Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute

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Plotting Publics: Science, Society, and Literature in Russia and Eastern Europe
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Please join The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities, the Department of Slavic Languages, and the Harriman Institute for Plotting Publics: Science, Society, and Literature in Russia and Eastern Europe.

This conference explores the intersections of literary culture and the scientific study of society in Russia and Eastern Europe. The literary culture of the region was fixated on studying its publics long before the science of society became a distinct form of knowledge production. Literature was also among the first to put to the test ideas of social engineering, developing social imaginaries for the future, as the sciences sought to transform the present. Given the richness of the dialogue between literary culture and the study of society, this conference asks: what epistemic frameworks did literature offer to the emergent science of society–understood broadly as studies of society, its economy, and governance–and what did it borrow? What methodological, theoretical, and political approaches did both domains of knowledge share, and how did they diverge? What can we learn by examining the two in tandem, as building upon or contesting one another?

The conference will hone in on the political implications of literature’s entanglement with the social science project. It will ask how literature aided emergent and established studies of society, such as sociology, political science, economics, and law, in making sense of its publics and polity. Conversely, to what ends did such literature employ scientific methods, and what kinds of ideas about the people and the state did it popularize? What were the effects of literary intervention in the domain of science, especially of its ventures into the studies of ethnic and racial diversity, national identity, systems of governance, and economic hierarchies? In probing these questions, the conference will aim to uncover a shared methodology of society and will identify the dynamic vision of how social, ethnic, racial, and national identities are plotted and maintained throughout history.

Conference Program

Friday, March 29, 2024


11:15 AM | Opening Remarks


11:30 AM – 1:00 PM | Panel 1: Utopian Protocols

  • God-Builders Among the Godless: Gorky, Bogdanov, and Early Soviet Utopianism
    • Maya Vinokour, New York University
  • Marx Defends the Human: Pavel Gurevich’s Critique of Western Anthropocentrism in 1980s
    • Jinyi Chu, Yale University

Chair: Veniamin Guschin, Columbia University

Discussant: Jessica Merrill, Columbia University

1:00 – 2:00 PM | Lunch


2:00 – 3:45 PM | Panel 2: Culture’s Plots

  • Literary Naturalism and the Discursive Construction of Russian Homo Economicus
    • Vadim Shneyder, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Sorokin’s Queues
    • Jillian Porter, New York University

Chair: Valeriia Mutc, Columbia University

Discussant: Chloë Kitzinger, Rutgers University

4:00 – 5:30 PM: Panel 3 | Public Minds

  • The Logic of Autoimmunity in Anton Chekhov’s Island Sakhalin
    • Julia Vaingurt, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Mind Reading, In Public: Plotting Psychopower through Soviet Fiction & Mass Spectacle
    • Cate Reilly, Duke University

Chair: Zachary J. Deming, Columbia University

Discussant: Anne Lounsbery, New York University

Saturday, March 30, 2024

9:30 AM | Coffee


10:00 – 11:30 AM | Panel 4: Capital Acts

  • Chekov’s Drama of Capital and Russia’s Rise of Financialization
    • Alisa Zhulina, New York University
  • Capital Acts: Maxim Gorky and the Economic Imaginaries of Late Imperial Russia
    • Valeriia Mutc, Columbia University

Chair: Alexey Shvyrkov, Columbia University

Discussant: Kimberly Jannarone, Yale University

11:45 AM – 1:00 PM | Panel 5: Scripting the Nation

  • Ethnographic Gothics: writing human sacrifice in modern Russian imperial ethnography (1880s-1910s)
    • Marina Mogliner, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Mother Tongue and Other Tongues: Annensky and the Psychology of Language
    • D. Brian Kim, University of Pennsylvania

Chair: Mark Lipovetsky, Columbia University

Discussant: Ilya Vinitsky, Princeton University


Please email to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.