The Carnival of Power: transgression, enjoyment and violence in Putin’s Russia

  • Datum: –17.00
  • Plats: IRES Library, Gamla torget 3, 3rd floor
  • Arrangör: Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES)
  • Kontaktperson: Mattias Vesterlund
  • Föreläsning

The talk analyses transgressive performances by Russian state actors during the war in Ukraine. Drawing on the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and extending it to the analysis of state practices, it shows how the Russian state performs its own carnival of power. It argues that the suspension and subversion of moral and normative order is not the prerogative of the common people alone, but is also practised by political actors, and the subversive laughter which Bakhtin situated at the heart of carnival is also reproduced in political practice. While the folk carnival exhibits the pleasure of sacrilege, defacement and profanation, in their own carnival the agents of state power celebrate their capacity to explode limits and bring about excess, violence and death. Like the folk carnival, the state’s exercise of power can also adopt a grotesque and monstrous form, and like the folk carnival, it can have an absurd and ridiculous aspect as well. The paper analyses the carnivalesque public performances of state propagandists, political figures and at times Putin himself. It shows how, by overturning the legal norms, customs, moral conventions and rules of civility, Putin’s state also presents itself as a counter-hegemonic force. The paper concludes by a discussion of the link between the carnivalesque performances of power and moral nihilism.

Svetlana Stephenson is a Professor of Sociology at London Metropolitan University. She has written extensively about social transformation,  social control and violence in Russia. Her books include Gangs of Russia. From the Streets to the Corridors of Power and Crossing the Line. Vagrancy, Homelessness and Social Displacement in Russia.  Svetlana is a winner of the Alexander Nove Prize, awarded by the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies. In recent years she had Fellowships in New York University, University of Helsinki and Indiana University.