МАГ/The International Association for the Humanities     ЖУРНАЛ МЕЖДУНАРОДНОЙ АССОЦИАЦИИ ГУМАНИТАРИЕВ

A Commentary on Forthcoming Seminar of International Association for the Humanities (IAH)

ogienkoКомментарий Виталия Огиенко получен на английском языке. Публикуется без изменений.

Initiative of “Kritika” and “The Bridge-MOCT” aimed to discuss new methodologies on Post-Soviet humanitarian space, seems to me well-timed and essential at least for those who are engaged in social sciences in Ukraine and try to exceed “old” ways of writing. First of all, such initiatives bring people interested together and create appropriate discourse of perceiving what they are doing as “new methodologies”, that is something new and up-to-date, combined in distinct realm of knowledge. Although this line between “new” and “old” sometimes carries an effect of separateness that in Ukrainian conditions may lead to an effect of marginality but to my mind such dichotomy is rather fruitful.

What is at the bottom of this dichotomy? First and foremost I think one question – to be or not to be modern, to answer present-day purpose or not, to be in urge demand by audience or to write papers “for internal use only”. The last words only presuppose that research on the ground of new methodologies may evoke more interest in public. I am really wondering why are we ready to acknowledge the importance of acquiring new technologies, providing legal enforcements, but sometimes we are prone to question relevancy of employing new approaches especially in social sciences saying for example that Ukrainian scientific community is not ready for such shifts because others daily wants allegedly not comparable with latter ones are predominant in our society. Another critical point suggests that new trends in Ukraine are only characterized by attempts of keeping with the fashion. Partially it is truth for that simple reason that following the fashion is inevitable, but it is secondary point as far as I can see. At last some “western theories” are called “not useful for modern Ukraine” what only posit a question – who estimates what is “useful or not useful” “for area of Ukrainian historiography”. Moreover there exists a big doubt that a wide scope of such theories have passed “verification” by Ukrainian scholars for last 20 years. In other words, such arguments tend to prolong a comfortable life of those (академические изоляты) who takes advantages of current system (defending dissertation, for example) and wants to preserve current status quo. Of course, science as classics suggest, is very traditional enterprise that is unwillingly exposed to changes. But even this indisputable until last time statement now is under some pressure, and in the first place owing to new methodologies which in the last decades were spread like a virus in the social sciences. It is rather unlikely that Ukraine science has immunity against it.

It is not the point to question the importance of new methodologies, especially in Ukraine where it is naive to believe that they are potent to create a critical masse of new quality. There is overwhelming majority of those involved in scientific production who has no willingness or unable to apply them. It is likely that in literary or cultural studies which are connected to “cultural or linguistic turns”, that is, by definition, modern developments, the situation differs. But in history sciences majority is deeply immersed in causal interpretation and progress vision. The most historians are still almost focused on archive research and making a contribution to national narrative. It is clear that the task of developing national narrative is still urgent for Ukrainian society and privatization of national past by old scientific elite was rather successful but on the other part “nationalization of history” has another side that leads to segmentation of Ukrainian historical science in close and narrow field. National studies or anticolonial studies are the best example. Semifinal books of E. Said or E. Gellner and some books of Ukrainian authors have been published, but all of them miraculously remained unnoticed at least in history circles. If there are some efforts to start discussion on perspectives of writing of Ukrainian history out of master narrative frames, such initiatives usually have faded in a short time and are perceived as an assault on national values. Hence, National Studies from Ukrainian perspective is far different from Western understanding.

Old scientific elite usually relies only on own experience and is not ready for cooperation with Western partners and struggling for grants. They are reluctant to accept the increasing role of methodology in concrete research and usually refer one or another scientific idea to system on which kandidat nauk` dissertation is based. No multidisciplinarity is at stake there but only the principle of mythical objectivity and historicism. Only few Ukrainian scholars play the role of agent between the Western knowledge and Ukrainian reality but even they are rarely estimated highly out of Ukrainian thematic context. Besides, it should turn attention to fact that in comparison to other sciences in Ukraine, history is the most well represented and elaborated discipline within which a lot of new good books appear every year.

Going back to the described in submitted essays topics it will be correct to emphasize that most of the problems in question like problems with identification and subsequent “rebranding” among culturologists, are quite in order of things. They may be results of attempts of those who want to adapt to new methodologies but are so deeply involved in old ways of thinking that such combination often has the superficial and eclectic implication. At the same time, these facts show that interest in nontraditional methodological approaches raises and attention increasingly focuses on modern up to date achievements. We see now the problem of growing of “multidisciplinary studies” and in this sense there are temptations of simplification, reinventing the wheel or squeezing unique wideness of new approaches in narrow “national discourse”. As I understand new methodologies and national approaches are at odds that is why any attempts of combining them should be performed rather carefully especially what concerns educational purposes in the form of university courses. It is worth mentioning that far from every university will want to take such course to own curriculum. As well needless to expect that Ukrainian scholars, for example, can really contribute to developing of theoretical issues in relation to memory studies what I have been hearing on repeated occasions. At least for own original concept to develop, especially for non-Ukrainian audience, everything which has been done before has to be read. But from the other side it is taken for granted that Ukrainian historical experience and factual background contain incredible potential for research and probably this combination is the only way for Ukrainians to be interested to those who are outside.

The simple remedy against these growing pains is coming back to the root namely original works but not to translations and domestic critic contribution that sometimes distort initial meaning. The creation of correct system of reference matters very much in this regard. Institutional initiatives like those supported by “Kritika” and “The Bridge-MOCT” are of greater importance as well because they allow becoming more embedded in international humanitarian conversation.


Vitaly Ohienko holds the Degree of Kandidat Istorichnikh Nauk; he is a Senior Researcher of Ukrainian National Institute for Memory Studies (Ukraine).