Elizabeth Wood (PhD History ’91), professor of history, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sponsor: CREES.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied that he and his handlers are creating a cult of personality, yet it is evident to foreign and Russian observers that this is precisely what they are doing. The question, though, is why the persona he has created centers so dramatically around a kind of hypermasculinity, both the heroic masculinity of someone putting out fires and tranquilizing tigers and also a more adolescent masculinity of put downs and street language. How has Vladimir Putin cultivated that masculinity over time? How does that masculinity function as a performance of a certain kind of quasi-ideology that supports a façade of autocracy?
Elizabeth Wood is the author of Performing Justice: Agitation Trials in Early Soviet Russia (Cornell University Press, 2005) and From Baba to Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia (Indiana University Press, 1997). She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1991 in the field of Soviet history. She has published articles on prostitution, trade union organizing of women, and revolutionary theater trials. She is currently working on what she calls “the performance of power” under Putin in Russia today. This spring she received a grant from MIT’s Alumni Class Funds for the project “Bringing Russian and Soviet History into the Digital Age.”