’ and homogenise the discourse on sexuality within an increasingly patriarchal, militaristic and populist environment.

Dr. Galina Miazhevich, an alumna of the Visiting Fellows Programme, will present her work at the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar on Thursday 13th December, 2018 at 14:15 pm in the Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33, Helsinki. The event will be chaired by  Dr. Saara Ratilainen.

Galina Miazhevich is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Journalism, Media, and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University, UK (2018–). Galina's research interests include media representations of multiculturalism; media and democracy in post-communist Europe; gender, media and emergent forms of post-Soviet identity. Galina has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and co-authored several monographs; she organised a number of international workshops and convened the Gorbachev Lectures on Press Freedom held at Christ Church, University of Oxford in 2011. Galina regularly contributes to BBC Russian service. She is an ECREA executive board member and a co-convenor of the BASEES (Digital) Media and Cultures group. Galina was a Visiting Fellow at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland in 2017. Galina is the Principle Investigator (PI) on an AHRC Leadership Fellowship (2018–2020) exploring media representations of non-heteronormative sexuality in Russia.