A Feminist Geopolitics of the Soviet Borderlands

Small Group Project 2024-25


Elodie Behzadi & Lucia Direnberger
Small Group Project 2024-25

The Soviet modernization project in Central Asia sought to liberate women from Muslim traditions by integrating them into the workforce and Soviet institutions. However, little is known about women’s lived experiences of this project in these Soviet borderlands. Our research embarks on a journey of memory work with elderly women, aged 60-100, who identified as being part of the Soviet elite (1954-1991) in the Socialist Soviet Republic (SSR) and possess living memories of the Soviet past. To accomplish this, we gather an interdisciplinary, multinational team comprising three scholars from feminist and gender studies, sociology, history, geography, and documentary filmmaking, all with extensive expertise in gender research in Central Asia.

Guided by feminist and postcolonial epistemologies, our innovative memory work integrates 15 in-depth oral histories with women and archival research to contextualize their stories with Soviet policies targeting women in the Tajikistan SSR. To make women’s narratives visible, we undertake the production of a historical reflexive documentary film, partly co-created with women and drawing on oral histories and archival material from personal and institutional archives.

This project extends feminist and postcolonial geopolitical approaches that acknowledge the intricate interplay between private, everyday, intimate spaces, bodies and broader scales — including the national and international. Through film engagement, we aim to further decolonize knowledge about the Soviet peripheries, providing an opportunity to scrutinize the colonial and hybrid nature of the Soviet project, especially relevant in the context of the Ukraine war.

The project’s outcomes encompass conference presentations and journal articles, contributing to feminist and postcolonial history, geopolitics, memory studies, and Central Asian studies. Additionally, we aim to produce a 16-minute historical documentary film for submission to various festivals. A dedicated website will showcase the film, oral histories, and archival materials, fostering wider accessibility and engagement.

Contacting Fellows

If you would like to contact any of our Fellows to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at [email protected].