Dear friends and colleagues,
the Editorial Board of Ab Imperio is pleased to present the new issue of our journal: 4/2013. The fourth issue of the journal in 2013 is devoted to the exploration of “EMANCIPATION OF RESEARCHERS THROUGH THE DECENTRALIZATION OF NORMATIVE MODELS”.
“Ab Imperio” is a peer-reviewed, bilingual (English and Russian) international scholarly journal dedicated to the study of empire and nationalism in the post Soviet space.
The language of each publication (Russian or English) is indicated by a letter in brackets.
A well-known predicament of freedom is that it evades attempts to give it a fixed definition. Once rigidly defined, it is no longer real freedom. The first issue of Ab Imperio within the annual thematic program “Freedom and Empire: Dialectics of Diversity and Homogeneity in Complex Societies” was dedicated to an analytical framework and language that allowed scholars to discuss freedom in principle. The second issue focused on those individuals and groups – political activists or scholars – who define and interpret for society what freedom is. The third issue focused on the problem of the asymmetrical and contextual perception and misperception of freedom and coercion in society: what is freedom to one, is often arbitrariness to the other. Finally, in the fourth issue we discuss yet another aspect of freedom – the freedom of scholars from their own analytical language, models, and interpretations. Of all sorts of freedom, this is the most elusive one. It cannot be demonstrated directly (unless a text violates all of the authoritative norms and conventions of academic writing). Arguably, we can only feel that a scholar is free when a study demonstrates a degree of autonomy vis-à-vis the historiographic tradition that it represents. Autonomy – or rather subjectivity – is an important manifestation of freedom that can be more or less formally assessed. The dialectics of freedom implies that a scholar is emancipated from dominant habits of thought not just by revising (or even rejecting) them but also by acknowledging the autonomous subjectivity of his or her object of study. This is not metaphysics, just empirically proven regularity: to apply explanatory models self-consciously (that is, autonomously), one has to acknowledge that they only partially explain the interests and logic of his or her objects of study (hence the need to find a more suitable model out of the many available ones). This means that the people we study are more complex and multidimensional than any single model or theory can account for. They are autonomous subjects not only of the historical process but also of a historical study.
This point is well illustrated by Satoshi Mizutani, whose article published in the “Methodology and Theory” section presents a rare attempt by a historian to seriously engage the concept of “hybridity” by postcolonial theorist (which almost by definition means a literary scholar) Homi K. Bhabha. “Hybridity” seems to be a useful category for historians, who never observe “pure forms” in their research, but, as Mizutani suggests, the way Bhabha framed this concept is not just ill-suited to a regular historical inquiry, it is fundamentally hostile to the very mode of historical thinking. Briefly put, “hybridity” serves Bhabha as a concept that debases colonialism as episteme, along the way destroying “history” as a repressive manifestation of this episteme. Historians may simply ignore this as the speculative generalizations of a “literary scholar,” but Mizutani takes Bhabha’s argument seriously and salvages the potentially useful concept by accepting the rules of the game being offered and demonstrating the deficiency of Bhabha’s approach on its own terms. Mizutani is known for his research on so-called Eurasians – people of mixed descent in the Indian Raj, who after 1911 were called “Anglo-Indians.”[Satoshi Mizutani. The Meaning of White: Race, Class, and the “Domiciled Community” in British India, 1858−1930. Oxford, 2011.] He points to the paradoxical situation of a postcolonial scholar and activist, Bhabha, who aspires to debase the colonial claim to hegemony in the name of the colonized – and yet, he shows no interest in their own autonomous subjectivity. Looking at Eurasians as Bhabha’s “hybrids,” Mizutani emancipates himself from the limitations of the orthodox understanding of this phenomenon, and by the same token returns historical agency and human autonomy to the people who interest postcolonial theoreticians more as conceptual “cannon fodder” in the battle with Eurocentric hegemonic discourses.
Of course, “Eurasians” in Mizutani’s study immediately remind one of the Eurasianist movement of the 1920s among emigrants from the collapsed Russian Empire. While Eurasians in Mizutani’s study lacked an elaborated self-conscious ideology, Eurasianists had to invent their hybrid subject (called Turanians). From a historical perspective, however, we can see that the project of hybridity had every chance of becoming a powerful alternative to both the discourse of colonial domination by the superior race and the ideology of subaltern anticolonial nationalism. There were real people who combined their local identity with a European worldview, and there was an elaborated ideology of self-sufficient subjectivity – that is, one not framed by the colonial episteme. The fact that they “missed” each other in time and space does not mean that they could not meet in principle, and that hybridity is a marginal phenomenon.
Moreover, it is in the imperial situation of multiple identifications and modalities of behavior that hybridity inescapably becomes a norm rather than a deviation. Similarly to societies in imperial situations that generated hybridity as a default mode of operation, studies of imperial society generate their own hybridities in the form of multidisciplinarity, or in the form of recognition of multiple languages in which our subjects of study can express themselves. The scholar’s position vis-a-vis the historiographic tradition is a principally hybrid one: while recognizing the authority of tradition and the value of accumulated interpretations, we always have to assume the position of outsider, even if to add our new (and thus different) knowledge to the body of knowledge “already there.”
Articles in the “History” section pursue a whole range of topics, but all of them demonstrate a commonality of approach to their subjects of study, as simultaneously framed by more than one explanatory scheme, and thus acquiring a degree of autonomous “hybridity.” Stefan B. Kirmse writes about the immediate aftermath of the judicial reforms of Alexander II on the example of a conflict between the governor of Kazan province and the inhabitants of several Tatar villages who staged riots in 1878 over the misinterpretation of carelessly framed governor orders. Judicial reform to Kirmse is not an abstract act of legislation, but a contested process that redefined the social order of the empire and traditional roles of social actors. Its ultimate result was not the beginning of an era of ideal Rechtsstaat, but the creation of radically new conditions for expressing one’s subjectivity: Tatar peasants resorting to the archaic repertoire of protest through rioting suddenly found themselves the subjects of modern legal procedure, while the governor was shocked to discover his quite traditional administrative practices criminalized by the new legal system. Emancipation became conditioned by the very ability of people to demonstrate a hybrid identity and their ability to embrace new concepts and social practices. Simply put, in the post-reform legal system, the ability of peasants to use the judiciary mechanisms provided by the state gave them more independence and freedom than direct rebellion against the state order. We learn about this because Kirmse acknowledges the complexity of motivations of all the protagonists of his study, and the broad repertoire of actions available to them – which means that there is no single all-embracing explanation, predetermining their subjectivity and thus retrospectively restricting it.
Etienne Forestier-Peyrat in an article dedicated to the history of the Baku trade fair of the 1920s reminds readers that the familiar outline of our mental geography of the South Caucasus is a very recent phenomenon. The idea that “Azerbaijan” means the Republic of Azerbaijan with its capital in Baku, that the population of this republic is predominantly “ethnic Azerbaijanis,” and even that the Soviet regime was all about Communist ideology were very novel back in the 1920s. Not that these ideas are erroneous, they just present an abridged and one-sided version of the situation on the ground. Forestier-Peyrat reconstructs the complex and truly hybrid nature of the population and territory of the modern-day Azerbaijan Republic after 1917, where Sovietization, nationalization, and the political demarcation of territory were interconnected elements of the same historical process. The history of the Baku fair allows the author to reconstruct the preexisting old economic ties and social networks that used to neatly link “Russian” Azerbaijan with Northern Iran. By acknowledging this “hybrid” status of Azerbaijan, Forestier-Peyrat frees himself from constraints of the dominant historiographic narratives of national and political histories of the region.
Yulia Gradskova crosses two distinct fields: the history of Muslim modernity and gender studies. The result is not a “gender study of Soviet Muslims,” but a story of Soviet female activists in the Middle Volga region in the 1930s, whose identities and actions were shaped by their gender, ideology, and ethnicity, but also by something else that cannot be easily and neatly categorized. Her protagonists are certainly hybrids in more than one sense (including a very important regional dimension), and by accepting them as featuring a hybrid identity, Gradskova allows more human agency and freedom in them. The very term natsionalka coined by the Soviet authorities to designate an ethnically non-Russian and backward woman, and embraced by female activists representing those “backward ones” acquired multiple meanings and implications reflecting the historical hybridity of the situation. Along the way, the historiographic view of Soviet women in Muslim regions is altered: instead of being a “surrogate proletariat” and recipients of someone else’s knowledge or agency, these women appear in the historical analysis as people with their own subjectivities.
Hybridity is rendered differently in Nikolay Mitrokhin’s study of the formation of the Soviet elite of the post-Stalin period, as represented by diplomats and international experts – graduates of the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). In this case, we see the emergence of an elite group not in direct correspondence to the legal and ideological provisions of the Soviet regime. The very elitism of this group was constructed through a dynamic combination of multiple factors. The list includes some “correct” personal choices based on a good understanding of what constitutes Soviet normativity now; belonging to some preexisting elite network but also instrumentalizing the Soviet discourse of social mobility; access to foreign goods and literature and at the same time a shadow existence on the fringe between the official Soviet ideological and cultural world and the margins of the unofficial and even dissident culture; generational loyalties and even stylistic correspondence to the standards upheld by the cohort of the “chosen.” None of the existing explanatory models of late Soviet society – from indifference (Alexey Yurchak), to cynicism and alternative progressivism (Mark Lipovetsky), to ideological adaptation or active collaboration (the “totalitarian school”) – explains the nature of this elitism and the social essence of the group that interests Mitrokhin. The notion of “the Soviet elite” opens itself to interrogation through the notion of hybridity: simultaneous and often visibly ambiguous identification with Soviet norms and “Western” habitus created the framework for several generations of post-Stalin elites in the USSR.
In the “Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science” section, Alexander Ponomariov explores a menacing hybrid of the modern Russian legal system with Orthodox Church canon law presented by the trial of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot. Ultimately, this “hybridity” resulted in the deprivation of freedom – of the arrested band members sentenced to prison terms as well as of public and expert opinion in Russian society. Still, by showing how the prosecution and its advisers-“experts” grossly misinterpreted the norms of canon law while twisting the procedures of the Russian legal system, Ponomariov distances himself from narrow legal (or theological) analysis. This distancing allows him to produce a more complex and dynamic picture of the infamous trial.
Finally, in the “Newest Mythologies” section, Ilya Gerasimov discusses a case of deliberately ignored hybridity: the “scheme of Russian history” that structures the dominant historical narrative of the Russian past of both conservative and liberal historians. This scheme was formed during the epoch of Romantic nationalism in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and inherited its obsession with purity of the nation’s “body” and “soul.” Analyzing a recent experiment in “popular history” (Boris Akunin’s conspicuous History of the Russian State), Gerasimov argues that contempt for hybridity in describing the past directly influences holistic (if not outright fascist) social ideals in the present, even when they are articulated by liberals.
Recognizing hybridity as a phenomenon in its own right (not a vehicle for subverting someone’s colonial domination), as a distinctive and autonomous complex subjectivity, provides the elusive and airy substance of freedom with a material, if not a structural, foundation. Ambivalence, ambiguity, and the possibility to choose are elemental preconditions of freedom that supersede political institutions and developed ideologies.
Editors of Ab Imperio:I. GerasimovS. GlebovA. KaplunovskiM. MogilnerA. Semyonov
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Methodology and Theory
Emancipatory Hybridity (R&E)
Satoshi Mizutani Hybridity and History: A Critical Reflection on Homi K. Bhabha’s Post-Historical Thoughts (E)
Stefan B. Kirmse: Law and Interethnic Relations in the Russian Empire: The Tatar Riots of 1878 and Their Judicial Aftermath (E)
Etienne Forestier-Peyrat: Red Passage to Iran: the Baku Trade Fair and the Unmaking of the Azerbaijani Borderland, 1922−1930 (E)
Yulia Gradskova: Freedom as Coercion? The Soviet Attack on the “Enslavement of Women” and the Legacy of Empire (Mid-1920s – Early 1930s, the Volga-Ural Region) (R)
Nikolay Mitrokhin The Elite of “Closed Society”: MGIMO, International Departments of the Apparatus of the CPSU Central Committee, and the Prosopography of Their Cadres (R)
IV. Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science
Alexander Ponomariov: The Pussy Riot Case in Russia: Orthodox Canon Law and the Sentence of the Secular Court (E)
VI. Newest Mythologies
Ilya Gerasimov L’État, C’est Tout: Boris Akunin’s “History of the Russian State” and the Canon of National History (R)
Michael Moser A Brief Response to Volodymyr Kulyk (R)
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Alexander Etkind, Warped Mourning: Stories of the Undead in the Land of the Unburied (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013). 300 pp. Index. ISBN: 978-0-8047-7393-5.Yuliya Yurchuk (E)
David L. Cooper, Creating the Nation: Identity and Aesthetics in Early Nineteenth-century Russia and Bohemia (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010). 347 pp. ISBN: 978-0-87580-420-0 (paperback).Oksana Zemtsova (R)
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Dorena Caroli, Histoire de la protection sociale en Union soviétique (1917−1939) (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010). 316 p. ISBN: 978-2-296-13548-2.Wim van Meurs (E)
Douglas M. Bowden, American Letters from Khrushchev’s Russia: Surprising Impressions of Life Behind the Iron Curtain, 1961–1962 (Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2013). 204 pp. ISBN: 978-1484914267.Brandon Gray Miller (E)
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Kimitaka Matsuzato (Ed.), Comparative Imperiology (Sapporo: Slavic Research Center, Hokaido University, 2010). 132 pp. ISBN: 978-4-938637-53-8.Krzysztof Brzechczyn (E)
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