Keynote Speakers

The 19th Annual Aleksanteri Conference has a pleasure of presenting five distinguished scholars as keynote speakers.
Professor Anastasiya Bonch-Osmolovskaya, Higher School of Economics, Moscow

Anastasia Bonch-Osmolovskaya is an associate professor of the School of Linguistics at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE), Moscow. She is also an academic supervisor of the Masters Programme in Computational Linguistics and the founder of the Digital Humanities Center at the HSE University. She is a member of the Russian Association for Digital Humanities (DH-Russia).  Anastasia is currently working on digitalizing Leo Tolstoy's 90-volume complete edition. Her main research interests concern digital archives, linguistic and other textual corpora, as well as the implementation of quantitative methods in the studies of language, literature and culture. Personal webpage:

Ab­stract of the key­note speech

Digital Invasion in Humanities Scholarship: Benefits, Expectations and Dismay

Digital humanities is an ambitious, but very diffuse domain, which seeks to introduce new computational methods, approaches and objects into the fields of traditional humanities. In spite of the rapid growth of its popularity during the last decade, benefits of integration of digital methods into traditional humanities scholarship remain a question of intensive debate.  Do we really gain some new knowledge by using digital approaches, or is it just a matter of convenient applications? What are the standards of reliability in the digital humanities research? Why have digital methods still not invoked a drastic turn in scholarly methodology?  In her talk, Anastasia Bonch-Osmolovskaya will outline the main scope of doubts and challenges concerning the digital paradigm in humanities. The talk will also focus on the two most inspirational concepts - "distant reading" and "smart data" -  and their perspectives in future developments of digital humanities programme. 

Watch the keynote talk here

Professor Natalie Koch, Syracuse University

Natalie Koch is associate professor and O’Hanley Faculty Scholar in the Department of Geography at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She is a political geographer focused on geopolitics, nationalism and state power in the post-Soviet space, as well as the Arabian Peninsula. Koch explores alternative sites of geopolitical analysis such as sport, spectacle, urban planning and other allegedly positive expressions of authoritarian state power. She is interested in how and with what effect certain resource-rich states allocate rents and work to promote a positive image of the ruling regime. Koch is currently working on a project about the transnational implications of state-led sustainability initiatives in the Gulf region. This project looks at how their desert context factors into the push for renewable energy and ‘green economy’ development, as well as how this connects them with other arid lands in the US Southwest and Central Asia. She is a member of PONARS Eurasia and has published extensively in journals such as Political Geography, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, Eurasian Geography and Economics, is the author of The Geopolitics of Spectacle: Space, Synecdoche, and the New Capitals of Asia (Cornell University Press, 2018) and editor of the book, Critical Geographies of Sport: Space, Power, and Sport in Global Perspective (Routledge, 2017).

Abstract of the keynote speech

Smart Surveillance? Technofetishism and the “Smart City” Concept in Eurasia

The aesthetic or utilitarian glow of new technologies is enticing. Diverse communities, bounded by space or time in their infinitely-configured scales, routinely harvest this glow to define their claims to be “modern” – and in so doing, construct the very category of modernity. In just under a decade, urban planning communities around the world have come to define their modernity around the concept of the “smart city.” Fusing digital technologies with planning, design, municipal, infrastructure and urban government writ large, smart city proponents emphasize their goals of increasing efficiency and safety for city residents and managers alike. Drawing on its technofetishistic aura, political and economic leaders today increasingly index their modernity via expensive new smart city plans. Yet ideas about modernity invariably hold the potential to tremendously destructive, as has been so vividly documented by Zygmunt Bauman in Modernity and the Holocaust (1989), and Susan Buck-Morss in Dreamworld and Catastrophe (2000), among others. What, then, are the possible challenges of today’s smart city plans? How does the “smart city” concept circulate in Eurasia? Whom does their technofetishistic glow entice, and whom might it harm? This talk explores these questions. It builds on growing popular and academic concern about the shape of digital surveillance today, and investigates how political and corporate leaders can deploy the seductive aura of modern technologies to further their aims over a broader social good – in authoritarian and nonauthortarian states alike.

Watch the keynote talk here

Professor Benjamin Peters, University of Tulsa & Yale Law School

Benjamin Peters is the Hazel Rogers Associated Professor and Chair of Media Studies at the University of Tulsa as well as affiliated faculty at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. He is the author of How Not to Network a Nation: the Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet (MIT Press, 2016; Vucinich Prize; Computer History Museum Prize; PROSE nominee) and editor of Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary for Information Society & Culture (Princeton UP, 2016). More at or tweet @bjpeters

Abstract of the keynote speech

The Soviet Internet: Rethinking Network Technology

Between 1959 and 1989, Soviet officials and scientists made numerous attempts to network their nation–to construct a nationwide computer network. None of these attempts succeeded, and the enterprise had been abandoned by the time the Soviet Union fell apart. Meanwhile, ARPANET, the American precursor to the Internet, went online in 1969. Why did the Soviet network, with top-level scientists and patriotic incentives, fail while the American network succeeded? In this talk, Benjamin Peters reverses the usual cold war dualities and argues that the American ARPANET took shape thanks to well-managed state subsidies and collaborative research environments, and the Soviet network projects stumbled because of unregulated competition among self-interested institutions, bureaucrats, and others. The capitalists behaved like socialists while the socialists behaved like capitalists. Building on this uneasy cold war reversal and larger reflections on the uneven media concentration of power, Peters tells the untold tale of the Soviet internet, spiced with snapshots into a Soviet counterculture led by a saxophone-playing Soviet robot, with the aim of helping critically rethink the state of the internet we have today.

Watch the keynote talk here

Professor Ellen Rutten, University of Amsterdam

Ellen Rutten is professor of literature and chair of the Slavonic Department at the University of Amsterdam, where she researches post-Soviet and global contemporary culture, literature, art, design, social media and memory. Her books include Memory, Conflict, and New Media (Routledge 2013, with Julie Fedor and Vera Zvereva) and Sincerity after Communism: A Cultural History (Yale University Press 2017). Rutten is editor-in-chief of the academic journal Russian Literature. Personal webpage:

Abstract of the keynote speech

Technological Progress and the Dream of Imperfection: A Genealogy


Ideally, spellcheckers, photo filters, and other digital technologies allow us to perfect our everyday lives with each day. In practice, they not only boast bugs – but their ‘politics of perfection’ (Hale 2016) also evoke a fierce social and artistic counterpolitics. Contemporary filmmakers, writers, programmers, composers, designers, and artists often engage critically with perfection and flawlessness. With, say, torn jeans, shaky camera work, or glitch music, they embrace the imperfect, which they frame as hallmark for authenticity and wholeness in a digitized age.

My talk scrutinizes the present-day imperfection cult by taking one online text as a starting point. In a blog entry that the renowned Russian writer Tat’iana Tolstaia posted shortly after launching a weblog, she stated that in this new media space, ‘I claim the right: — to write with mistakes’ and ‘— to disobey all grammar rules if I feel like it’ (Tolstaia 2007). In previous research, I contextualized Tolstaia’s statement within a broader transdisciplinary and transnational aesthetics and rhetoric of imperfection. In my talk, I explore the historical genealogy of this rhetoric. Central to its cultural-historical lineage are the Romantic ‘acceptance of the notion of imperfection’ (Nemoianu 2006) and ‘the aesthetics of imperfection’ (Gioia 1988) of early twentieth-century jazz music, which each responded to drastic technological transitions. How does Tolstaia’s plea for mistakes – and the broader preoccupation with the glitchy and imperfect among Russian creatives today – relate to these historical ‘imperfection cults’? What do pleas against perfection say about the social dreams and fears that technological progress invokes? And how can older stories help us unpack how calls for imperfection shape cultural production processes today – across different world localities, Eurasia in particular? In examining these questions, I draw on a selection of music and art reviews, literary texts, theoretical writings, and interviews.

Watch the keynote talk here

Professor Alina Sorgner, John Cabot University, Rome

Dr. Alina Sorgner is assistant professor of applied data analytics in the Department of Business Administration at John Cabot University. She is also a research fellow at Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel) and a research affiliate at Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
Sorgner received her doctoral degree in economics from the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Germany. Her research work in the field of digitalization, gender, entrepreneurship and regional studies has been published in peer-reviewed journals and discussed in leading newspapers, including Süddeutsche ZeitungFrankfurter Allgemeine, and La Nación. She regularly collaborates with international organizations (e.g., United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Women20 and Think20, the initiative groups within the G20), advises policy makers (e.g. members of the German Bundestag) and gives invited talks on these and related topics. Personal webpage:




Photo copyright: JCU 

Abstract of the keynote speech

New Digital Technologies and Individual Data Capital: Is There a New Gender Bias in the Digital Age?

Recent advances in the field of new digital technologies, including artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms, cloud computing and dexterous robotics, have significantly changed the demand for skills and competences, thus, challenging the prevailing structures of labor markets. Who are the winners in the digital age? Does digitization lead to the emergence of specific career opportunities for women and what risks do they face? In her keynote speech, Alina Sorgner examines the characteristics of the current digital revolution that distinguish it from earlier industrial revolutions. She discusses the opportunities that could arise for women in the digital era and identifies the challenges that could prevent women from taking advantage of these opportunities in the future. One of these challenges concerns investment in individual data capital, i.e. the accumulation of massive amounts of personal digital data. Assuming that gender differences in individual data capital will increase in the future, this may become a new source of gender inequality in the digital age, with numerous consequences for inclusive economic growth.

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Mr. Tero Vauraste

Mr. Tero Vauraste is the owner and managing director of Mariadi Ltd., an Arctic, maritime and business consultancy agency serving international clientele since 2018. In 2009-2018, he served as president and CEO of Arctia Ltd., a Finnish polar maritime services company in ice-breaking, research and oil spill response, operating 11 icebreakers in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic. In 2007-2009 he was managing director of Hertz Car Rental in Finland and in 2001-2007 was senior vice president of Finnair, managing airport ground handling in Arctic conditions in Northern Europe. In the late 1990’s he worked as a human resource development manager and unit manager for airport and refinery security at Securitas ltd.

Vauraste has served the Arctic Economic Council since its initiation in 2014. He was the chairman during the Finnish Business Community’s chairmanship (2017-2019) and is currently one of the Arctic Economic Council’s four vice chairs. Vauraste has a master of science degree in risk, crisis and disaster management from Leicester University and a naval officer’s degree from the Finnish Naval Academy, being a lieutenant-commander (ret).

Vauraste has served as a vessel master, special unit commander and as a search and rescue instructor in the Finnish Coast Guard. Among his many positions of trust, he is the chairman of the Finnish Arctic Society and a member of Advisory Board of Finnish Lifeboat Institution. He is a senior global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington, D.C. He has written many influential papers on Arctic economic development and is a known speaker in the international Arctic fora.

Watch the opening talk here