Three lectures by Professor Ilya Utekhin

On 31 March and 1 April, the Centre for Comparative History and Political Studies hosted three lectures by Professor Ilya Utekhin titled “Visual Anthropology as a research method: contemporary approaches”, “Soviet communal apartment, and the post-Soviet city”, “How a dialog is organized: an introduction to conversational analysis.”

  • Ilya Utekhin - Professor, Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences, St.Petersburg State University.

On the first lecture “Visual Anthropology as a research method: contemporary approaches” Professor Utehin told that many years visual anthropology has developed towards the collaboration between a researcher and a research object, i.e. if a researcher refuses from hidden shooting, and the research object accepts a camera, it means that the research object starts acting like on a stage. Furthermore, the research object is interested to demonstrate herself or himself in the right light, thus she or he “guides” the researcher. Ethnographic projects of the last third of the twentieth century tried to make an informant active, involve her or him in the creation of ethnographic materials. For example, in some researches cameras were given to informants and they were asked to record everything which is related with a particular research topic in their opinion. Also the Professor mentioned the potential of photos as a catalyst of narratives. According to him, they have been used during a long time in ethnography. Concluding, Utekhin said that some of the current approaches in visual anthropology assume that the collection of primary materials, and even their interpretation, might be made not only by a researcher, but also by informants who are getting involved in the research project.

At the next lecture “Soviet communal apartment, and the post-Soviet city” Professor Utkehin emphasized that a large part of the urban population of the USSR was living in communal flats. He told that communal apartments appeared due to the Soviet housing policy; according to which, housing distribution was made by a paternalistic state. This was the tool of the state’s control and promotion. The conditions of life in communal apartments were determined by the necessity to develop cooperation with neighbors and maintain public spaces in an appropriate condition, as residents were not “masters of the order”; furthermore, there was no universal source of power (e.g. landlady or landlord) which could dictate the rules. Prevailing practices reflect a specific "communal mentality", which is characterized not only by mutual help and "team spirit", but also by envy, paranoid suspicion, and a special configuration of the private and public boundaries. According to the lecturer, communal apartments have not disappeared from the map of today's Russian cities, although the social composition of the residents had changed. A room in a communal apartment is the most affordable type of housing; quite often communal apartments are located in a city center. Concluding, Professor Utekhin gave examples of how "public" stereotypes of contemporary urban dwellers are manifested in regard to the public space and where else this stereotypes may occur outside the apartment (when people live in separate apartments).

On the last lecture titled “How a dialog is organized: an introduction to conversational analysis” professor Utekhin described the basic principles of interactional approach to a dialogue. According to him, in the last third of the twentieth century, everyday dialogue, along with other forms of verbal exchanges has been the subject of research in the framework of the ethnography of speech and conversation analysis. These approaches are based on different understanding of how to construct the speech communication in comparison to the linguistics and linguistic pragmatics: the value of the statements and the context against which this value appears, are not set in advance. Furthermore, it is seen as a result of joint activity of participants of an interaction.

Photo: Konstantin Dolganovsky