Village Values: Negotiating Identity, Gender, and Resistance in Urban Russian Life-Cycle Rituals

Jeanmarie Rouhier-Willoughby

From the introduction: The rituals of wedding, delivery, and funeral provide us with an insight into how multiple strains of Russian culture from the October Revolution to the present have managed to coexist and evolve. All three rituals exhibit traces of the nineteenth-century rural folk behaviors considered to be essential for proper transition into a new social status. In addition, they feature Soviet practices, some of which have continued to the present day despite significant social changes since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Finally, they show how ideas and behaviors from Western Europe and America were adopted into the Soviet and post-Soviet belief system. This trend had already begun in the nineteenth century in cities, but became a significant social issue within the context of Soviet socialist ideology and again after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The material borrowed from the Western tradition varies widely and cannot always be pinpointed to a single source; nor can it be categorized as a single type of material. The borrowings relevant to our discussion include: ritual behaviors commonly found in Europe and the United States; capitalist or consumerist ideology; and finally science and technology. In sum, these rituals provide a microcosm of the social influences that every Russian faced throughout Soviet history and now faces in the post-Soviet world. As one would expect, the meanings about family life and social roles contained within these various belief systems are not always consonant with each other. Nevertheless, they were melded into a series of rituals which form what I will call the Soviet ritual complex. In addition, this study examines how rituals are changing in the post-Soviet world in response to the crisis engendered by socio-political upheaval. As the rituals change, we can see evidence of different attitudes in the society toward what it means to be a member and what values are most important at a given juncture in history. Village Values is the first book to examine the trends in the development and practice of urban Russian life-cycle rituals from the 19th to the 21st centuries. Rituals were a source of contention for theorists from the earliest decades of the Soviet Union because of their connection to religion and to outmoded patriarchal views of the family. Drawing upon extensive interviews with ritual participants and state celebrants, Rouhier-Willoughby examines developments in the Soviet ritual complex from the post-WWII years to the present day, with a particular emphasis on the heyday of ritual creation, the 1970s and 1980s. This book will be of great interest to specialists on Russia and on ritual as well as to a general audience interested in Russian culture. This book is recommended for library collections at four-year colleges and research universities.