(CGI) Dr. Alexander Cooley recently took up the directorship of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. An expert on Central Asian and the author of several books, Dr. Cooley discussed with CGI his goals as director of the Harriman Institute, the impact of the Ukraine Crisis on scholarship and prospects for funding and research in the post-Soviet region.
Q: You are the first Director of the Harriman Institute whose research background is not specifically Russia. Is this part of a trend where the Institute is looking to get away from its Russia centric mission?
A: Well, it is certainly true that I am not a “Russianist” by training – I am also of what you might term the “post-Soviet generation,” as I conducted my own graduate work here at Columbia in the mid-1990s when the post-Soviet Central Asian states were moving to consolidate their newly-acquired independence. My dissertation work was actually on how Soviet-era administrative legacies and patronage networks shaped the independence of the Central Asian states, so Russia has never been far away conceptually or empirically!
Institutionally, the Institute has a long-standing commitment to engaging with the broader region. Our course offerings, guest speakers, visiting scholars and programming span a broad geographic area from the Balkans to Eastern Europe to Central Asia, covering a variety of issues and disciplines. Indeed, how exactly we conceptualize the “post-Soviet” space and how this affects our work have been recurring questions for the Institute’s leadership. And we still grapple with these issues in our core course.
At the same time, maintaining an active focus on Russia is still critically important, arguably even more so in troubled times like these, so we will certainly not shy away from our Russian work. But I also think we need to understand that what it means to “do Russia” is dramatically different now than it was 25 years ago. Russian actors are far more immersed in broader regional, global and transnational networks and processes, which also has impacted how individual academic fields pursue Russia-centered research. […]
See the full interview © Center on Global Interest (CGI)