Graduate Essay Prize

This prize recognizes the most outstanding essay written in English in Slavic, East European or Eurasian women’s and gender studies by a graduate student based at any tertiary institution worldwide.

2019 Essay Winner

Alena Aniskiewicz, “Playing Authentic: Masłowska’s Critique of Genre and National Convention”

Part of her dissertation entitled “Cultural Remix: Polish Hip-Hop and the Sampling of Heritage,” Alena Aniskiewicz’s fascinating chapter looks at the writing and music videos of Polish artist Dorota Masłowska. Using close readings of Masłowska’s texts, Aniskiewicz examines her “sampling” of Polish traditions and literature, using language and images to build stories that appear to be authentically Polish. This is in keeping with a contemporary popular culture that seeks to cross the boundaries between artist and audience and create a “real” connection. The stories, however, ultimately critique this authenticity in multiple ways, using parody and artificiality to expose the constructed nature of Polish history, literature, and contemporary society. Such authenticity, Masłowska argues, is a façade that must be deconstructed.

Aniskiewicz examines the playfulness and subversiveness of Masłowska’s work as she challenges the gendered order of hip-hop culture and uses humor to render everyday life in Poland both familiar and strange. The ambiguity of Masłowska’s message leads the viewer to question the true meaning of art or of nation. Ultimately, however, her work is an attack on extreme nationalism and conservative politics, sampling the imagery and words of public actors to demonstrate their absurdity. In this clever, incisive essay Aniskiewicz shows how one artist takes available cultural tools and uses them to create a complex picture, while insisting on the multiple meanings and interpretations embedded in them.

2018 Essay Winner

The Graduate Essay Prize Committee is delighted to award the graduate essay prize to Victoria Fomina, a Ph.D. student in Sociology and Social Anthropology at Central European University.  In a beautifully written, well-researched, ethnographic essay, Fomina investigates the intersection of Russian Orthodox Christianity with athletic and paramilitary youth groups among contemporary Russian men. Instead of characterizing these militant patriotic and religious young men as skin-heads, Putin's thugs, or brainwashed by the church, she takes seriously their desires for dignity and moral self-expression framed in a vocabulary of faith, self-sacrifice and community. Whereas an anti-government and radical ethnic nationalism animated many male youth movements and subcultures in the first decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fomina finds that this is no longer the case. The carefully cultivated state-supported nationalist politics under Putin in the late 2000s, the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine and seizure of Crimea in 2014, and the regime’s increasingly anti-global and anti-Western rhetoric has allowed many men in recent years to reassess the Russian government and see a convergence of interests. Meanwhile, the masculinization of Orthodox Christianity in the post-Soviet years, combined with young men’s search for spiritual development and their demand for conservative morality in a rapidly changing world, has led to religion’s greater appeal among members of these male athletic and paramilitary groups. In Fomina’s view, the attraction of brotherhood and communalism in the face of individualism and commercialization is also a factor in the growth of these organizations and their anti-Western and patriotic attitudes. Ultimately, Fomina’s nuanced essay helps us to better understand contemporary radical conservative national movements in Russia, Russian grassroots responses to the crisis in Ukraine, and men’s insecurities beyond the Russian context.

2017 Award

Ania Aizman, "The Considerable Anarchism of the Present Moment: Post-Soviet Russian Philosophy in Search of a New (Old?) Avant-Garde," Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature, Harvard University.

This beautifully written essay forms the first chapter of her recently submitted dissertation, Every Step a New Movement: Anarchism in the Stalinist-era Literature of the Absurd and its Post-Soviet Adaptations. Aizman introduces the reader to complicated philosophical concepts and spheres of influence in a clear, cohesive, accessible piece of scholarship. While she incorporates sophisticated analysis into her essay, her writing is refreshingly jargon free. This well-researched piece serves as a nuanced and intricate examination of the continuities and disjunctures in philosophical interpretations of early Soviet absurdist literature in the 1990s and more recently, and how geo-political developments in the post-Soviet period have informed these leftist philosophers. She concludes the chapter with a fascinating discussion of the Chto Delat' movement, demonstrating the continuing relevance of the legacy of the absurd in contemporary Russia. The committee hopes that Ms. Aizman will publish her dissertation in the near future so that it can receive the wide audience it deserves. For now, we are pleased to award her the AWSS Graduate Essay Prize.

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