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Unpacking “Traditional Values” in Russia’s Conservative Turn: Gender, Sexuality, and the Soviet Legacy (with Valerie Sperling, Alexandra Novitskaya, Janet Johnson, and Lisa Sundstrom)

September 9, 2022 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

In the decade before Russia’s most recent invasion of Ukraine, scholars had been marking a conservative turn in Russian policy and practice through the lens of gender and sexuality. In a recent project, Valerie Sperling, Alexandra Novitkskaya, Janet Elise Johnson, and Lisa Sundstrom examined these dynamics in two decades of Putin’s annual speeches to domestic audiences and original Russian public opinion data from 2021, finding differing degrees of sexism and LGBTQ-phobia among Russia’s state leader and the public. We identify a somewhat conservative trend regarding women’s rights, and a far more conservative one on LGBTQ+ issues. We find that Putin’s speeches and public opinion on these topics echo Soviet approaches, suggesting that the conservative “turn” amounts more to a “return” than to a novel development under Putin. In this talk, we will also discuss how Putin’s shift toward conservatism, most marked in 2021, can inform our understanding of his decision to launch a full-scale war against Ukraine.

Watch the event recording on YouTube here.

Alexandra Novitskaya is a postdoctoral fellow at the Russian Studies Workshop, Indiana University-Bloomington. She has a PhD in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Stony Brook University. Her research interests include LGBTQ+ migration and asylum and post-Soviet politics and geopolitics of gender and sexuality. She has held visiting research appointments at New York University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has published articles and book chapters on post-Soviet LGBTQ+ migration and homophobia in Russia as well as on gender in Russian politics in NORMA: International Journal of Masculinity StudiesRussian ReviewPost-Soviet Affairs, and the Routledge Handbook of Gender in Central Eastern Europe and Eurasia.

Janet Elise Johnson is Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. Her books include The Gender of Informal Politics (2018), Gender Violence in Russia (2009), and Living Gender after Communism (2007) as well as The Routledge Handbook of Gender in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia (co-edited with Katalin Fábián and Mara Lazda, 2022). In the last few years, she has published articles in Post-Soviet AffairsRussian ReviewSlavic ReviewHuman Rights ReviewJournal of Social Policy StudiesPolitics & GenderPerspectives on PoliticsJournal of Social Policy, and Aspasia as well as online in The New YorkerThe Washington Post’s Monkey CageThe Conversation, and The Boston Review. She recently served on served on the Executive Committee of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, and coordinates a monthly workshop on Gender and Transformation in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia at the CUNY Grad Center (after more than two decades at NYU CEMS).

Lisa McIntosh Sundstrom is Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include Russian civic activism and legal mobilization in the areas of gender and human rights, in both domestic and transnational politics. Her 2019 book Courting Gender Justice: Russia, Turkey, and the European Court of Human Rights (Oxford UP), co-authored with Valerie Sperling and Melike Sayoglu, examines gender discrimination cases as well as LGBTQ+ discrimination cases from Russia and Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights. Her other books include Bringing Global Governance Home: NGO Mediation in the BRICS States (Oxford UP, 2021, co-authored with Laura A. Henry); Funding Civil Society: Foreign Assistance and NGO Development in Russia (Stanford UP, 2006), and Russian Civil Society: A Critical Assessment (ME Sharpe, 2005, co-edited with Laura A. Henry and Alfred B. Evans, Jr.). Article publications appear in journals including International OrganizationGlobal Environmental PoliticsCommunist and Post-Communist StudiesEurope-Asia StudiesPost-Soviet AffairsProblems of Post-CommunismInternational Journal of Human Rights, and Human Rights Quarterly.

Valerie Sperling is Professor of Political Science at Clark University (Worcester, Massachusetts). Her research interests lie mainly at the intersection of Russian politics and gender studies. She is the author of Organizing Women in Contemporary Russia (Cambridge University Press, 2000), Altered States: The Globalization of Accountability (Cambridge University Press, 2009), and the award-winning Sex, Politics, and Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia (Oxford University Press, 2015). She and Lisa McIntosh Sundstrom (with Melike Sayoglu) are co-authors of Courting Gender Justice: Russia, Turkey, and the European Court of Human Rights (Oxford University Press, 2019). Her most recent book, co-authored with her Clark colleague, Robert Boatright, is Trumping Politics as Usual: Masculinity, Misogyny, and the 2016 Elections (Oxford University Press, 2020). In recent years she has published articles in East European Politics and SocietiesPost-Soviet Affairs, and International Journal of Human Rights.


September 9, 2022
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm


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