Andy Bruno: Environmental subjectivities from the Soviet North

A talk by Andy Bruno at the «Plastic world» seminar series in the research center «Human, nature, technology» (University of Tyumen).

Taking a theoretical step toward comparative political ecology and neo-materialism, he makes the case that engagement with the natural environment comprised a potent, but underappreciated, determinant of Soviet subjectivity. To elaborate this argument, he examines the life stories of three individuals who spent time in a common region in the far north: ornithologist Oleg Semenov-Tian-Shanskii, geologist Leonid Potemkin, and aspiring ballerina turned technician and prisoner Inna Tartakovskaia. Their lives reveal certain distinguishing features of environmental subjectivities in the Soviet Union, including a common desire to both exploit and protect the environment and a tendency for the state’s punitive use of harsh natural conditions to alter subjective experiences. Furthermore, the very different paths of these individuals—one became an environmentalist, one defended the Soviet treatment of the natural world, and one did not actively engage in environmental politics—indicate the possible pervasiveness of environmental subjectivities beyond these cases.

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