Olga Shevchenko

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2011/2012
discipline Sociology
Associate professor of Sociology at the Williams College, Williamstown

Research project

Snapshot Histories: The Afterlife of Socialism in Russian Family Photographs


How is socialism seen and remembered by those who witnessed its demise? How do the Russians’ private, personal and family memories of the Soviet era intersect with the narratives that are available through the “official’ channels of schools, media and political parties? What is the role of popular genres, such as that of domestic photography, in enabling those who never experienced socialism personally to develop an image of that period, and to relate to it? Much of the anthropological and sociological research on social memory rests on the assumption that popular, “colloquial’ memories preserve the aspects of the past that official histories erase. Yet the existing studies of postsocialist-era social remembering tend to concentrate on monumental politics, historic preservation and public commemoration at the expense of studying the more pedestrian genres of family photography and story-telling. My on-going book project fills this gap by exploring how the notions of socialism are conjured up in the medium which to many Russians represents the most intimate source of information about the past: family stories and photographic collections. It draws on a combination of in-depth interviews with a cross-section of Russians, ethnographic fieldwork, and analysis of the images themselves (all collected in 2006-2008) to produce an account of how photographic images and family narratives interact to generate the popular perceptions of the Soviet era. To date, this is the first effort to sociologically explore the relationship between popular photography and large-scale historical imagination.


The intellectual value of this project is three-fold. First, by approaching collective memory through the prism of photographic collections and rituals surrounding their circulation, the project calls attention to the importance of acts of interpretation to which the Soviet experience is subjected by the rank-and-file Russian citizens. In other words, it looks at how memory is constituted from below, and emphasizes the individuals’ agency in coming to terms with the past. Second, it approaches collective memory not as a solidified set of representations and beliefs, but instead captures memory-in-the-making, by attending to the transformation that memories undergo within the family circle as they circulate from one generation to the next. Finally, this project develops innovative qualitative methodology that triangulates between participant observation, in-depth interviewing across generations and visual analysis of family photographic albums. It creates a blueprint for capturing the dynamic, continuously evolving nature of social life by locating remembrance at the intersection of image and narrative, by attending to the technological and genre conventions that shape its contents and by capturing the moments of its performance and generational transmission.


While a number of publications have already emerged from this research, I have not had the luxury of uninterrupted writing time that could enable me to complete the book that I envision as the result of this project. The support of the EURIAS Fellowship Programme gives me a precious opportunity to spend one year exchanging ideas with a multi-disciplinary group of scholars, as I work on the manuscript of a book that will be equally multi-disciplinary, bridging, as it does, the scholarship on memory, discourse analysis, visual and cultural theory, and postsocialist change.



Olga Shevchenko is Associate professor of Sociology at the Williams College, Williamstown. She holds a MA from the Central European University of Warsaw, and a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. She has a postdoctoral fellowship at the harriman Institute for Advanced Studies of the Former Soviet Union, Columbia University.

Selected publications


'Between Elias and Foucault: Discipline, photography, and the Soviet childhood', with O. Sarkisona, Social Psychology Quarterly, vol. 73, no. 1, 2010.


Crisis and the Everyday in Postsocialist Moscow, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN, 2009.


'The politics of nostalgia: A case for comparative analysis of postsocialist practices', with M. Nadkarni, Ab Imperio: Theory and History of Nationalities and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Realm, vol. 2, 2004.


''In case of fire emergency': Consumption, security, and the meaning of durables in a transforming society', Journal of Consumer Culture, vol. 2, no. 2, 2002.


'Bread and circuses: Shifting frames and changing references in the ordinary Muscovites’ political talk', Communist and Post-Communist Studies, vol. 34, no. 1, 2001.


junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Central European University - Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Humanities and Social Sciences
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Central European University - Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Social Anthropology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Central European University - Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Literature
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Central European University - Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Political Science