Video: ZOiS Forum

When Feelings Go Public: The New language of Emotions in Russia


Panel discussion with Polina Aronson, Gasan Gusejnov, Julia Lerner and Tatiana Golova

In our everyday lives we perceive feelings as part of our inner world. But emotions are socially and historically determined. Up to recently, sociologists, psychologists, journalists and philologists had talked about a ‘therapeutic turn’ in the post-Soviet space. In Russia too, a culture has become established which focuses on the management of subjective emotions, demands continuous self-reflection, and regards personal feelings as the measure of all things. In the Russian-speaking world, a new language has emerged that describes feelings using psychologised terms like ‘toxic’, ‘resource’, ‘trauma’ and ‘co-dependency’.

Prior to the war in Ukraine, it seemed that this language had become firmly established. But the war has highlighted feelings that were previously unknown to us or caused us to look in a new way at feelings that were seemingly familiar. Shame, hate, love, fear for oneself and others, the desire to help – many Russians are now sharing these sentiments with each other in private conversations, on social media, and in public speeches. Since the start of the war, the vocabulary of their emotions and our understanding of them has changed, as well as the perception of what is appropriate and inappropriate in a particular situation. This is what we want to talk about with our three experts.


  • Polina Aronson – sociologist, political commentator, author of the book Liebe: Do It Yourself. Wie wir zu Managern unserer Gefühle wurden, and editor of the edited volume Komplexe Gefühle. Sprachbuch neuer Realität: Von Abuse bis Toxizität. Editor at openDemocracy. Cooperates with, Deutsche Welle, Aeon and the education projects InLiberty and Neon University.
  • Gasan Guseynov – philologist, author of books on classical philology and the language of politics in Russia, translator, essayist, professor at the Freie Universität (Moscow), guest professor at the Freie Universität Berlin (2021–2022), columnist for the international French radio RFI and Novaya Gazeta.
  • Julia Lerner – anthropologist, lecturer at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Works on the anthropology of knowledge and the sociology of migration. Interested in intercultural research on the culture of emotions in the private and public sphere. She coined the concept ‘emotional socialism’. Publishes in Russian, English and Hebrew.
  • Tatiana Golova – a sociologist and researcher at ZOiS. Her research interests include civic and political activism, migration, and communication via social media.

The event is part of the series ZOiS Forum.

The ZOiS Forum brings together academic, artistic, and political perspectives on the issues driving Eastern Europe today. Our aim is to make the significance and variety of our region of research accessible to a broad audience. Readings, discussions, presentations, and film screenings take place once a month during the semester.