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The Russian reading revolution: Society and the printed world, 1986-1995

Lovell, Stephen; (1998) The Russian reading revolution: Society and the printed world, 1986-1995. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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In Soviet Russia the emergence of a mass reading public was, by the standards of this historical phenomenon, extremely sudden, and it coincided with the seizure of power by an elite which possessed an extreme missionary vision of culture. In the early Soviet period, the social significance of reading was perceived strongly both 'above' and 'below': the ruling party saw print culture as an instrument of 'cultural revolution', while the new classes of readers -- particularly the newborn Soviet intelligentsia -- regarded reading as an activity both prestigious and socially advantageous. The Soviet syndrome of late and accelerated modernization had identifiable effects on print culture. Just as the Bolsheviks aimed to leapfrog the socio-economic phase of mature capitalism, so they resolved to do without the 'bourgeois' stage of socio-cultural development. Soviet society was to combine all the desirable features of bourgeois and mass culture: to create a culture capable of communicating the highest social and moral values, while at the same time avoiding the cultural exclusivity of bourgeois society. The homogenization implied by this model of reading was further reinforced by the Soviet hostility to the market: economic exchange was never under any circumstances to be allowed to become the arbiter of cultural value. In fact, the Soviet anti-market ethos, by generating a chronic book shortage, only raised the prestige of print culture. Soviet Russia thus acquired a highly distinctive system of book and periodical production whose activities were governed by very particular assumptions regarding the consumption (and the consumers) of the printed word. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, this system was undermined in two fundamental ways. First, the figure of the Russian reader became thoroughly demythologized for the first time in 130 years, if not longer. Second, the whole system of Soviet cultural production was exposed to the market. These developments are traumatic for any culture, but as they occurred so late and so suddenly in the Russian case, they were perceived as nothing short of a catastrophe by those who had the greatest stake in the cultural status quo. When culture began to reflect its audience, Soviet society proved to be not united and homogeneous, but complex and diverse -- not to say alienated and divided.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The Russian reading revolution: Society and the printed world, 1986-1995
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10108829
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