Wednesday | 31 May. 2017
Works-in-Progress session on Being Elite in a Soviet Way
On May 31, 2017, CRRC, ARISC and American Councils are proud to present the 11th talk of the Spring 2017 Works-in-Progress series on "Being Elite in a Soviet Way" by Tea Kamushadze, Tbilisi State University.

This project addresses the Soviet elitism associated with the title of “Hero of Socialist Labor” and the associated lifestyle. The presentation is based on anthropological research into the lives of Heroes of Socialist Labor living in the city of Rustavi in Georgia conducted in 2012-2014. Besides ethnographic data, other sources such as the Soviet media and literary fiction on the topic are utilized. Based on a case-study of the biography of one Hero of Socialist Labor who worked for most of his life on the Rustavi Metallurgica l Plant, I attempt demonstrate how and why such people were treated as elites, to identify the features and forms of Soviet elitism, and to address its meaning in both Soviet and post-Soviet contexts. The title of Hero of Socialist Labor usually sharply increased the in-group public status of the holder, making him or her a “first among equals”. At the same time it brought together people – representatives of different social groups, workers, intellectuals, artists, and even top state officials – in an elite group endowed with special rights and privileges.

Being a Hero of Socialist Labor meant to live the life of an ordinary citizen, continuing to work as part of the toiling masses, while at the same time being privileged, including access to material perks and part of formal and informal decision-making agencies, such as membership in city or village councils. After the collapse of the Soviet Union they found themselves excluded from the formation of the new, post-Soviet elite, and they lost all of those aspects of elitism that they had previously enjoyed. The study of this status group will allow us to understand the specifics of elitism in the USSR and its failure to reproduce itself after the collapse of Socialism. 

Tea Kamushadze is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at Tbilisi State University. Her research interests involve the Socialist heritage of post-Communist Georgia, based example of the industrial city of Rustavi. She examines this particular city as a Communist project using national branding. Currently she is a Fellow of the CARTI (the Central Asia and Caucasus Research and Training Initiative) Scholarship of the Open Society Foundation. In 2009-2010 she was the Fellow of Lane Kirkland Scholarship at Jagellonian University in Kracow, where she defended her diploma on the Polish experience of Socialism and building new cities. 

W-i-P is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place at the new office of CRRC at Chkhikvadze St. 1. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public.

The purpose of the W-i-P series is to provide support and productive criticism to those researching and developing academic projects pertaining the Caucasus region.

Would you like to present at one of the W-i-P sessions, please contact: