Sean Guillory; “Response to Dmitry Babich from JRL #67, Item 27”

Bookcase file photo, adapted from image at nlm.nih.gov

Subject: Response to Dmitry Babich from JRL #67, Item 27
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2020
From: Guillory, Sean Christopher Jos <guillory@pitt.edu>

I’ve wavered back and forth between sending a comment on Dmitry Babich’s Facebook post about the pervasiveness of “Ultra-liberal ideology” in American Russian Studies included in JRL 2020-#67, Item 27. Part of me just wants to ignore such a missive as yet another flippant social media post. Another part of me, however, wants to address Babich’s assertions since you found them important enough to include in JRL. I finally decided on the latter.

I don’t know what scholarship Mr. Babich is specifically referring to that provokes his sweeping claim that “honest, scientific, objective Russian Studies are not possible in the modern West now.” I strongly disagree. As host of the SRB Podcast, I encounter a wide breath of scholarship on Russia in the humanities and social sciences. I also interview many of American scholars about their research. In my opinion, we are in a golden age of Russian studies precisely because of the lack of overt ideology among academics. Scholars have more access than ever to archives, Russian media, citizens, culture, and other sources on the ground. To compare the current environment to American scholarship during the Soviet period is uninformed at best, and laughable at worst. Sure, there are some books that reflect Babich’s claims. Cold War frameworks do persist in some fields. And I would concede that his statements are applicable to some journalism on contemporary Russia as well as some books published by journalists, pundits, scholars, policy-makers and the like.

This is not the case for academic studies overall. If you look at, say anthropology, you get a very broad and eclectic mix of topics, methodological approaches, and subjects. The same goes for much of the humanities and social sciences on Russia. Many of these studies don’t rely on Russian “ultraliberals” at all, but regular people. These works do take a critical look at Russia and the lives of its citizens. But that is what scholarship is for. One excellent example of this is Jeremy Morris’ Everyday Post-Socialism: Working-Class Communities in the Russian Margins. You can also get a good taste of Morris’ work on his blog, Post-Socialism (https://postsocialism.org/). You would be hard pressed to find many so-called “ultraliberals” as Morris’ interlocutors. The same for political science like Samuel Greene and Graeme Robertson’s recent Putin v. the People, which relies heavily on sociological surveys, media and person-to-person interviews with regular Russian citizens. I won’t include historical studies, which is the best it’s been, to say the least. Much of the best scholarship (and even some of the mediocre) just does not fall under Babich’s assumptions.

I could go on and provide many more examples. Unless Babich can provide his own and how they are representative of American Russian Studies as a whole, I can only conclude (which isn’t a stretch given his language) that it is his comment that is drenched in ideology rather than Russian Studies.

Sean Guillory
Digital Scholarship Curator
Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies
University of Pittsburgh
Phone 815-762-2713
guillory@pitt.edu
Sean’s Russia Blog