Saturday, October 02, 2004

byt, bytie

Another sociological bit, this time on Russia (hey, it's "my" blog, in the spirit of sharing with Hugh, and Hugh, but also in the somewhat vain hope for disagreement and discussion, for desiring novel injections into the disjunctive commons):
Private and Public Life in Russia

As the reader will presently see, this volume is less concerned with ideological and philosophical questions (though they are also discussed), than with the sociological "facts of everyday life". Clearly Boym's distinction between everyday life itself (byt) and the ideal of everyday life (bytie) represents one such sociological fact, and it is probably possible to document that the contrast between ideology and reality, between theory and practice, is sharper and more absolute in Russian collective consciousness than in the more instrumentally oriented, compromise-prone West.(6) Within byt itself, however, within the sphere of the everyday, other distinctions arise, and these come to play an important part in sociologically oriented studies such as my own.

One of the most interesting distinctions within everyday life is the breach between byt in intimate and byt in public contexts. This dichotomization of "private" and "public" life in East Europe was given an early formulation by the Polish sociologist Stefan Nowak (1979). According to Wedel (1992, p.9ff), Nowak postulated an extreme dichotomization between state and people in Poland, and therefore an extreme disjuncture between "public" and "private" spheres. What one said and did "at home" and what one said and did "at work" were entirely different matters (members of the Russian intelligentsia have referred to this as "dual consciousness"). This dualistic social structure (as opposed to the more gradualistic Western ideal) has no room for a neutral, middle ground, a "polite" or "civil" society (Bürgerliche Öffentlichkeit). In its place, we find a sociological vacuum, an absence of institutionalized connections between private and public worlds. Later Polish sociologists have argued, against Nowak, that the absence of "mid-range institutions" (as I call them below) is by no means total - particularly in Poland, the most consistently and successfully oppositional nation of the Soviet empire (see Buchowski 1994).

-Finn Sivert Nielsen
The Eye of the Whirlwind: Russian Identity and Soviet Nation-Building - Quests for Meaning in a Soviet Metropolis

I've never heard of this person before, but Svetlana Boym (of Harvard) is fantastic. Here's a link to material (audio clips) from her latest effort, The Future of Nostalgia

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