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Community through Comedy: Cultural Consciousness in the Russian Soviet Anekdot
Smirnova, Michelle Hannah
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The way by which nationality and citizenship are codified in law or used by political entrepreneurs to mobilize populations is different from how individuals make sense of themselves. Although sharing a particular attribute or physical connection offers some sort of relational identity, it is the product of belonging both to a category and network of individuals in addition to the feeling of belonging which produces a bounded groupness. The Russian Soviet anekdot--a politically subversive joke--provides an intimate view into the perspective of the Russian people living under the Soviet regime. The anekdot serves as a discourse of "cultural consciousness," connecting otherwise atomized people to a homeland, collective culture and memory. Beyond its transgressive properties, politically subversive texts like the anekdot articulate the details of an intimate set of knowledges that insiders "are taught not to know" (Taussig 1999). In this dissertation I look at how the characters and narratives construct (1) the boundaries of "we"--who belongs and who does not by exploring how different groups are "marked" in the anekdoty, (2) how the collectivity negotiates their understanding of leaders, institutions and State propaganda as a means of rejecting or reifying aspects of Soviet power, and (3) what sort of collective memory and identity is conveyed through the expressions of the public secret, nostalgia and/or regret. The anekdot reveals power dynamics at multiple levels: within the family, between ethnic groups and geographical regions, and between people and state. Together these multiple identities and relationships express a form of "cultural consciousness" among Russians uniting this group in a shared identity and network amid the disintegration of the Soviet Union.