VERA Research Seminar: Punk in Russia

06.06.2013 14:15 - 16:00

Thursday 6.6.2013  at 14.15-16, Room AU111 Aurora Building, Yliopistokatu 4, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu

Prof. Hilary Pilkington from the University of Manchester will present a paper ‘Sounds of a “rotting city”: Punk in Russia’s Arctic Hinterland’.

The presentation will be followed by discussion and a comment by Researcher Olga Davydova from the Karelian Institute of the University of Eastern Finland.

The seminar is open for everyone. It is organised by VERA Centre for Russian and Border Studies in cooperation with the Finnish Youth Research Network.

Prf. Pilkington’s abstract

The city of Vorkuta is situated on the very periphery of Russia’s inhabited territory – lying on the 67th Parallel north more than 2000 kilometres to the North East of Moscow and without road connections to other cities. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most well-known song and album of the oldest punk band in the city (Mazut) is simply called ‘Winter’s children’ (Deti zimy). Vorkuta was founded in 1932 as part of the Gulag system; its prisoners opened up mines around the periphery of the contemporary city to exploit the northern reaches of the Pechora coal basin. It is a city, therefore, whose population is as ‘marginal’ as its location. Today Vorkuta is experiencing rapid deindustrialisation and out-migration. Only six of the original 40 mines are in operation and the population has halved since 1991. Vorkuta is a city that has too much past and very little future. It is, according to a 17 year old member of one of the younger generation of punk bands (Marazm), ‘a city that is rotting’.

The seminar presentation draws on interviews, field notes, audio and visual recordings and song lyrics gathered during ethnographic  fieldwork in  Vorkuta in autumn 2009 under the auspices of the AHRC-funded  project ‘Post-socialist punk: Beyond the double irony of self-abasement’ (2009-13). It explores how, at a structural level, the territorial, social and cultural marginality of the city has framed the origins and development of the scene, its current composition and the social relations that govern it.  It considers the role of external hostility (from authorities, public opinion and local gopniki) in creating a small but highly intersected and mutually supportive punk scene and how the specific socio-economic and cultural context of that scene has generated unexpected solidarities with other youth cultural groupings (most notably skinheads). It considers also intra-scene dynamics including inter-generational and gender relations. In the context of external hostility, identification with a translocal movement such as punk is experienced as positive validation of cultural practices frowned on locally. The paper considers the meanings respondents attach to punk, specifically as a mode of self-expression  or protest and  as articulating  ‘a condition of the soul’. Finally, the paper explores the importance of the performance of punk, especially the practice of what Vorkuta punks refer to as ‘mutation’, in facilitating daily transitions from the disciplining routines of everyday work and family lives and the temporary freedom from them. 

VERA Centre for Russian and Border Studies coordinates and supports research and education programmes on Russian and border studies at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF). VERA strengthens research and education  networks as well as promotes national and international dialogue of the university and other regional stakeholders.

The Finnish Youth Research Society is a non-profit organization founded in 1988, for the purpose of promoting multidisciplinary youth research in Finland. The goal of the society is to develop youth research and to provide information and expertise on matters relating young people.