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Biopolitics in Contemporary Russian Cinema

Sattarova, Ellina (2020) Biopolitics in Contemporary Russian Cinema. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation looks at a corpus of recent Russian films that comments on the politicization of human life in contemporary Russia. The preoccupation of Russian culture with the relationship between political power and human life has been particularly acute since the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s third presidential term, characterized by a shift in the administration’s discursive practices, which now posited Russia as a stronghold of traditional values. The newly adopted rhetorical strategy was corroborated by a string of biopolitical initiatives, including tighter abortion restrictions, a ban on homosexual propaganda, the decriminalization of some cases of domestic violence, and the so-called Dima Yakovlev law, which prohibits the adoption of Russian orphans by U.S. citizens. The dissertation investigates the ways in which Russian arthouse cinema has conceptualized the recent changes in the Russian political landscape and focuses, in particular, on the modes of spectatorial address deployed by filmmakers to communicate their bio(political) concerns to the audiences. While the films explored in the dissertation are meant to serve as a critique of the increasingly fraught relationship between human life and political power in contemporary Russia, there might be, I argue, a certain degree of compatibility between the authoritarian practices of the state and the often monologically inclined cinematic statements produced by Russian filmmakers in recent years. The dissertation, however, does not make an overarching claim about the “complicity” of recent Russian cinema in the authoritarian project of the state. Organized as a series of case studies, it offers instead a number of potential approaches to conceptualizing the relationship between the two. Theoretically indebted to Giorgio Agamben’s work on biopolitics, the project brings into relief both the reach and the limits of his theoretical paradigm by staging an encounter between Agamben’s conceptual universe and contemporary Russian “biopolitical” cinema. I take issue, among other things, with Agamben’s reductive view of power as solely prohibitive and make room for an imperial narrative that is notoriously missing from Agamben’s account but remains, as I contend, key to understanding the specificity of Russia’s biopolitical project that is tangled with the country’s imperial persistence.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Sattarova, Ellinaels139@pitt.eduels139
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairCondee,
Committee MemberHalle,
Committee MemberMajumdar,
Committee MemberPadunov,
Committee MemberProzorov,
Date: 16 September 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 27 July 2020
Approval Date: 16 September 2020
Submission Date: 20 July 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 182
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Film Studies
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: biopolitics, Russian cinema, contemporary
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 14:58
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2020 14:58


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