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Rethinking Visual and Cultural Studies: new subjects, methods, and teaching strategies

Project summary

The seminar aimed at the collaborative analysis of how contemporary media (cinema, TV, Internet) re-configure the correlation of form and content of a message (formats of communicative mediation as an “immediate” content), the narrative and the visual, the global and the local, private and public experience of individuals in a new space of global communications. Participants’ team-work in the course of the seminar was focused on the elaboration of a model for the renewal of education in visual media, journalism and communication studies in post-Soviet countries.


Theoretical goals:
  • To rethink Visual and Cultural Studies as a theoretical paradigm in both the methodology and subject, through discussing the possibilities as well as the limits of various conceptual tools and methodologies such as semiotics, anthropology, critical theory, psychoanalysis, philosophy (in that combinations which are required by the concrete analytical object or case-study).

  • To make use of the conceptual tools of main traditions in contemporary humanities and social sciences, to work out the advanced methodology for the analysis of the essence, forms and effects of visualization and globalization of contemporary culture. It is planned that such a methodology, being flexible, would have, however, more structured and elaborated theoretical framework in contrast with Cultural Studies’ tendency to be as much “popular”, conceptually loose, sometimes superficial, and all-inclusive.

  • To make the study of contemporary culture’s more conceptually grounded and rethinking theoretical “visual turn” not only as a shift in the dominant media of cultural meanings, but as a phenomenon marking a new cultural logic of the relationship between the symbolic and the imaginary, the economic and the aesthetic, production and consumption.

  • To focus on the interpretation and critique of Soviet modernization (in mass media, cinema, propaganda, everyday life) and post-Soviet post-modernization (in television, media- and Net-art, popular culture, advertising, new forms of consumption, architecture, and so on).


The ineffective attempt of Soviet utopian modernization remains the model object, so to speak, of study that could help to widen a perspective on modernity project as such, to question a measure of novelty of post-modernity, and to understand the peculiar difficulties and frustrations of post-communist quest for new cultural identities. Theoretical reflections have to be socially relevant for the region by taking into the critical consideration both: a) the lure of the postmodern “society of spectacle” and nostalgia for the Soviet past; b) the ways of “import” of postmodernism and the local resistant discourses and practices of cultural representation. The focus on the Soviet modernization and its consequences does not exclude an address to a general framework of Western modernity. On the contrary, it presupposes the constant comparative efforts to comprehend one modernity through another for the better comprehension of the present and prospects.


Educational goals and practical outcomes:
  • To introduce young University faculty to the history and most recent debates on Visual and Cultural Studies and the on-going processes of elaboration and rethinking of the paradigm – in order to help them to become later active participants of these processes and not just passive recipients of (western academic) knowledge;

  • To promote the interdisciplinary research of visual culture in the University (through changes in University curriculum and in the content of the courses, the choice of graduate and undergraduate research theses, interdisciplinary off-curriculum seminars, breaking the rigid boundaries of traditional fields of competence (such as art history and art theory, philosophy or film criticism);

  • To develop special skills to work analytically and didactically with the wide range of visual texts and contemporary cultural phenomena, thus, rethinking teaching practices in productive homology with the object – (post)modern culture. It is essential for a scholar of visual culture to make use of montage techniques, electronic presentations, and various types of visual support and multimedia technologies of teaching instead of domination of the metanarrative didactic monologue).

  • To bring teaching closer to the research practice in a far more evident and immediate way than it exists at the present post-Soviet academia, and to make theoretical knowledge rather a methodology for the understanding of actual cultural processes that has value in its own right, which also implies working out the new forms of student’s research activities.

  • To develop the curriculum with the living connections between more “philosophical” theories (for instance, conception of the visible world in phenomenology or post-freudian anthropology) and more “empirical” ones (media studies, film analysis, cultural anthropology, psychology of visual perception, etc.) so that to come up with the more coherent model of interpretation of cultural texts to be taught.

  • To create new academic scholarship in the post-soviet universities, i.e. mobile communities of open-minded and conceptually informed scholars who are able to analyze and work with contemporary cultural artifacts and phenomena.

  • To establish a network of scholars (academics) in the region working in the field of Cultural Studies, Philosophy, Film Theory, Art Theory and Media Art on the basis of common theoretical and practical preoccupations – through discussions (during Summer sessions and intersession activities as well as through Net-discussion-group) and publications.

  • To develop new forms and methods of teaching that would allow faculty and students to apply their theoretical knowledge and research achievements to the creative activities (i.e. curatorial work in museums and art exhibitions, media art projects, creation of CD-ROMs and digital video (for instance, making innovative and theoretically grounded documentaries on history or films reflecting on contemporary post-Soviet cultural practices).


Project team

Well-known experts and scholars from various Western and post-Soviet universities were engaged in the project as visiting lecturers and as tutors: Mark Poster (Professor of History and Film & Media Studies, University of California, Irvine (USA)), François Jost (Professor at the University Paris-3, Department of Audiovisual Communications and Cinema (France)), Andrei Gornykh (Professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences, European Humanities University (Belarus – Lithuania)), Nerijus Milerius (Associate Professor of the Department of Philosophy, Vilnius University (Lithuania)), Benjamin Cope (Director of academic program at Zachęta National Gallery of Art (Poland – UK)), Almira Ousmanova (Professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences, European Humanities University (Belarus – Lithuania)).

Project term – from 2003 till 2006

Project directors: Almira Ousmanova, Andrei Gornykh (European Humanities University)


Project Summary
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