Friday, November 25, 2022

Despite His Talk, Putin Not ‘Decolonizing’ Russian Science but Isolating It, Kislenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 24 – Vladimir Putin, most recently at Valdai on October 27, says that he seeks to decolonize Russian science in much the same way that peoples in the Global South did earlier but in fact he is not following their lead but instead isolating Russian scholarship and costing it the advantages those in the Global South seized, Ivan Kislenko says.

            The Russian leader, especially since he began his special military operation in Ukraine, has “burned those very bridges with the world which would have allowed Russian social thought to show its value and gradually occupy a worthy place in the world’s intellectual life,” the sociologist at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

            And despite what Putin says, that is not in the end what scholars in the Global South in fact did and it is at clear odds with his own neo-colonial approach to Ukraine and Russia’s other neighbors (

            With decolonization, Kislenko says, intellectuals in the global south sought greater attention to their special problems and values and the use of ideas they had developed, but they also sought to force the West to take them seriously by beating the West at its own intellectual game rather than pulling out of that game. Putin is seeking to do just the reverse.

            Putin uses the language of decolonization but he does not act as other decolonizers have done. They unlike the Kremln leader as a rule oppose any use of violence to produce a break precisely because “colonization of various spheres of public life was carried out precisely with the help of violence.”

            “One can argue how effectively the intellectuals of the global south in undermining the ‘scientific’ power of the West have created something new and original. But theirs is at least an honest and long-term search. Russian ideologists having declared war on the scientific hegemony of the West are more concerned with denial than with the creation of something new.”

            And this desire to break completely with the West and set up “local rules” for the production of knowledge is leading to the revival of primitivism rather than “the creation of a unique Russian knowledge pole.” So far, this  effort has come from above and Russian scholars have rejected it.

            But – and this is the main thing – Kislenko argues, “the sticks have already been inserted in the institutional wheel and thee will only complicate the life of Russian science. During the nine months of the war, then, Putin has directed the scientific life of Russia not along the path of decolonization but along the path of self-isolation.”


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