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Life Extempore: Trials of Ruination in Armenia’s Soviet Factories
The factory ruins that litter Armenia’s urban outskirts constitute a colossal agglomeration of what Ann Stoler calls “imperial debris”. In the wake of the Soviet collapse, they are remnants of a process of aggressive industrialization that thrust Armenia headlong into the age of high modernity. Like other modern ruins, from a distance, these industrial carcasses stand as poignant allegories of failed utopian projects, both socialist and capitalist. But up close, they are sites of improbable livelihood practices that defy familiar critique. Based on archaeological and ethnographic fieldwork in decommissioned Soviet factories across Armenia, this research examines deviant projects at the margins of global capitalism to retain industrial lifeways and make a living under conditions of ruination. ‘Trials of ruination’ refers to the struggle to unlock or forgo the salvage value of Soviet machines and factories undergoing slow, irreversible decay. These trials enlist people into acts of constant improvisation. A ‘life extempore’ is one in which the primary tactic for capturing or forestalling salvage value is perpetual extemporization, doing things one never planned or was trained to do. This talk focuses on the improvisational practices of two extemporists in the cities of Yerevan and Yeghegnadzor, and their efforts to revalue the anachronistic but persistent material world of Soviet industry, a massive accumulation of displaced socialist things out of proper time.

Nov 4, 2020 05:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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