Ab Imperio (2012), 4

Ab Imperio (2012), 4
Other title information 
Imperial Diversity and Modern Knowledge

Published on
Kazan', Russland 2012: Selbstverlag des Herausgebers
124 € Jahresabo, 31 € Einzelhelheft



Organization name
Ab Imperio. Studies of New Imperial History and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Space
Russian Federation
Postanschrift: P.O. Box 157, Kazan' 420015. Tel./Fax: 7-8432-644-018
Kaplunovski, Alexander

Dear friends and colleagues,

the Editorial Board of Ab Imperio is pleased to present the new issue of our journal: 4/2012. The fourth issue of the journal in 2012 is devoted to the exploration of “Imperial Diversity and Modern Knowledge”.

“Ab Imperio” is a 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.


Imperial Diversity and Modern Knowledge

The present issue concludes the journal’s thematic year on “Structures and Cultures of Imperial and Post-Imperial Diversity.” It focuses on how imperial diversity was constructed, rationalized, and reworked by modern knowledge. This is not the first time Ab Imperio’s editors and authors have turned to the problem of how the complex imperial space was experienced and described through formalized knowledge. These earlier issues of the journal highlighted the need to work against the grain of normative models of modern social sciences in order to uncover an anthropologically different reality of imperial experience and to provide an archaeology of its original categories. The impossibility of mechanically transplanting contemporary conceptions of the development of society (in particular, those that were formed by a national perspective) onto the complex and heterogeneous imperial space stimulated our interest in how representations and ideas of groupness and the temporal and spatial organization of imperial space, the very knowledge of empire, were described and expressed from inside the imperial experience. This question led to the formulation of the concept of languages of description and self-description of historical actors. Coexisting and competing with each other and challenging explanatory models imposed by modern scholars, these self-conscious or only retrospectively reconstructed languages (and the competing visions and rationalities they advance) complicate the accepted approaches to composite and multicultural societies. Taking the “languages of self-description” seriously debases claims to an interpretive monopoly by any authoritative narrative (past or present), acknowledges the intrinsic validity of alternative explanations and subjectivities, deconstructs the process of emergence of group identities in the empire (which could be connected to political claims, such as nationalism), and examines the synchronic contexts in which this process unfolded itself. Modern knowledge at once served as an important language of self-representation in modernizing empires and as a broader intellectual context in which empires themselves became objects of examination from the outside (being juxtaposed to archaic or modern polities, such as the nation-state). This explains our persistent interest in the role of modern knowledge in imperial history.

There seems to be a fundamental difficulty associated with the task of “translating” the spectrum of particularistic “languages” representing the nonsystemic, multilevel, and situational imperial heterogeneity into modern universal categories that attempt to rationalize and systematize any diversity. Still, the task is not hopeless, for we know that, historically, modern knowledge was not incompatible with modernizing empires that consciously strove to put it into their service. Moreover, they could substantiate their claim to the status of a modern state only if they passed through the tests of the newly emerged (in the wake of the Enlightenment) “objective” knowledge. In other words, an empire could appear as a modern state only if presented as a rationally organized and therefore cognizable and governable political, social, and cultural space with a prospective direction of development. This situation of an “archaic empire” attempting to reconceptualize itself as a “modern empire of nations” presents a particularly fascinating historical process and research topic. It was on behalf of the new social sciences and in the name of progressive historical and sociological ideas, for the new scientific understanding of cultural, economic, and social progress, that attempts were undertaken to objectify cultural and social distances between the metropoles and the colonies, to think of “local knowledge” as an alternative to the discursive power of empire and to cast this local knowledge as systemic and similar to the modern systems of knowledge. It was on the basis of the new scientific theories that national citizenship of the imperial metropoles was opposed to the rationally reinterpreted status of the population of the colonies or the customary law of nondominant groups was included into the pan-imperial legal discourse and ascribed a new judicial status and rationality.

In that sense, one can say that empire itself was transformed from an empirical fact into a scholarly problem – under the influence of modern knowledge – and became “visible” as a distinctive phenomenon. This transformation is at the center of new imperial history, which explains why one of its most productive directions was formed within the “cognitive turn” accomplished by this subfield. The cognitive turn within new imperial history implied renewed attention to studies of the repertoire of available ideas and representations, with the help of which imperial experiences were thought through and constructed. The current issue of Ab Imperio offers a slice of this historiographic direction by focusing on the collision between imperial diversity as a lived experience and modern knowledge. In doing so, it also suggests a broad direction for future research.

In the “Methodology and Theory” section, Karuna Mantena explores reciprocal connections between the imperial expansion of the nineteenth century (on the example of the British Empire) and the emergence of modern social theory and anthropology accompanied by their characteristic conceptions of society and culture and the opposition between the traditional and the modern society. Mantena demonstrates how temporal and spatial schemes embedded into the new scientific logic turned this opposition into one between a unique and dynamic European modernity, on the one hand, and those phenomena that were described as lacking such historical dynamics, on the other. These allegedly nondynamic social forms, which ceased to develop, fixed the early stages of the civilizational development, which scholars placed both before and outside of Europe. Colonial models of administration secured contacts with “primitive” and “traditional” societies and guaranteed a systematic supply of empirical information about them. This mode of governance stimulated scholarly conceptualizations of “traditional” society, but at the same time it developed and was corrected under the influence of discoveries of the new social sciences. As Mantena shows, the idea of indirect colonial rule was based on a holistic reading of traditional society and those ideas and social structures that underwrote it. She points out that such an interpretation was functionally close to the understanding of culture that became predominant in anthropology of the early twentieth century.

The authors presented in the “History” section demonstrate the importance of the scientific invention of “traditional society” through analyses of legal thought and practices in late imperial Russia. Michel Tissier and Aleksei Gorin explore the specifically imperial collision of the unification and standardization of legislation and the incorporation or exclusion of the customary law, which reflected – according to the scholarly views of the time – the “nature” of local societies and the unique social and cultural logic of “primitive” life. On the other hand, as “natural” phenomena, local laws simultaneously fixed “traditionalism” and backwardness, and realized the archaic principle of particularism in the organization of imperial political and social space. This contradiction, which is theoretically explored in Mantena’s article, was both strengthened and complicated in the Russian conditions by the heterogeneity of imperial diversity. “Local laws” in Russia included not just the legal norms of inorodtsy (“aliens”) such as Jews or the populations of the Caucasus and Central Asia, but also the customary law of the “titular” population (Russian peasants). On the other hand, the rubric of “local laws” embraced the “advanced” legal systems of the imperial European borderlands, such as Poland or the Grand Duchy of Finland.

Although the authority of new knowledge was equally recognized by the representatives of the imperial state and the free professions, there was no consensus regarding versions of imperial self-modernization based on modern knowledge. In other words, the universal language of modern science was not translated into similarly universal models of political and social action. Moreover, in the imperial context the universal language of science tended to generate new ruptures and dissent, as well as new, scientifically based hierarchies. As Stephen Velychenko’s article in the “Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science” section demonstrates, empire as a category providing a context for discussions of historical progress and social justice created the conditions for transforming the universal (Marxist) language of social and economic criticism and national emancipation into the specific projects of national-Marxism and anticolonialism. This transformation powerfully homogenized the presumably opposed groups, ignoring class, ideological, and other stratifications within both the colonized and colonizing societies.

The state as the key agent of rationalization and unification of imperial society is another central theme of this issue. This idea, of course, is not new, yet it is far from a banality, especially if one problematizes the phenomenon that is conveniently hidden behind the term “state.” The authors presented in this issue deconstruct the phenomenon of the state and thus complicate our understanding of it as an agent of modern knowledge. Vilma Zaltauskaite demonstrates how in the Russian empire of the nineteenth century the striving toward systematization and control over the circulation of knowledge and information (as the basis for political domination) was combined with the habitus of traditional imperial rule, which was particularistic, situational, based on estate principle rather than on national social categorizations, and suspicious of scientific knowledge.

However gradually, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the state as the modernizer of empire lost its specific position vis-à-vis other, nonstate actors. This is demonstrated in Andreas Kappeler’s article in the methodological section, which focuses on a comparative analysis of population censuses in the Russian Empire and the Austrian part of the Habsburg Empire. Kappeler points to significant differences in the ways these were conducted and interpreted, yet also shows that the language of statistics became the universal language of modernization on an international scale that eliminated the distinctions between imperial and nonimperial state formations, while positing especially challenging tasks for the heterogeneous empires. It is indeed a paradox that imperial states voluntarily accepted the new language of statistics as an imperative and found themselves facing the most complex challenges. The scientific politics of population control provided a new, “objective” and universal scale for measuring backwardness and modernization, and the imperial states began to use that scale, often against their own ideological premises and preferences. Moreover, the imperial states helped impose the new language of statistics on society. However, Kappeler does not consider that process to be one-sided. He shows that imperial societies were not just objects of the imposed scientific discourse of censuses (which homogenized these societies externally and stratified them internally according to the census categories). Imperial societies were also active subjects and interpreters of this new language of statistical knowledge. It was the imperial society that provided census takers and interpreters, and it was within the imperial society that different groups undertook to resist the practices and categories of the census or to use it in their own interests. One can say that the census created the modern empire, while empire created the census as an instrument of politics and a scientific understanding of social phenomena.

We see the same logic of using universal scientific discourse on the population, and conflicting interpretations of its categories and outcomes in regard to the early Soviet period in the article by Claire Le Foll. Here, though, the central role is played by the conflict between the national and the universal Soviet principles of imperial modernization and rationalization.

Marina Loskutova’s article exploring the scientific and sociopolitical contexts of the creation of the first Economic-Statistical Atlas of European Russia (1851) by the Ministry of State Domains even further complicates our understanding of the imperial state as an agent of modern knowledge. Instead of assuming the seemingly obvious framework of the state’s taking possession of space, the author looks back at the Humboldtian model of science, which gives a better understanding of the phenomenon of “ministerial science” in mid-nineteenth-century Russia. Representatives of the latter oriented themselves equally to the interests of the imperial state and the most current European ideas and practices. Not unlike their German or French colleagues, these scholars-bureaucrats depended on mobilizing the suppliers of local knowledge, which they wanted to recode and redescribe in modern scientific categories. In the conditions of Europe and North America, the spread of the Humboldtian model of science stimulated the formation of modern regional and local identities and the growth of “civic science.” In the conditions of the Russian Empire, as the author shows, this model also possessed the potential to stimulate civic society and regional identities, but the necessary social preconditions were often lacking. As a result, the “state” represented by the ministerial scholars-bureaucrats was forced to create its own, local state agents, which changed the character of the Humboldtian model and its social outcomes. Loskutova’s approach allows us to reevaluate the role of the state as a persistent modernizer and agent of modern scientific knowledge and to understand the extent to which it was embedded in diverse local and international contexts. We can also better understand the state’s dependence on empire as the sphere of application of knowledge and as a context in which scholars formulated their ideas about society and progress.

The “Archive” section of the issue presents a story (in the introduction and the documents) that returns us to the discussion of the history of production of knowledge: here the author is not less critical toward the established explanatory schemes or less sensitive to the contexts of life and activities of the publication’s protagonists. Alla Zeide reconstructs the complex and ambivalent story of the emergence of one of the leading journals in American Slavic Studies, the Russian Review, which is customarily approached as a distinctly émigré story. Therefore, it is presumed to have little relevance for understanding the genealogy of modern Russian studies in the United States, and even to have a somewhat compromised professional status. Zeide shows the complexity of the debate about who should produce knowledge about Russia and the USSR in the pre- and postwar United States, and how it should be done, as well as how these debates were influenced by the political and ideological divides among the émigrés and American intellectuals.

Finally, in the “Newest Mythologies” section, Donald Raleigh explores knowledge as experience and memory by analyzing how representatives of the Soviet generation of baby boomers recall international tourism. This new knowledge (about the world beyond the Soviet state) did not resolve the contradictions of the Soviet worldview but complicated it and made one reconsider the hierarchies of progressive vs. backward, one’s own vs. the other, and so on. In the post-Soviet situation, narratives of memory about a structurally similar experience retrospectively explain and endow with meaning an entire spectrum of diverse life strategies, from emigration from Russia to successful integration into the post-Soviet reality and/or nostalgia for the Soviet past.

As we can see, the key to many articles in this issue can be found in Karuna Mantena’s thesis that, while modernizing – that is, acquiring and mastering the scientific language of self-legitimation – empire transfers from the “moral alibis” of its power over the conquered peoples to “objective” proofs of the beneficial mission of the modern imperial state, culture, and economy with respect to “traditional societies.” Empire makes the transfer to the rhetoric of protectionism and simultaneously to the redefinition and redescription of unsystematized imperial diversity on the rational scientific foundations (in Mantena’s terminology, to “retrospective alibis”). Such a reconstruction of imperial self-description is based on the division of social and cultural phenomena into traditional and modern, developing and static, holistic (simply organized and harmonized within one whole) and those having a complex internal structure. In this light, the conflict of nonsystemic imperial diversity and modern knowledge appears to be just one dichotomy in the set of oppositions outlined by Mantena. Modern knowledge aspires to operate through universal models for thinking about social, cultural, political, and economic phenomena, presumably indifferent to the specifics of a concrete situation or individual history. Its ultimate concern is to find a common direction of development and criteria for measuring progress. However, the generalizing language of social sciences by itself does not abolish the diversity of objects and situations and does not preclude possibilities for different interpretations. As the materials in this issue demonstrate, cultural, political, social, or economic “exterritoriality” of new knowledge (singular and universal as opposed to multiple and diverse “local knowledge”) turns out to be illusory. It is always built upon a specific case, rooted in a particular intellectual tradition, or developed under specific political, social, and cultural circumstances. Thus the “empire of knowledge” emerges as an integral episode in the historical development of complex and composite societies, which at the same time was not alien to (or profoundly different from) self-fashioned beacons of modernity: monocultural democratic nation-states.

As the materials in this issue show, the opposition of imperial diversity and the universal nature of modern knowledge is productive only inasmuch as it takes into account the specific contexts (particularly comparative contexts) and actors of such an opposition. At the same time, the critical revision of modern scholarly paradigms in the situations of their specific application (that puts to the test their potential for understanding the unordered and heterogeneous social and cultural phenomena) allows us to see the past and present of composite polities and societies in a new light. An element of a more general cognitive turn, this research position also explicates the mutual connections of the main paradigms of modern knowledge and specific demands of imperial and national policies.

Editors of Ab Imperio:
I. Gerasimov
S. Glebov
A. Kaplunovski
M. Mogilner
A. Semyonov

Table of contents


Methodology and Theory

Imperial Diversity and Modern Knowledge (R&E)

Karuna Mantena
Inventing Traditional Society: Empire and the Origins of Social Theory (R)

Andreas Kappeler
Population Censuses in Russia and Austro-Hungary as Imperial Projects (R)


Marina Loskutova (R)
“Information About Climate, Soils, the Ways of Economy and Dominant Plants Must Be Collected…”: Enlightened Bureaucrats, Humboldtian Science, and Local Knowledge in the Russian Empire ca. 1830s–1850s

Vilma Žaltauskaitė
Imperial Authorities and the Roman Catholic Spiritual Seminaries After 1863 (R)

Aleksei Gorin
The Problem of Civic and Legal Integration in Late Imperial Russia in the Russian Public and Political Discourse, Second Half of the Nineteenth – Beginning of the Twentieth Century (R)

Wladimir Berelowitch, Elena Astafieva
Preamble (R)

Michel Tissier
Local Laws and the Workings of Legal Knowledge in Late Imperial Russia (E)

Claire Le Foll
The Institute for Belarusian Culture: The Constitution of Belarusian and Jewish Studies in the BSSR Between Soviet and non-Soviet Science (1922−1928) (E)


Alla Zeide
The Russian Review: The Story in History (E)

How the Russian Review Came to Be: Documents with Commentary (E)

Sociology, Ethnology, Political Science

Stephen Velychenko
Ukrainian Anticolonialist Thought in Comparative Perspective. A Preliminary Overview (E)

Newest Mythologies

Donald J. Raleigh
“On the Other Side of the Wall, Things Are Even Better.” Travel and the Opening of the Soviet Union: The Oral Evidence (E)


Serhy Yekelchyk
A Long Goodbye: The Legacy of Soviet Marxism in Post-Communist Ukrainian Historiography (E)

Book Reviews

Elena Gapova (R)
Е. Вишленкова, Р. Галиуллина, К. Ильина. Русские профессора. Университетская корпоративность или профессиональная солидарность. Москва: Новое литературное обозрение, 2012. 656 с. Литература. Именной указатель. ISBN: 978-5-86793-945-8.

Volodymyr Sklokin (R)
Андрій Портнов. Історії істориків. Обличчя й образи української історіографії ХХ століття. Київ: Критика, 2011. 240 с. Покажчик iмен. ISBN: 978-966-8978-46-3.

Natallia Prystupa (R)
Cynthia Paces, Prague Panoramas. National Memory and Sacred Space in the Twentieth Century (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009). 309 pp. Selected Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-8229-6035-5.

Serguei Oushakine (E)
Museutopia: A Photographic Research Project by Ilya Rabinovich, Ed. Huub van Baar and Ingrid Commandeur (Amsterdam: Alauda Publications, 2012). 184 pp. ISBN: 9789081531405.

Ion Marandici (E)
Kimberly Kagan (Ed.), The Imperial Moment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010). xii+250 pp. Index, Bibliographical references. ISBN: 978-0-674-03587-4.

Ihor Czornovol (R)
Віктор Брехуненко. Козаки на Степовому Кордоні Європи. Типологія козацьких спільнот XVI – першої половини XVII ст. Київ: Інститут археографії та джерелознавства ім. М. С. Грушевського, 2011. 504 с. Бiблiографiя. Iндекс. ISBN: 978-9-660-28544-0.

Irina Paert (R)
Д. Е. Расков. Экономические институты старообрядчества. Санкт-Петербург: Издательский Дом СПбГУ, 2012. 343 с., рис., табл. Библиография. Именной указатель. ISBN: 978-5-288-05257-6.

Pavel Diatlenko (R)
Виктор Шнирельман. “Порог толерантности”: Идеология и практика нового расизма. Москва: НЛО, 2011. Т. 1. 552 с., ил. ISBN: 978-5-86793-874-1; Т. 2. 856 с., ил. ISBN: 978-5-86793-870-3.

Borislav Chernev (E)
Ирина Михутина. Украинский Брестский мир: Путь выхода России из первой мировой войны и анатомия конфликта между Совнаркомом РСФСР и правительством Украинской Центральной рады. Москва: Издательство Европа, 2007. 288 с. ISBN: 978-5-9739-0090-8.

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