JESSICA T. PISANO is Associate Professor and Chair of the Politics Department at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York City. She is an associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.
Jessica Pisano’s research and teaching focuses on contemporary and twentieth century politics and political economy of Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine, Russia, and Hungary. She is interested in how economic change affects people’s lives and how those effects translate into changes in local, national, and global politics. Her research pays particular attention to the experiences of people who live far from capital cities. She uses a variety of immersion-based research methods and emphasizes long-term fieldwork conducted in local languages.
Pisano teaches courses on Russian and Eastern European politics, illiberalism, borders and walls in politics, property rights, political ethnography, and research design. Her Ph.D. students explore a variety of questions in Eastern Europe and Eurasia and beyond. Several are working on fieldwork-based dissertation projects on European borders. Pisano welcomes interest from prospective graduate students in comparative politics and, as an affiliated faculty member of the Committee on Historical Studies at the New School, mid- to late twentieth century Eastern European and Soviet history and politics.
A product of public primary and secondary education in the United States, Pisano completed an A.B. in History and Literature from Harvard College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University. She joined the New School for Social Research Politics Department in 2012. Prior to arriving at to the New School, she was Associate Professor and Research Chair in the Politics of Property in the École d’études politiques, a francophone academic unit at the bilingual Université d’Ottawa.
Pisano’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Social Science Research Council, and the International Research and Exchanges Board. She has held fellowships at the Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the Harvard Ukrainian Institute, and the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, and has been a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Central European University and an invited professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. In 2017, Pisano received a university-wide award for distinguished teaching at The New School.
Her current book manuscript, Political Theatre, is based on field research conducted over a period of fifteen years. It argues that twenty-first century performances of democracy in Ukraine and Russia–from staged electoral contests to elite-driven social movements–are neither mere virtual products of political technologists’ fancy nor examples of Soviet recurrence. Instead, they emerge from politicians’ opportunistic leveraging of economic incentives across a broad range of institutions and services, from workplaces to education to healthcare provision. These incentives leave some people little choice but to participate while others remain relatively untouched. What results includes a blurring of boundaries between state and society, growing social polarization, and a destabilization of the meanings people attach to democratic participation.
The essay, “From Iron Curtain to Golden Curtain: Remaking Identity in the European Union Borderlands,” East European Politics and Societies (May 2009), which won the Hungarian Studies Association Mark Pittaway Biennial Article Prize, is part of another current project, a social history of property on a single street in Eastern Europe between 1938 and 2014.
Her widely-adopted essay on methodology and the status of facts, “How to Tell an Axe Murderer: An Essay on Ethnography, Truth, and Lies,” was published in Edward Schatz (ed.), Political Ethnography: What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power (University of Chicago Press, 2009), which won the American Political Science Association Giovanni Sartori Award.
Her first book focused on the local politics of land privatization policies along the Russia-Ukraine border. The Post-Soviet Potemkin Village: Politics and Property Rights in the Black Earth (Cambridge University Press, 2008), winner of the Harvard University Davis Center Prize in Political and Social Studies, drew on on her long-term field research in villages in those two countries. The Post-Soviet Potemkin Village showed how privatization policy stripped former collective farm members of their few remaining rights, ushering in a new era of monopoly control over land resources and widespread dispossession of rural populations.
Pisano speaks English, French, Russian, Ukrainian, and Hungarian and uses these languages in her research. She reads several other European languages.
She lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and the youngest of four children.