Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Ghosts of the Gulag: Negotiating Specters of the Penal Past in Northern Russia

Fri31  Mar04:15pm(15 mins)
Main Building Room 134


Gavin Slade1
1 Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan


Penal spectrality is a sense of the presence of those who endured past penal suffering within environments and among objects related to the practice of punishment. The residents of Ukhta, a Gulag town in Northern Russia, engage uncomfortably with penal spectrality and employ two forms of distancing – pragmatic and cultural - to deal with its melancholic affects. Pragmatically, residents produce distance from specters by repurposing and reincorporating the things of the penal past into the social order, finding a use-value in them for the present day. Culturally, residents distance specters by engaging in the museumification and commodification of Gulag things. The paper advances two directions for research. Firstly, we show how uneasy spectral feelings are not passively observed but actively negotiated. Secondly, in this interaction we show the immediacy of engaged practical interaction with material objects that points to modes of encountering and misrecognizing penality beyond cultural forms of penal spectatorship.