Abstracts for Akadeemia 7/2006

Andreas Ventsel
Construction of the “people” in post-World War II Soviet political rhetoric

Compared to the period of the first Soviet occupation of Estonia (1940-1941), the postwar ideological self-image differed radically from the earlier one. The identification of the “people” was now based on the principle of national self-determination. Stalinist nationalism, however, was something entirely different from the nationalism of the Republic of Estonia – “Soviet patriotism” primarily meant subjugating the local ethnic identity to Russianness. Within the “Soviet people” as a whole, the local “we” was positioned definitely lower than the Russian “we”. Characterization of the “Soviet people” through “Soviet patriotism” also meant withdrawal from orthodox materialist ideology. Society’s driving force was now the love of the Soviet people for their homeland and boundless trust in Stalin. The ideological superstructure of society became more important than its economic determinism. By this ideological U-turn, the “Soviet people” lost its concrete content derived from Marxist-Leninist social theory and began to denote the limits of the communal integrity of Stalin’s era. Depending on the logic of the regime itself, the equivalence chain of concrete contents denoting the “Soviet people” became dependent on Stalin. Relying on Ernesto Laclau’s concept of the “empty signifier” and Emile Beneviste’s “I”-centred treatment of deixis, one can say that their equivalence was now created by Stalin’s “I” as the only speech subject in Soviet culture. Stalin was the one who, depending on the political situation, with his utterances created a new equivalence chain each time, thereby determining the new content of the “Soviet people”. Other members of the “Soviet people” could not determine their belonging to it, as the correlation of their subjectivity had been cancelled by Stalin’s “I”. The “Soviet people” created by Stalin was consequently equivalent in its meaning to the “we” subordinated to his “I”.

Louis Althusser
Ideology and ideological state apparatuses

In the Marxist theory of the method of production, the key question is reproduction of the relations of production. From this viewpoint, Althusser analyzes briefly the legal system, the state, and ideology. By developing the Marxist theory of state, he discusses the difference between the state authorities and the state apparatus, and lays particular emphasis on the realities that he calls ideological state apparatuses (ISAs). As ISAs, he counts the following institutions: the religious ISA, the educational ISA, the family ISA, the legal ISA, the political ISA, the trade union ISA, the communicative ISA, the cultural ISA.

The ISAs differ from the (repressive) state apparatus. First, there is only one (repressive) state apparatus but a plurality of ISAs. Secondly, the unified (repressive) state apparatus belongs to the public domain, but most ISAs depend on the private sphere. Private institutions can very well “function” as ISAs. There is one fundamental difference between the (repressive) state apparatus and the ISAs: the repressive state apparatus “functions by violence”, whereas the ISAs function “by ideology”. In their diversity, they are united namely by their functioning, as the ideology through which they function is always classified as the ruling ideology, which is the ideology of the “ruling class”.

Considering these features, Althusser characterizes the reproduction of the relations of production by a certain “division of labour”. The role of the repressive state apparatus essentially consists in securing by physical or some other force the conditions for reproduction of the relations of exploitation. The state apparatus not only contributes greatly to the reproduction of itself but also, and first of all, secures by repression the political conditions for the action of the ISAs. The latter actually largely secure the reproduction of the relations of production, behind a “protective shield” provided by the repressive state apparatus.

Finally, Althusser thinks that the ISA that has been installed in the dominant position in mature capitalist social formations as a result of violent political and ideological class struggle against the old dominant ISA (the church) is the educational ISA. The pair church-family has been replaced with the pair school-family.

No matter which options of interpretation await “ideology and the ISAs” in the future, one still has to admit that this text hides a forceful and original theoretical provocation, which confronts us with the unexpected (not to mention inconvenient) question – how can a society that proclaims the ideas of freedom and equality still incessantly reproduce relations of domination?

Indrek Martinson
Swedish researchers in Estonia and Estonian researchers in Sweden. II: Lecturers of the University of Tartu in Swedish universities

During World War II, approximately 50 lecturers from the University of Tartu fled Estonia for Sweden. Although a great number of them were unable to continue their academic careers in Sweden, some eventually succeeded in doing so. The article describes the life and career of the Estonian academics who gained high posts in Swedish universities: Rector of the University of Tartu, economic geographer Edgar Kant; physicists Harald Perlitz and Villem Koern; zoologist Hans Kauri; linguists Peeter Arumaa and Julius Mägiste; ethnographer Gustav Ränk; art historian Armin Tuulse; and psychologist Theodor Künnapas. After several years in Sweden, Perlitz became a professor in Ankara (Turkey) and Kauri in Bergen (Norway). Despite the difficulties of the initial years, all these nine Estonians were very successful abroad in research as well as in teaching; they had many talented pupils. They also participated actively in Estonian organizations fighting for the preservation of Estonian identity and culture and for the liberation of Estonia. Several of them managed to establish good contacts with their colleagues at the University of Tartu in Soviet Estonia.

Algo Rämmer
On Estonian and Latvian cultural relations in the 1920s-1930s proceeding from the University of Tartu

In the Tsarist period, cultural contacts between Estonians and Latvians derived from personal relations. When Estonia and Latvia became independent, they set themselves broader aims, attempting to develop versatile relations with all countries, particularly with the closest neighbours. The contacts between Estonia and Latvia were extensive and regular; in scope they were comparable only to ties between Estonia and Finland, and in the case of Latvia – with Lithuania. Cultural contacts greatly derived from the self-preservation instinct – many Estonian and Latvian intellectuals saw development of mutual relations as a guarantee for permanence of independence; they supported the theory of the common fate of the two nations that dated back to the Tsarist times. Long-term aims were development of national culture and participation in the European cultural sphere. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania generally regarded themselves as part of the Baltoscandian region.

An essential role in developing the contacts belonged to the University of Tartu and the University of Latvia; their lecturers were leaders of research in their own countries and of Baltic cooperation as a whole. The academics of both universities played a significant part in several international cultural organizations; they directed professional organizations and friendship societies, and promoted intellectual cooperation. Cooperation between experts was particularly fruitful in various applied sciences, as can be seen in the activity of several organizations. Major events – congresses, conferences, and friendship days – were often arranged. Mutual interest in contacts, similar research themes, and close personal ties meant that intensive cooperation sometimes developed spontaneously, without any formal organizations.

The activities of Estonian-Latvian and Latvian-Estonian friendship societies, which were supported by the efforts of well-known social figures, gained wide popularity. The societies helped to spread the cultural achievements of the neighbouring countries and to promote their ethnic originality. Most popular were the events of the Baltic Weeks that took place four times from 1937-1940 – they involved hundreds of people from all walks of life – “from pharmacists to firefighters, from singers to members of local government”, including academics.

Good results were also achieved by national intellectual cooperation boards that operated at the University of Tartu and the University of Latvia. The Baltic countries conferences organized by them meant an attempt to gain more support for the movement that united the intellectual elite; the themes discussed attracted attention even outside the Baltic Sea region.

From the viewpoint of the universities, cooperation between specialists was of greatest importance as it often involved solving tasks of national significance. For a long time, the universities in both Estonia and Latvia were the institutions that coordinated research nationwide; they also had to tackle numerous administrative, economic, and social tasks. Young and relatively small states, nearly equal in size, faced similar problems that could be discussed and were easier to solve together. Initially, both sides lacked people with great organizational skills, but lack of experience was compensated by joining forces with experts from both countries and learning from experience.

Richard A. L. Jones
The future of nanotechnology

At present, there is an almost surreal gap between what technology is believed to promise and what it actually delivers. The reason for this disparity is that most definitions of nanotechnology are impossibly broad.

What we could call “incremental nanotechnology” involves improving the properties of many materials by controlling their nano-scale structure. These are the sorts of commercially available products that are said to be based on nanotechnology, but they do not really represent a decisive break from the past. The devices of “evolutionary nanotechnology”, however, can, for example, sense the environment, process information, or convert energy from one form to another.

Eric Drexler’s vision of the future might be called “radical nanotechnology”, which is based on mechanical devices made of hard materials. The drawback of his vision is that it assumes that the engineering we employ on macroscopic scales can simply be scaled down to the nano-scale where the dominating force opposing motion is not inertia but viscosity. In addition, the factors that make nano-scale design very challenging are ubiquitous Brownian motion and strong surface forces. In other words, if we want to fulfil the goals of radical nanotechnology, we should use soft materials and biological design paradigms.

One such way would be to deliberately remove and isolate a number of natural components, such as molecular motors, from their natural habitats, and then incorporate them into artificial nanostructures. Another approach would be to start with a whole, living organism – probably a simple bacterium – and then genetically engineer a stripped-down version that contains only the components that we are interested in.

We now understand enough about biology to be able to separate out a cell’s components and to some extent utilize them outside the context of a living cell. This approach is quick and the most likely way to achieve radical nanotechnology soon. So when designing synthetic molecules, we need to take note of how evolution achieved this.

Jürgo Preden
Smart dust

The development of computers and computer science has become a part of our everyday lives, and, in a relatively short time, computers have evolved from specialized devices to everyday appliances. In spite of the rather fast development, the way in which people interact with the computer (in whatever form – mobile phones, PDAs, etc) has not changed – we still use a keyboard to input commands and a display to monitor responses.

The future promises a change that will make computers a part of our environment – there already exist software-intensive devices, the functionality of which is only achievable by using appropriate digital hardware and software. Connecting devices that interface with the physical world directly into a network will expand their functionality even more. The concept of a network of such interconnected devices, which all have a goal function that they attempt to satisfy, is called pervasive computing (also ubiquitous computing or invisible computing). The task of pervasive computing devices is different from that of conventional devices –pervasive computing devices are expected to exhibit proactivity, which means that these devices will not only respond to commands given by humans (as conventional computing devices do), but they are expected to perform tasks autonomously, based on their conception of the world and their goal function.

Due to the fundamental properties of these systems – unbounded number of connections, high complexity, proactivity of the components, and interactions with the physical world – they cannot be formally described using conventional algorithmic methods, which suffice for “classical systems”. Because of the properties mentioned above, these systems exhibit emergent behaviour, which cannot be predicted or described based on the behaviour of the individual components of the system.

Current technology enables us to experiment with pervasive computing concepts using smart dust. The theoretical and practical problems that emerge in the smart dust networks are similar to the problems that are presented by pervasive computing to which there are no suitable solutions.

Smart dust applications cover quite a large territory – from habitat monitoring to military applications, and we can only hope that the demand created by the applications will drive the research in that field, which will in turn present the solutions to the current theoretical and practical problems.

Mare Kõiva
Is it still a dusty room? Changes in museum culture

There are 258 officially registered museums in Estonia – an indication that there have been some great changes in museum culture. A national museum is an emblematic institution of the state and historically has often initiated research in the field. The main objective of museums is making certain objects in their collections visible, or, on the contrary, leaving some of them invisible. Various societies, areas of life, hobby groups, and regional organizations make use of museums as a means for preserving their history and folklore, for self-expression and self-identification. In contemporary society, the museum serves many important roles, being a place for displaying historical and contemporary values; it is an important institution for preserving and displaying personal and collective memory and cultural values, for collecting tangible and intangible values. It is an institution for creating identity and ethnic pride, a workplace, an educational environment, a framework for promoting ethnic handicraft, a place for integrating different folklore festivals, (art) exhibitions, and shows. Museums are connected to tourist routes and museum business, etc.

To sum up the above, museums constitute an important cultural and social resource. The article reflects the changes in the development of museums in the late twentieth and the early twenty-first century, the key words being the multifunctional museum, the museum as an open classroom, presentation of tangible and intangible history, the relation between permanent and temporary exhibitions, and their emergence. Although the museum as a classroom and lecture hall, a venue for concerts, a symbiosis of temporary and permanent exhibitions, existed as early as the 1960s, recent decades have brought significant changes. The issues of digitalization and preservation as well as the role of the exhibition curator and the person represented on displays have increased in the museology of the past few decades. Typically, a contemporary museum is a conglomerate of exhibitions, stores of souvenirs, books on related cultural topics, photographs and postcards, replicas of key exhibits, etc. Museums use different means to make their exhibitions more attractive – interactive solutions enabling the visitor to interact with the exhibition, share personal opinions, help to reconstruct objects or processes, touch the objects on display. Characteristically, larger museums have developed Friends’ Clubs – groups of supporters who organize educational tours and public events. The museums’ tradition of self-replication and an increase in the number of museological anthropology indicates that museums fulfil an important role in society.

Published 5 July 2006
Original in English

Contributed by Akadeemia © Akadeemia Eurozine

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