When and how do societies radically transform? What role does space play in constructing collective identity? How do societies harness space to integrate ideology and daily life for a new class of citizens that barely exists? Tijana Vujošević’s Modernism and the Making of the Soviet New Man probes these questions. The book examines the role of Russian revolutionary spatial projects in the formation of proletarian consciousness, primarily but not exclusively focusing on the interwar era. It proposes such projects as central to the Soviet identity-making enterprise. As anthropologist Caroline Humphrey has noted, the task of Soviet revolutionary architecture was “to build material foundations that would mold nothing less than a new society.”1 In other words, one of the revolution’s explicit goals was to use architecture to build the then-small industrial working class—and herein lies the essence of Vujošević’s research.
With its interdisciplinary scope, focus on identity formation, and exploration of a broad range of revolutionary spatial representations, Vujošević’s book can thus be seen as an important attempt to depart from a traditional architectural history. Drawing on Evgeny Dobrenko’s theory of Stalinism “as a society in which images and representations mediate all social and economic relations,”2 Vujošević offers multiple perspectives or, in her words, “deferments and anachronisms,” through which to view the fractured yet not-at-all random temporal and spatial shifts in the relationship between twentieth-century Soviet spatial representations and ideology (4). Structured to some extent like acts and scenes in a play, the book’s chapters examine vignette-like case studies of film, literature, poetry, theater, aeronautics, administrative classifications, and art as well as architecture, interior design, and furniture that, while not necessarily chronological, grow both in ideological intensity and scale. Beginning in Chapter One with drawings depicting imaginary flight into space in the early 1930s and culminating in Chapter Six with the monumental project, in the same decade, of the Moscow Metro, Vujošević moves back and forth in time to argue that, for the USSR, technology was the “means of transforming the mundane into the otherworldly,” or the ideal society (33).
Caroline Humphrey, “Ideology in Infrastructure: Architecture and Soviet Imagination,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11, no. 1 (March 2005): 39.
These ideas are developed in Evgeny Dobrenko, Political Economy of Socialist Realism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).