The entrance to the Department of History’s office in Sidney Smith Hall

Alexei Golubev

Postdoctoral Fellow


Name of Postdoctoral Fellowship:

Selling Knowledge to the Masses: Gnoseological Propaganda in the post-World War II Soviet Union, Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship

Description of Research Project:

Modern states have always appreciated the popularization of science as a powerful tool to transform and enlighten their nations. The Soviet Union was no exception: after World War II, the Soviet government created perhaps the most impressive system in the world for mass circulation and popularization of scientific knowledge. By the early 1980s it involved hundreds of thousands of sessional lecturers whose combined annual audience exceeded one billion people. In a planned economy which had no competition and no need for commercial advertising, Soviet authorities engaged in an effort to advertise science as an ideological commodity for mass consumption. This popular politics of scientific knowledge pursued a utilitarian agenda: to rebuild the Soviet Union as a rationally organized and disciplined society.

Yet what Soviet authorities conceived as a convenient toolkit to implement their social agenda turned out to be a Pandora’s box. Their desire to solicit mass involvement and participation made the popularization of knowledge a vibrant dialogue between state and society. The effort to promote rational forms of knowledge inadvertently brought about the rise and spread of non-conventional forms of science, such as ufology, energy medicine and cryptozoology. To the same ends, popularizers of science criticized – usually tacitly, sometimes aggressively – Soviet common knowledge that their audiences learned from school textbooks, newspapers, and television. The popularization of science thus allowed for a diverse and autonomous network of people and ideas to emerge in the highly centralized Soviet society. My project aims to contribute to the existing literature on the production and dissemination of knowledge in the USSR and, more generally, modern societies. Following Soviet people in their learning of how to handle ideas as commodities, I want to show how the popularization of science creates new forms of knowledge and produces unanticipated social effects.

Authored Publications:


  • PhD, University of British Columbia