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Preface Tver’, Russia, 17 May 1998 Valentina, Oktiabrina, Lena, and Lydia,1 four members of the women’s group Zhenskii Svet (Women’s Light) sat in my rented apartment, armed with ®ip charts and marker pens. At my request, the women had formed pairs and sat on the small sofa beds at opposite ends of the tiny one-room apartment, debating eagerly. We had gathered together that day in order to undertake a process of group re®ection. Our discussion was structured around three broad questions designed to assist the group in clarifying its goals and aims: where did we come from? (the group’s history); where do we want to go? (the ideal); how to get there? (the action plan). As the women spoke, interrupting each other in excitement, I struggled to jot down all that they said, anxious not to miss anything. The four made interesting pairs: Valentina, founder of the group and feminist historian, worked with Oktiabrina, a doctor committed to issues of women’s health. She was a newcomer of whom we all had high hopes. She had only recently moved to the city from distant Siberia, propelled by a series of devastating economic losses that were all too typical of these post-Soviet times. She was now urgently seeking a niche for herself and looking for ways to solidify her activity. I watched as Oktiabrina listened intently to Valentina’s detailed account of the group’s history , frowning occasionally in consternation at some of the incidents she recalled . Lena, an English language teacher with an irrepressible sense of humor and sharp tongue, worked with Lydia, a sociologist and researcher, who had recently been laid off and was seeking ways to set up her own women’s group. The two sat talking animatedly, and carefully making a list of the points they raised. I had called the meeting now, with Valentina’s blessing, because the group was at a crossroad. Until this point, their strong concern with independence had led them to avoid entering into collaborations with either the local administration or international donor agencies. But times were hard in the Russian provinces ; these teachers, engineers, and doctors who were secure during the Soviet period now struggled to make ends meet as wages were withheld and prices skyrocketed . Some of the Zhenskii Svet women wanted to formalize their activities and locate sources of ¤nancial support; they were beginning to make tentative moves toward formal collaboration with external agents, and they had competing ideas of how to go about this. At a time of tumultuous social and political 1. With their permission, I used the actual names of Zhenskii Svet participants. To do otherwise would contradict the goals and motivations of our collaborative research process. With the exception of some foundation representatives, all other names are pseudonyms. change, the group was unraveling and the women had begun to rethink their activism. I conceptualized the seminar as a place where members of the group could clarify their personal goals and investment in it. Indeed, I wanted to clarify my own role and commitment; ten months into my ethnographic research, I felt I had something concrete to offer: insight into international donor priorities and acquaintance with both donor agency representatives and other Russian provincial groups. I began the day by asking the four women why they had agreed to come and what they wanted to achieve through the process. Valentina answered, “Because it feels as if we are picking up a dialogue and a tradition that began in the group earlier. Feminism is all about the unity of research and activism. A group cannot exist if it doesn’t evaluate itself and de¤ne its purposes.” Lena nodded, saying, “I agree that this is a new stage we are entering and that we need to unite. We have no clear idea of what, concretely, we want and we need to de¤ne that.” Lydia’s response was rather more analytic: “In the last four years I’ve come into contact with a mass of different and interesting ideas, I am interested in Western experience, interested in your (Julie’s) evaluation of what the situation looks like here,and to what extent a third sector2 is realizable here.” Oktiabrina answered thus: “I’m also interested in some of these ideas, in feminism , in discussion of the role of women in society, because I’m not happy with the way things are today. Why did I come here today? Because I...


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