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Book Reviews - General (6)

Anna Sanina, Patriotic Education in Contemporary Russia. Sociological Studies in the Making of the Post-Soviet Citizen

Stuttgart: Ibidem Verlag, 2017, 188 pages
Karine Clément
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Anna Sanina, Patriotic Education in Contemporary Russia. Sociological Studies in the Making of the Post-Soviet Citizen, Stuttgart: Ibidem Verlag, 2017, 188 pages

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Pipss is grateful to Marat Iliyasov who edited this book review

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1The book written by Anna Sanina, Associate Professor at the Higher School of Economics National Research University in St. Petersburg, deserves high attention for two main reasons. First, because the sociological studies on patriotism in Russia are quite rare. And second, because such studies do not usually go beyond presenting the simplified picture of a Kremlin propaganda, which forces people to be patriots.

  • 1 R. Brubaker (Ed.), Nationalist politics and everyday ethnicity in a Transylvanian town, Princeton a (...)

2Sanina’s book contributes to some studies that have already demonstrated that people might interpret state patriotic programs in their own way1. The novelty of Sanina’s research is that she explores the role of the teachers, school administrators, and local educational authorities in co-producing the patriotic education. Her main thesis is that these actors, who have been trained and lived in the Soviet Union, take the opportunity to reemploy their skills in order to perform the new patriotic politics, and in doing so they are becoming the main agents of patriotic education.

3For her theoretical frame, Sanina uses Bourdieu’s sociology of habitus, arguing that this older generation of teachers and administrators would have a patriotic habitus inherited from their socialization in the Soviet Union. In other words, they support the new patriotic course relying on their previous knowledge of what patriotic education looks like. By doing this, they fill the vacuum left by very loose and ambiguous state patriotic programs. The idea of the co-production of patriotic education by the low-level performers (and not only by the central authorities) is pertinent and timely because the question of patriotic education is too often overwhelmed by ideological or political considerations, according to which the Kremlin would have dictated patriotism from above.

4Sanina’s methodological approach is stimulating. She studies attitudes, norms, and values of the major agents of patriotic education: teachers, school directors and deputies of extracurricular activity, such as local guidance counselors, regional civil servants, and federal officials. For the analysis, she uses various sources of empirical data, including the texts of federal, regional, and local patriotic education programs; statistical data; and in-depth interviews conducted in 2015-2016. She collected her data mostly in rural areas of Russia (Leningrad Oblast, Pskov Oblast, Saratov Oblast, Novgorod Oblast, Chelyabinsk Oblast and others), but also in Saint Petersburg and Moscow.

5The interview fragments are worth reading for themselves, as they give voice to the people who are usually not listened (school teachers, administrators, civil servants) and who are often considered as an instrument of manipulation in the hands of the authoritarian regime (for example, they are accused for being a part of the electoral frauds). From the interviews’ excerpts we learn that these persons also have some opinions, hopes, desires, requirements, and (what is not that much stressed by Sanina) that most of them seem to act for the good of the students. They want to raise them in the best possible way, despite having financial difficulties (especially in the countryside).

6Apart from all these obvious merits, the book raises concerns regarding at least two aspects. The first one is the use made of the habitus theory. The thesis of a “Soviet” patriotic education, which has survived the Yeltsin’s period of the nineties in people’s “habitus” and redeveloped under Putin thanks to the new political course, is not persuasive. There may be such a habitus, but the author rather claims its existence than demonstrates it. There are no studies of the teachers’ and other actors’ life trajectories, or their practices at the Soviet time and nowadays, to support this claim. Sanina underestimates the role of practices and conditions of living in her book. For example, many respondents speak about the limited funding of the schools and the low salaries of the teachers. This might have impacted the way in which the state patriotic programs are seen by the actors, sometimes as an opportunity to attract the funding for extracurricular activities.

7The second problematic aspect is the influence of ideology, - although the author already mentioned attempts to go beyond ideological clichés. Anna Sanina, indeed, demonstrates the irrelevance of the stereotype of an all-powerful Kremlin which imposes patriotic education from above. However, she does not question the cliché of the unified “Soviet” type of personality produced by the Soviet system. All the interviewed social agents are considered equally “Soviet” and equally eager to revive the uniform “Soviet” type of patriotic education. What is “Soviet”, how different people may have different experiences of this “Soviet” and how they may differently reinvent what they used to do at Soviet times? These questions are not raised, at least clearly.

8On the contrary, the author repeats the critiques often addressed by the liberal Russian intellectuals to the teachers and patriotic education’s administrators and according to which the former would push for a return of the “Soviet” order and “blind” undemocratic or uncritical patriotism.

9Regardless of the critiques, the book, undoubtedly is beneficial for everybody who wants to understand better this often-silenced layer of the Russian society, and for those who study patriotism.

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1 R. Brubaker (Ed.), Nationalist politics and everyday ethnicity in a Transylvanian town, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016; F. Daucé, M. Laruelle, A. Le Huérou, & K. Rousselet, Introduction: What does it mean to be a patriot? Europe-Asia Studies, 67(1), 2015, pp. 1–7; P.J. Goode, "Official and Everyday Patriotism in Putin’s Russia", in: M. Skey, and M. Antonsich (eds), Everyday Nationhood: Theorising Culture, Identity and Belonging after Banal Nationalism, Basingstoke, U. K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017; J. Hemment, Youth politics in Putin's Russia: Producing patriots and entrepreneurs, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015.

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Karine Clément, « Anna Sanina, Patriotic Education in Contemporary Russia. Sociological Studies in the Making of the Post-Soviet Citizen  », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [En ligne], Issue 19 | 2018, mis en ligne le 24 janvier 2019, consulté le 17 mai 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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