Social Movements and Gender in Post-Soviet Russia. The Case of the Soldier's Mothers NGOs

by Jagudina, Zaira, PhD

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation provides a study of gender processes in the maternal human rights movement of the Soldiers’ Mothers NGOs, which were created in the arena of the military draft politics in post-Soviet Russia. It also includes an analysis of the depoliticized and gendered civil society of the formalized NGOs, which provides a broader social context for the soldiers’ mothers’ movement. The dissertation is founded on a combination of ideas borrowed from three theoretical perspectives. First, the concept ‘woman’ is approached as an analytical and political category constructed through the social locations by gender, class, region and culture within the framework of a military nation-state. The conventional maternal femininity, ‘naturally’ linked with caring labor, is produced as a part of the modern nation-states’ ideologies of militarism and patriotic duty. Second, participants in social movements create an oppositional sub-universe of meaning and try to deintegrate from the dominant beliefs, social norms, and rules of feeling. Finally, gender processes affect the political opportunities, mobilizing structures and collective identity construction in social movements. The case study´s primary empirical material is 22 semi-structural qualitative interviews conducted in 2000-2005 with 17 members of two organizations of the Soldiers’ Mothers, located in two different large cities. In addition, a participant observation of these two organizations and a discourse analysis of 35 articles in the Russian press were carried out, as well as 36 interviews with members of other human rights NGOs in Russia. The impact of gender processes upon the Soldiers’ Mothers movement is analyzed in relation to three dimensions: institutional and ideological structures, mobilizing social and organizational resources, and collective identity framing. In the context of the ongoing military operations and the depoliticizing trends in civil society, mothers of soldiers were supposed to work in the social serviceoriented NGOs as a helpmate to the military officials. Through the rituals of storytelling and interactions with their allies and their constituency, the Soldiers’ Mothers activists have deintegrated from the mainstream norms of women’s civic duty. The goals of the Soldiers’ Mothers NGOs have been reframed by connecting the maternal frame with the counter-discursive rhetoric of human rights, rooted in the Soviet legacy of political dissent. The feelings of fear, shame and anxiety are managed, and solidarity, pride and hope are instilled among the activists and parts of their constituency. Challenging the post-Soviet traditionalist gender ideology, the activists create a more critical identity of soldier’s mothers based on an anti-draft/military ideology. This ideology varies among local civic groups, depending on their access to material, human and symbolic resources. Relying on informal social networks, the activists sustain the autonomous status of their groups. From the viewpoints of the local grassroots’, the Soldiers’ Mothers activists reframe the concept ‘gender’ in the elitist feminism imported by Western donors in the NGO sector. The key findings in this dissertation suggest different revisions and expansions of earlier empirical research of the Soldiers’ Mothers NGOs and development of theories of gendered social movements.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Göteborgs universitet

School Location:Sweden

Source Type:Doctoral Dissertation

Keywords:SOCIAL SCIENCES; Social sciences; Sociology; social movement; gender; civic activism; collective identity; women’s self-organization; post-Soviet Russia


Date of Publication:01/01/2009

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