Jessica Pisano

Pisano, Jessica

Jessica Pisano

PhD, Political Science, Yale University

MA, Political Science, Yale University

AB, History and Literature, Harvard College


The substantive questions that drive my research cohere around the enclosure of public resources, the constitution of material and social power, and political and social processes of dispossession.  In particular, I am interested in how transformations in ownership regimes shape everyday people’s lives, and how those effects translate into changes in local, national, and global politics.  I conduct my research in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, where I use a variety of immersion-based methods as well as archival sources.  

I am currently working on two book-length projects.  The first concerns theatricality in Eastern European politics.  My manuscript examines the political economy of facade institutions, including fake elections, in contemporary Russia and Ukraine, as a way to understand popular participation in them and--for large parts of local populations--their social legitimacy.  The project draws upon a wide variety of sources, including participant-observation research, extensive interviews, regional press, and social media.  It also examines Russian literature from the 19th century to the present to contribute to the history of the idea of Potemkin politics in Eastern European political space.  I have published a number of papers related to this project; the manuscript should be ready for publisher review in early 2015.

My second current project examines the evolution of property regimes in the twentieth century through a micro-history of a single rural street in the western borderlands of Ukraine.  Over the space of fifty years, this particular street was occupied successively by fascist, state socialist, and neoliberal regimes.  In the project, I analyze moments of hightened tension and structural violence around changes in land ownership: during wartime, when Jewish farmers and others lost their land to confiscatory policies; under the collectivization drives that followed in the wake of war; and lastly, nearly a half-century later, in contemporary privatization schemes implemented in the region. This project draws both upon ethnographic research carried out on the street over a period of a decade and thousands of documents drawn from local, regional, and national archives in Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, and the United States.


Recent Publications:


 ·         The Post-Soviet Potemkin Village: Politics and Property Rights in the Black Earth.  2008.  Cambridge University Press.  Winner of the AAASS (ASEEES) Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies.   

Articles and book chapters  

·        “Pokazukha and Cardiologist Khrenov: Soviet Legacies, Legacy Theater, and a Usable Past,” in Mark Beissinger and Stephen Kotkin, eds. Historical Legacies of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. (New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2014), pp. 222-242.

·         “Opting Out under Stalin and Khrushchev: Post-War Sovietization in a Borderlands Magyar Village,” Problems of Post-Communism, 58:1 (January-February 2011), pp. 58-66.  

·         “The Social Life of Borders: Political economy at the edge of the EU” (with André Simonyi) in Joan DeBardeleben and Achim Hurrelmann (eds.), Transnational Europe: Promise—Paradox—Limits (Palgrave, 2011), 222-238.  

·         “Social contracts and authoritarian projects in post-Soviet space: The use of administrative resource” Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 43:4 (2010), pp. 373-382.  

·         “Legitimizing facades: Civil Society in post-Orange Ukraine” in Paul D’Anieri (ed.), Orange Revolution and Aftermath: Mobilization, Apathy, and the State in Ukraine (Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), pp. 229-253.  

·         “From Iron Curtain to Golden Curtain: Remaking Identity in the European Union Borderlands,” East European Politics and Societies, 23:2 (May 2009), pp. 266-290.  Winner of Hungarian Studies Association Mark Pittaway prize.

         How to Tell an Axe Murderer: An Essay on Ethnography, Truth, and Lies,” in Edward Schatz (ed.), Political Ethnography: What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009), pp. 53-73.  Co-recipient of American Political Science Association Giovanni Sartori Award.  

·         “Property: What is it good for?” Social Research, 76:1 (Spring 2009), pp. 175-202.

   ·         “The Two Faces of Petr Arkad’evich: Land and Dispossession in Russia’s Southwest, ca. 2000,” International Journal of Labor and Working Class History, (Spring 2007), pp. 70-90.

   ·         Klychkov i Pustota: Post-Soviet Bureaucrats and the Production of Institutional Facades,” in Thomas Lahusen and Peter Solomon (eds.), What is Soviet Now? Identities, Legacies, Memories (London: LIT Verlag, 2007), pp. 40-56.

   ·         “‘Friendship of Peoples’ After the Fall: Violence and Pan-African Community in Post-Soviet Moscow” (with Eric Allina-Pisano) in Maxim Matusevich (ed.), Africa in Russia, Russia in Africa: 300 Years of Encounters (Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2006), pp. 175-198.

   ·        “Sub Rosa Resistance and the Politics of Economic Reform: Land Redistribution in Post-Soviet Ukraine,” World Politics,56:4 (July 2004), pp. 554-81.

   ·         “ Land Reform and the Social Origins of Private Farmers in Russia and Ukraine,” Journal of Peasant Studies, 31:3 (July 2004).489-514.

   ·         “Agrarnye reformy v Rossii i na Ukraine: sravnitel’nyi analiz,” Otechestvennye zapiski, 4:1 (March 2004), 1-12.

   ·         “Reorganization and its Discontents: A Case Study in Voronezh oblast’,”in David O’Brien and Stephen Wegren (eds.), Rural Reform in Post-Soviet Russia (Washington, D.C. and Baltimore: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), pp 298-324.

Office Location:
Room 719, 6 East 16th Street
Phone Number/Extension:
212-229-5747 ext 3085

Fax Number:


Research Interests:

Politics and political economy in Ukraine and Russia; property, privatization, and economic reform; informal institutions and bureaucratic behavior; the politics of concepts in social research; critical alternatives to analytic vocabularies in comparative politics; the political economies of borderlands; historical methods in the study of politics; how we think about beginnings and ends of regimes.

Primary research languages: English, French, Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, and Spanish

Professional Affiliations:

Center Associate, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University

PONARS Eurasia

Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

American Political Science Association

Awards and Honors:

·         Hungarian Studies Association Mark Pittaway biennial prize for the best scholarly article relating to Hungary for “From Iron Curtain to Golden Curtain: Remaking Identity in the European Union Borderlands,” in the Spring 2009 issue of  East European Politics and Societies, 2011.                 

·         Fulbright Scholarship Board, Council for International Exchange of Scholars, Fulbright award to the Russian               Federation (declined), 2011.                                 

·         American Political Science Association, Giovanni Sartori Award for the best book in qualitative and multi-methods     research for Political Ethnography, co-recipient, 2010.  

·         University of Ottawa, Faculty of Social Sciences Research Chair in the Politics of Property, 2010.  

·         AAASS Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies for best book published on Russia, Eurasia, or Eastern Europe in anthropology, political science, sociology, or geography, for The Post-Soviet Potemkin Village, 2009.  

·         Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Standard Research Grant, 2008-2012.  

·         National Council for Eurasian and East European Research Grant, 2007-2009.  

·         Harvard University Ukrainian Institute Shklar Research Fellowship, 2006.  

·         Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2005 and 2006.  

·         American Political Science Association Small Research Grant, 2006.  

·         Colgate University Picker Research Grant, 2006.  

·         Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies Research Scholarship, 2004.  

·         Social Science Research Council Eurasia Program Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2004-2006.  

·         Colgate University Dean’s discretionary research grant, 2004.  

·         Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies Research Scholarship (declined), 2002.  

·         Yale University Dissertation Fellowship, 2000.  

·         Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship, 1998.  

·         IREX Individual Advanced Research Opportunities Research Grant, 1998.  

·         Yale University Ukrainian Initiative dissertation research grant, 1998.  

·         Yale Center for International and Area Studies Dissertation Research Fellowship, 1997.  

·         Fox International Fellowship, Yale University and Moscow State University, 1997.  

·         National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 1996-2001.  

·         Yale University Graduate School Fellowship, 1995.  

·          Harvard University prizes for “Constructed Lives: Author as Saint in the Soviet Literary Biographical Museum,” 1994: Thomas P. Hoopes Prize; Edward Chandler Cummings Prize for best senior essay in History and Literature; George B. Sohier prize for best senior essay in English, Comparative Literature, Slavic or Romance Languages          

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