Visiting Fellows Research Seminars


Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Research Seminar Series features the work of the outstanding scholars who have been invited to conduct their research within the Aleksanteri Institute Visiting Fellows Programme. The scholars’ topics cover a wide range both geographically, and with regard to methodology, discipline, and focus. The seminars are a platform for advancing and sharing knowledge of the present, past, and future of Russia, Eastern and Central Europe, and Eurasia, and each session has ample time for questions and discussion. All students, scholars, and other interested audiences are warmly welcome to attend!

Seminar series suspended due to pandemic. Aleksanteri Alumni Talks takes over online!

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are currently not able to host Visiting Fellows. We will inform you on this page and on social media as soon as it will be possible to resume the seminar series. In the meanwhile, please join discussions with Visiting Fellow alumni in the new seminar series Aleksanteri Alumni Talks and see recordings of previous Visiting Fellows research seminars on our YouTube channel.

Below you can browse through the abstracts of the presentations we are hoping to host as the situation gets better.

Since the late 19th century, the extensive peatlands of central Russia became subject to what geographers have called the “making” of natural resources. Contemporaries believed that the extraction of peat could help satisfy their growing energy demands and thereby release the pressure on the country’s forests. Examining the increasing industrial use of peat fuel, this seminar explores the relationship between economic growth and environmental change in late imperial and early Soviet Russia. I will analyse the cultural and economic premises underpinning the assignment of abstract economic value to Russian peatlands and the techniques enabling the mental and physical appropriation of these landscapes. Reflecting the state’s role as an important landowner, the imperial administration played a fundamental role in the transformation of peatlands into energy landscapes. Tsarist officials responded to the changing condition of the country’s fuel market, providing personal and financial resources to survey and assess peatlands which were then leased to industrialists for peat extraction. The mapping and inventorying of peatlands and the extraction of peat reflected a larger process of commodification of nature by which ever larger parts of the central Russian environment were made subject to the needs of a growing and increasingly energy-dependent economy. The economic dynamics, the institutions and actors shaping this process largely remained the same during the early Soviet period.

Part of a book project on the entanglements between energy, the economy and the environment in modern Russia, this talk offers a new perspective on the country’s pathway into the fossil fuel age and the manifestations of this global process at the local level. My research shows that Russia’s transition from the organic to the fossil fuel-based energy system had fundamental repercussions not only in areas with significant coal, oil or gas deposits. Particularly in its early stages, the country’s move away from a predominantly timber-based regime involved the transformation of peatlands in European Russia into hinterlands of industrial areas, bringing about lasting environmental and social change. Exploring how this process affected people’s lives and local environments contributes to a more nuanced picture of Russia’s industrialization and adds to our understanding of the spatial and social dimensions of modern energy transitions.

Will Russia ever become a "normal" nation-state? We often come accross this question in elaborations of contemporary Russia and of her possible future. This talk will explain, why Russia will never become a nation-state. It will also look at how nation-building was entangled with empire in Russian history, and why is it possible to say that contemporary Russia lives on the ruins of two empires. Offering a new interpretation of entanglement of nation- and empire-building in Russian history, Alexey Miller will suggest possible new ways to locate Russia in comparative history of Empires.

The Baltic Region had been the source of international grain supplies from early Medieval times. The Hanseatic Towns, Sweden, Holland and then industrialising Britain and Germany had all depended on Baltic grain supplies, before the New World (including Southern Ukraine & the North Caucasus) began to replace it from the middle of the 19th century. Overtime the main Baltic supply regions shifted East from Danzig and the Vistula to Konigsberg, Riga, Reval (Tallin) and St Petersburg. Moving the Russian capital from Moscow (which was already located in a food deficit region) to St. Petersburg on the Baltic, in a much greater deficit region, secured Russia’s position in this market, and ensured the collapse of the Swedish Empire, although Sweden’s grain supplies were guaranteed by the treaty of Nystadt. Prussian expansion into Poland along the South shore of the Baltic would ultimately bring it into conflict with the expanding Russian state,

This paper will look at the broad range of food supply problems and famine in the Baltic World from these early troubled times and into the 20th century which includes German War aims in two world wars and Soviet famines. This paper aims to provide a broader perspective to view the Soviet food problems and famines of the 20th century, which had such a major consequence on Soviet and World History.

Political changes brought by uprisings associated with the Arab Spring in 2011, and the emergence of Occupy activism in various cities across the world, have reinforced the reputation of cities as a major arena for political actions and democracy. Cities also played an important role in shaping new democracies in East and Central Europe. This presentation will discuss the opposite dynamic, i.e. how cities accommodate, legitimise or, eventually, undermine the autocracy. It explores what features makes cities “authoritarian”. How does the authoritarian style of governing affect a city’s development? How through the emphasis on the national agenda the illiberal states assume the role of a genuine “national actor” that represents the interests of the whole society? In this context the state has been presented as a social relation embedded within a particular culture and specific places, while society aspires to be understood as “state society” based on the foundation of learned “natural affinity” of all the members.

In the conventional perception, democracy is associated with civic participation and mobilisation of citizens while authoritarian cities are presumed to be the space where illiberal rules exercise total control and suppression of any civic initiatives. Recent scholarship on China, Russia, Singapore, and Malaysia has begun to unveil the changing nature of illiberal systems of rule and their increasing reliance on various forms of popular legitimation and support. This presentation will discus the mechanisms of civic engagement, participation and consultancy the authorities employ to mimic democratic systems in managing city life in Minsk and Astana. It investigates how major aspects of performance of the democratic system, the effectiveness and responsiveness to societal demands, have been reinterpreted and imitated in the authoritarian context of centralised government.

All across the globe, from Modi's India through Erdoğan's Turkey to Trump's United States, illiberal leaders, using populist and nationalist rhetoric, have shifted power toward strong executives.  While local and national differences must be considered, there are transnational similarities among these movements.  Populism claims that the elites are corrupt cartels that do not represent the people, that the “real” people are not getting what they deserve and undeserving others are benefitting from the policies promoted by unresponsive elites.  This talk attempts to explain how globalization and the fragilities of liberal democracy have contributed to the rise of right-wing (and to a degree, to a left-wing) populism, which along with the capture of the state by neoliberal forces present an international threat to democracy.  The weakening of labor unions, the greater control of the economy by finance, the globalizing of capitalism, and erosion of social welfare protections and increase of privatization of public services have increased the risks to people from all social statuses and led them to seek solutions in populist parties that identify their grievances with foreigners and liberal elites.  Populists fear that the former benefits provided for citizens are being eroded by elites and shared with those who do not deserve them.  Anxiety about status and their future, along with resentment toward alien others, leads many to turn to demagogic populist and nationalist leaders.

The 2011 police reform in Russia recognized civilian oversight in law for the first time. The MVD established official police-public councils in response to the new requirements. In addition, organizations and individuals have also become increasingly active in this sphere. They have done oversight in contentious (e.g. filming police misconduct, taking the police to court) and non-contentious (e.g. monitoring police stations in cooperation with the police, ensuring police websites conform with transparency laws) ways, particularly when access to the state-based oversight bodies is, for all practical purposes, limited to hand-selected candidates. This talk, based on interviews, will discuss the existing field of oversight and accountability practices in Russia with a focus on ordinary citizen groups to demonstrate the ways that citizens can engage, what motivates them to do so, and what the limits of that engagement are in the context of a broader crackdown on civil society.

This presentation will discuss the mass scientific literacy campaign in the post-World War II USSR with a focus on how this campaign manifested the search of the Soviet political and intellectual establishment for new, more effective form of social governance. During the postwar period, the mass scientific literacy campaign, spearheaded by the USSR Society Znanie, involved millions of members of the Soviet intelligentsia who communicated advanced forms of knowledge to Soviet audiences all over the USSR through popular science and political lectures and publications. While the campaign failed in its goal to produce universal scientific literacy, its social and cultural effects were profound and long-lasting and included the emergence of new epistemic practices, forms of knowledge, and patterns of its communication.


How to reconcile the usefulness of digital tools and their adoption into environmental initiatives and sustainability projects, with the extensive environmental damages of the digitization itself? Despite a growing number of critical voices, pointing to environmental footprints of digital communication and the systemic blindness towards those in media analysis, the subject still remains on the margins of socio-cultural research into digital transformations. Most discussions around environmental issues are shaped by what I call “digital solutionism” – a belief that digital technologies themselves are not only environmentally neutral but also beneficial for environmental protection. My talk will suggest, instead, a paradigmatic shift that would reorient the field of digital transformation towards materialist accountability: being attentive to environmental harms of digital communication; placing the analysis of digital harms geographically and historically; examining the silences and erasures of our own scholarship; and being attentive to which technologies, and where, are inflicting harm on who. As part of my initial empirical mapping of digital solutionism and ways of rethinking it, the following questions will be addressed: What role do digital technologies play in current Russian environmental projects and initiatives (governmental, NGO, community, activist?) How do those relate to environmental projects elsewhere? To what extend do Russian environmental projects follow the logic of techno optimism and “digital solutionism”?  What are the material implications and current/future damages of digitisation that affect Russia itself? (Land pollution? Heat? Human health? Etc.) How does the geography of digital harm relate to historical legacies of Russia’s “internal colonisation” and contemporary politics of intra-regional and urban-rural relations? How do those material impacts relate to the broader regional (Eastern/Cetran Europe, Scandinavia) and global distribution of environmental harms inflicted by digitisation? And finally, what kind of alternative environmental imaginaries, cultural practices or policies might emerge in Russia, that take into account the harms of digital technologies?