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Unit information: Russia in the 1990s: A Decade of Chaos? in 2018/19

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Unit name Russia in the 1990s: A Decade of Chaos?
Unit code RUSS30065
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Connor Doak
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Russian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


When the Soviet Union collapsed suddenly in 1991, it unleashed a decade of chaos, confusion, and reinterpretation, as Russians came to terms with the wholesale destruction of the world they knew and the sudden introduction of new social, cultural and political forces. This unit will use a variety of materials, including literature, film and media texts, to explore the social and cultural landscape of the first post-Soviet decade in all its contradictions. Topics will include memories of the USSR and the dreams of a new Russian identity, Russian literary innovation and the appropriation of Western (high and trash) culture, notions of consumerism and counterculture, the collapse of the social welfare net and the rise of the oligarchs, and the resurgence of violence and gangsterism at home and in the former Soviet republics. It will challenge standard narratives of the 1990s as a decade of social and economic ‘liberalisation’ stymied by the rise of Putin, and consider how the 1990s laid the foundations for the Russia of today.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the culture and society of the first post-Soviet decade, and of the continuities and changes between Soviet society, the ‘transitional’ 1990s, and the authoritarianism of the Putin regime;
  2. assess and challenge the narrative frameworks that shape how Russia’s 1990s have been understood in a variety of national contexts;
  3. deploy advanced skills of cultural and historical criticism;
  4. demonstrate advanced critical thinking skills through the process of developing original arguments about how the 1990s can best be understood, as appropriate to level H;
  5. demonstrate academic writing and presentation skills at a standard appropriate to level H;
  6. demonstrate oral presentation skills which enable them to present complex ideas to their peers.

Teaching details

2 contact hours weekly

Assessment Details


1 x 2000 word essay (40%) This essay, on the 1990s as a decade, from a cultural, social or economic perspective, assesses ILOs 1, 2 and 5 above.

1 x 3000 word essay (60%) This essay, an in-depth exploration of a particular topic in the 1990s, assesses ILOs 3 and 4 above.

Formative: Preparation and presentation of an oral assessment; assesses ILO 6.

Reading and References

Stephen Lovell, Destination in Doubt: Russia since 1989 (Nova Scotia, 2006)

Alena Ledeneva, Russia’s Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange (Cambridge, 1998)

Thane Gustafson, Capitalism: Russian Style (CUP, 1999)

Rajendra Chitnis, Literature in Post-Communist Russia and Eastern Europe (Routledge, 2005)

Rosalind Marsh, Literature, History and Identity in Post-Soviet Russia (Peter Lang, 2007)

Birgit Beumers, ed. Russia on Reels: The Russian Idea in Post-Soviet Cinema (I.B. Tauris, 1999)