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Making great power identities in Russia: an ethnographic discourse analysis of education at a Russian elite university


Müller, Martin (2009). Making great power identities in Russia: an ethnographic discourse analysis of education at a Russian elite university. Zürich: LIT.

Abstract

This book examines how the geopolitical discourse of a strong Russia plays out at a Moscow cadre university. In so doing, it provides an inside perspective on the geopolitical education of the future Russian elites and thus, possibly, on the future directions of Russian foreign policy. The material for my research was gathered during nine months of ethnographic research as a guest student at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). This institute is the pivotal Russian cadre university which trains students to serve in the Rus-sian Foreign Ministry and to occupy influential positions in Russian society at large. Conceptually, my project argues that the way identity has commonly been thought of in the fields of Political Geography and International Studies overlooks two crucial things: first, that social practice – what people do – is an important part of identity and, second, that identities are situated, i.e. they unfold in concrete contexts. To address these lacunae I draw on the poststruc-turalist discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe and ideas of Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault. I combine this conceptual apparatus with ethnographic methodology to look at geopolitical discourses at MGIMO and how they come to position subjects in their identification. With Foucault, MGIMO produces ‘docile bodies’ and objectifies knowledge through various small disciplinary techniques. It is this disciplining effect which provides for the successful functioning of the hegemonic discourse of a strong Russia at MGIMO. This geopolitical identity of a strong Russia is arti-culated as a response to the crisis of identity following the dislocation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet, antagonistic forces always block the full reali-sation of a strong Russia. What lies at the heart of this identity is a constitutive lack that makes for a fundamental ambiguity: articulations of a strong Russia are always intertwined with the imminent possibility of a weak Russia. At MGIMO this ambiguous geopolitical identity of a strong Russia is paired with banal patriotism. This patriotism forms an almost natural element of stu-dents’ everyday lives. Not only is it considered a central element of education and a pre-requisite for any good graduate and future diplomat but it also per-meates quotidian practices of production and consumption. Through this banal patriotism the political is incorporated into the realm of the everyday and fashioned with the same objective qualities, thus naturalising the discourse of a strong Russia.

Abstract

This book examines how the geopolitical discourse of a strong Russia plays out at a Moscow cadre university. In so doing, it provides an inside perspective on the geopolitical education of the future Russian elites and thus, possibly, on the future directions of Russian foreign policy. The material for my research was gathered during nine months of ethnographic research as a guest student at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). This institute is the pivotal Russian cadre university which trains students to serve in the Rus-sian Foreign Ministry and to occupy influential positions in Russian society at large. Conceptually, my project argues that the way identity has commonly been thought of in the fields of Political Geography and International Studies overlooks two crucial things: first, that social practice – what people do – is an important part of identity and, second, that identities are situated, i.e. they unfold in concrete contexts. To address these lacunae I draw on the poststruc-turalist discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe and ideas of Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault. I combine this conceptual apparatus with ethnographic methodology to look at geopolitical discourses at MGIMO and how they come to position subjects in their identification. With Foucault, MGIMO produces ‘docile bodies’ and objectifies knowledge through various small disciplinary techniques. It is this disciplining effect which provides for the successful functioning of the hegemonic discourse of a strong Russia at MGIMO. This geopolitical identity of a strong Russia is arti-culated as a response to the crisis of identity following the dislocation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet, antagonistic forces always block the full reali-sation of a strong Russia. What lies at the heart of this identity is a constitutive lack that makes for a fundamental ambiguity: articulations of a strong Russia are always intertwined with the imminent possibility of a weak Russia. At MGIMO this ambiguous geopolitical identity of a strong Russia is paired with banal patriotism. This patriotism forms an almost natural element of stu-dents’ everyday lives. Not only is it considered a central element of education and a pre-requisite for any good graduate and future diplomat but it also per-meates quotidian practices of production and consumption. Through this banal patriotism the political is incorporated into the realm of the everyday and fashioned with the same objective qualities, thus naturalising the discourse of a strong Russia.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Monograph
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2009
Deposited On:11 Feb 2014 14:51
Last Modified:14 Aug 2017 12:54
Publisher:LIT
Series Name:Forum Politische Geographie
Volume:4
Number of Pages:241
ISBN:978-3-643-90010-4
Related URLs:https://www.alexandria.unisg.ch/Publikationen/55845

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