Ksenia Robbe

Ksenia Robbe is an assistant professor at the Centre for the Arts in Society, Leiden University. She was trained at the University of St. Petersburg, Russia, in African, English, and Translation Studies and holds a PhD in English and American Literary and Cultural Studies from the University of Giessen, Germany. After completing her PhD, she has been a research fellow at the University of Freiburg (2012) and the Leiden African Studies Centre (2017) as well as a visiting researcher at the Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town (2013).

She is the author of Conversations of Motherhood: South African Women’s Writing Across Traditions (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2015) and co-editor of Post-Soviet Nostalgia: Confronting Empire’s Legacies (Routledge, forthcoming 2019); her articles have appeared in Third Text, Safundi and Social Dynamics. 

Ksenia’s current research engages cultural and aesthetic practices of remembering the 1980-90s political transitions in post-Soviet and post-apartheid contexts. The project aims to elucidate similarities as well as differences of re-imagining dissent in postcolonial and post-socialist contexts in the times of disillusionment and crisis.

Research project: Reimagining Transitions: Memory of Resistance and Cultural Innovation in Post-Soviet Russia and Post-apartheid South Africa

Political transitions of the late 1980-early 1990s were among the most important global events of the 20th century, ending the Cold War and inaugurating the current stage of globalisation. In a similar way to other crucial historical conjunctures, remembrance of the transitions is highly contested at national, regional and global levels. While more distant periods are often widely commemorated, debate about transitions in public and academic discourse remains limited. However, signs of multivocal and critical remembrance are appearing in a range of media – from novels to political protests, films to heritage debates, theatre performances to online activism - countering official appropriations of memory.
This project focuses on two very different yet entangled contexts of transition, post-Soviet Russian and post-apartheid South African. Apart from the more familiar differences, this comparison seeks to elicit some of the knots and overlaps between the workings of varied authoritarian practices, complicity and resistance. Interested particularly in present-day predicaments of transformation and dissent, the project concentrates on the politics of remembering everyday resistance and practices of acting and imagining across cultural boundaries during the 1980-early 1990s.
Considering the emergence and circulation of these memories within global memoryscapes is crucial for tracing the genealogy and functioning of national and local remembrance of transitional periods. Yet, public and academic discussions of the transitions largely remain compartmentalised, reflecting old Cold War dichotomies and Eurocentric biases. Responding to the need of developing a much more nuanced framework for considering post-1989 developments and their recollection globally, this project comparatively investigates repertoires of alternative memory of transition, while also comparing official discourses.
The study analyses a range of creative and critical practices in contemporary literature, film, theatre, visual art and curatorial projects in Russia and South Africa. By identifying and comparing memory modes and practices, the project will explore the agency of creative producers and their impact on public discourse about transitions in national and global contexts.

Dates of stay: 01 March 2019 - 31 July 2019