Photograph: Yoshkar Ola, capital of of the Russian Volga region Republic of Mari El, 2018. The "Bruges Embankment" of Yoshkar Ola (c. 2015) is in the foreground, with the Sombathey housing estate (c. 1974) in the background.
Below are a few details about some of my ongoing projects. More information about publications in preparation can be found in my CV.
My research and can be grouped into two main streams: the comparative ethnographic study of state socialism’s architectural and aesthetic afterlives in East European cities (particularly Warsaw and Moscow); and the development of heterodox, multidisciplinary understandings of ‘area studies’ from East European and urban perspectives.
My work is grounded in anthropology, but I consistently draw on theories and methods from other fields, including architectural history and theory, political and social theory, human geography as well as curatorial and art practice.
Architectural Afterlives of State Socialism
My work focuses on the complex social lives of monumental buildings and on the architecture and planning of East European (post)socialism. My book Palace Complex: A Stalinist Skyscraper, Capitalist Warsaw and a City Transfixed, was published in 2019 in Indiana University Press’ New Anthropologies of Europe series. The Palace Complex tells the story of capitalist Warsaw’s self-perceived ‘obsession’ with the Palace of Culture, a Moscow-style Stalinist skyscraper ‘gifted’ to Poland by the Soviet Union in 1955. My Warsaw research has also resulted in a Polish-language monograph, published in July 2015 by the Museum of Warsaw; and in numerous peer-reviewed articles in anthropology and visual culture journals as well as several book chapters.
My current project, carried out in collaboration with researchers from the Moscow Higher School of Economics, is about municipal governance, real estate and architectural aesthetics in Putin-era Moscow. Its ethnographic focus is on the current Mayoralty’s on-going campaign to erase troublesome aesthetic legacies – relics of the Soviet era and the ‘wild capitalist’ 1990s and 2000s – from the cityscape. The resulting book, Moscow Makeover: Architecture and Politics in Putin’s Paradise, will hone in on the myriad political, economic and aesthetic controversies mingling on the terrain of Zaryadye Park, a flagship project of Moscow’s makeover – dubbed ‘Putin’s Paradise’ by critics – currently under construction next to the Kremlin. Some of the findings from my Moscow research have been published in scholarly and popular outlets in English, Russian, Polish and French.
My Warsaw and Moscow projects contribute to a comparative, long-term research initiative on cities, politics and aesthetics in post-socialist Eastern Europe (and beyond). This project builds on conferences and symposia I organised in 2015 and 2016 at UCL, under the auspices of the FRINGE Centre for the Study of Cultural Complexity, which I co-founded, and of the UCL Mellon Programme, of which I am a member: The Centre Cannot Hold: Neo-Monumentality, New Modernism and Other Zombie Urban Utopias(June 2016, with Jonathan Bach); and Re-Activating the Social Condenser: Architecture Against Privation (May 2015, with Jane Rendell). These conferences have resulted in special issue of The Journal of Architecture, published in May 2017; and an open-access book publication, Re-Centring the City: Global Mutations of Socialist Modernity, published by the FRINGE Series of UCL Press in 2019 (edited with Jonathan Bach).
Critical (Urban) Area studies
My other main research initiative is a critical exploration of the notion of ‘East Europe’ through the lens of its cities. The aim of this project is to constitute an urban-focused approach to area and trans-regional studies, interrogating how cultural, social, political and economic dynamics constituting ‘areas’ or ‘regions’ condense on an urban terrain; and on how these ‘trans-urban’ dynamics are expressed and practiced in the aesthetic and everyday lives of cities.
The first outputs of this project, carried out in collaboration with the UCL Mellon Programme and the SSEES FRINGE Centre, are now in preparation: East Europe Without Borders, a special issue of East European Politics, Societies and Cultures (co-edited with Wendy Bracewell, based on a conference held in November 2015 at SSEES); and the open-access Anti-Atlas: The Little Book of Critical Area Studies, (co-edited with Tim Beasley- Murray), which has been contracted as part UCL Press’ open-access FRINGE Series.
In collaboration with Khadija von Zinneburg Carroll and Jesse Weaver Shipley, I have also carried out research on the lives of political dissidents living under house arrest. A curatorial and art project resulting from this work was shortlisted for Artangel's £1m Open Commission in 2014, while a journal article and other publications emerging are in preparation. A podcast of a recent work-in-progress presentation at the University of London Institute for Historical Research is available here.