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Location & Connections

 

Visiting Fellows 2011-2012

 

Institute

Ilya Gerasimov, Ab Imperio Quarterly, Russia

“Ethnic Crime, Imperial City: Practices of Self-Organization and Paradoxes of Illegality in Late Imperial Russia, 1905–16”
Fellowship period: August 1-31, 2011

Biography:
Ilya Gerasimov holds Russian (1998) and American (2000) PhDs, and is a founder and the Executive Editor of the international quarterly Ab Imperio (www.abimperio.net) dedicated to the studies of new imperial history and nationalism in the post-Soviet space (since 2000). He has published in several languages on Russian social history, the history of criminality and new imperial history. His recent publications include Modernism and Public Reform in Late Imperial Russia: Rural Professionals and Self-Organization, 1905-30 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and (co-edited) Empire Speaks Out: Languages of Rationalization and Self-Description in the Russian Empire (Brill, 2009).

His new book project is tentatively titled Ethnic Crime, Imperial City: Practices of Self-Organization and Paradoxes of Illegality in Late Imperial Russia, 1905–16. The book will tell the story of the “silent majority” of urban inhabitants in four imperial cities: Vilna (Vilnius), Odessa, Kazan, and Nizhny Novgorod, focusing on the social practices as the universal language binding the urban plebeian society together, substituting for the virtually absent sphere of discourses.

Abstract of current research:
During my stay in Helsinki in August, 2011 I intend to concentrate on writing  the manuscript of my book, entitled Ethnic Crime, Imperial City: Practices of Self-Organization and Paradoxes of Illegality in Late Imperial Russia, 1905–1916.

Covering the inter-revolutionary decade of 1905–1916, the book tells the story of the “silent majority” of urban inhabitants in four imperial cities: Vilna (Vilnius), Odessa, Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod. Representatives of unprivileged social groups comprised around 90 percent of city populations, yet produced hardly one percent of the surviving written sources. In fact, these people existed in a non-discursive environment: they did not usually read newspapers, rarely authored written documents and were only exposed to public discourses to a minimal degree. Often, those people did not even speak a common language, representing different ethnoconfessional groups. In the course of just over a decade, Russian imperial towns had to accommodate, socialise and acculturate an enormous body of people: every third person was a recent migrant to the city and every second person had moved there within the past few years. A study of these extremely diverse and dynamic social group requires moving “beyond textuality” to locate truly mass and representative sources and to find a conceptual framework capable of accommodating the diversity of the old imperial society within a single historical narrative, however complex. The book can be characterised as an exercise in “new imperial” social history, a study of the society fundamentally defined by diversity and ambivalence of empire as a context-setting category.

The underlying hypothesis and methodological approach of the book suggest that social practices were the universal language that bound the urban plebeian society together, substituting for the virtually unavailable discourses. Recent migrants were not briefed about the rules of behaviour in their new town; they picked up this non-verbalised wisdom by rubbing shoulders with more experienced peers, by getting punched for every mistake, and by negotiating a new arrangement through close physical contact, including violence. The non-verbal and very “bodily” foundation of social practices eventually created a developed meta-language of self-expression and self-representation of individuals and social groups (“the second modelling system”); we just need to learn how to read this language. Those practices formed a social space (if not a social order) of their own. The book singles out three main clusters of social practices, identified as “the middle ground” (or “creative misunderstanding”), “patriarchality” and “violence”. In my attempt to understand the motivation and rationality of the people who left a trace in written records mainly by their seemingly unjustified outbursts of rage, petty theft or ethnic slurs, I use the situation of conflict and, more specifically, of criminality as a window to the much broader social sphere of regular social interactions and encounters.

Email: office [at] abimperio.net

Academic hosts at the Aleksanteri Institute: Sanna Turoma and Jussi Lassila