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Unit information: Gender in Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century Russia in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Gender in Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century Russia
Unit code RUSS30062
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 Not open




School/department Department of Russian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


When the Bolsheviks seized power in the October Revolution of 1917, they aimed not merely to create a new political system, but to transform society in its entirety, including gender and sexuality. In this course, we begin by studying Marxist ideas about gender and sexuality and then consider the extent to which the Soviets put these ideas into practice. Reading a variety of official and unofficial Soviet texts, we trace how gender and sexuality became contested political fields in the Soviet Union, and consider how Soviet citizens complied with, negotiated and resisted norms propagated by the state. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, many initially assumed that Russia would follow the path of Western-style liberal capitalist democracy, and the unique features of Russia’s sex/gender system would vanish. However, the past decade has seen a resurgence of Russian exceptionalism under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, and, with it, a new cult of virility and heightened surveillance of LBGTQ people. We conclude our course with a consideration of recent developments in Russia, such as the Pussy Riot case and the development of anti-gay laws in St. Petersburg, examining whether and how they fit into Russia’s historical trajectory.

Intended learning outcomes

(a) Students will evaluate how gender intersects with broader social, political, and cultural concerns.

(b) They will acquire a deep understanding of Soviet and post-Soviet culture and society, and appreciate the similarities and differences between how gender operates in a socialist and post-socialist framework.

(c) They will develop superior skills of literary and cultural criticism, and improve their critical thinking skills as they craft an argument about how gender operates in a set of texts.

Teaching details

The unit will be taught in a combination of lectures and seminars.

Assessment Details

2 x 3000 word essay (50% each)

In the first essay students will develop superior skills of close reading and the ability to evaluate how gender issues are made manifest through choices of literary style (e.g. narrative voice, narrative structure, imagery, particular poetic forms etc.)

Students will then work on a second 3000 word essay, broader in scope, that will involve analysis of a work in its entirety, or a comparative study of how a theme is developed (e.g. motherhood) across two or three texts. This will be due at the beginning of the exams period. Here, students will draw upon the literary analysis skills that they have acquired from the earlier essays, but also create a thesis-driven argument, engage with secondary literature and theoretical questions.

Reading and References

  • Anna Akhmatova, Rekviem [Requiem]
  • Isaak Babel’, Konarmiia [Red Cavalry]
  • Evgeniia Ginzburg, Krutoi marshrut [Into the Whirlwind]
  • Vozvrashchenie [The Return], film, dir. Andrei Zviagnitsev
  • Raewyn Connell, Gender: A Short Introduction. (Polity, 2009)
  • Sarah Ashwin, ed. Gender, State and Society in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia (Routledge, 2000)