Ab Imperio (2014), 2

Ab Imperio (2014), 2
Other title information 
Crossroads and Multiple Temporalities: Contact Zones and Middle Grounds

Published on
Kazan', Russland 2014: 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
Kaplunovsky, Alexander

Dear friends and colleagues,

the Editorial Board of Ab Imperio is pleased to present the new issue of our journal: 2/2014. The second thematic issue within Ab Imperio’s 2014 annual program, “Assemblage Points of the Imperial Situation: Places and Spaces of Diversity,” is devoted to the exploration of “Crossroads and Multiple Temporalities: Contact Zones and Middle Grounds”.

“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.


Within the annual journal theme, “Assemblage Points of the Imperial Situation: Places and Spaces of Diversity,” issue 2/2014 turns to the most plausible recipe for producing the imperial situation: the physical contact of diverse groups in space and time. How exactly do “assemblage points” emerge as a result of such a contact – or, at least, which types of contact make their emergence possible? Obviously, we are most likely speaking about an involuntary proximity that compels people to merge into hybrid multifaceted communities of the imperial situation. Whether people found themselves in this position in the course of the unseen “course of history” or after political and economic cataclysms, the themes of coercion, suppression, and hegemony appear as central to discussion of the imperial situation as a result of “coexistence.” Even without formal imperial structures, “empire” reveals itself in the very necessity to modify and defend one’s group specificity in the process of integration into a common sociopolitical space. Still, the question remains, why does this forced coexistence sometimes result not in the absorption of the weaker force by the hegemonic force, on its terms, but in the creation of some new synthetic reality, common to everyone and not completely anyone’s “own”? This new common sphere is what we characterize as the imperial situation, a contact zone and a space of coexisting and partially overlapping different political, social, and cultural hierarchies, of various logics of making sense of and navigating reality. Why then does “imperial” coercion bring about hybrid forms instead of imposing a single, unambiguous and monological norm of “metropole”?

First, the very approach to the phenomenon of “imperial coercion” should be reconsidered – not in the sense of a revisionist apology for empire, denying or minimizing the scale of empire’s violence, but as an analytical effort to “read” this violence as a nuanced and informative message. In this logic, how adequate is the central thesis of the postcolonial critique that sees the aim of imperial coercion in the imposition of the metropole’s hegemony? And does a single and universal scale exist for measuring degrees of hegemony and dependence throughout different epochs and in different cultures? Rather unorthodox answers to these questions are offered by contributors to the forum “Freedom, Labor, and Empires: Reciprocal Comparisons and Entanglements” in the “Methodology and Theory” section of the issue. Working in the paradigm of “reciprocal comparison,” in articles on the history of African slave trade, the Dutch colonial regime in Indonesia, and the dynamics of serfdom in the Russian Empire, the authors try to capture the meaning of freedom and coercion in a society without resorting to some external fundamentally alien frame of reference. They suggest the avoidance of generalizing categories that were formed in a particular historical and cultural context (of British or American bourgeois society of the twentieth century) and instead the application of middle-range models and categories, such as “city,” “unfree labor,” “private property,” or “market.” Decentering the perspective of comparison leads to a discovery that market relationships in the West were no less “peculiar” than in the Orient, that the system of African slavery, formed long before the European colonization, had played a key role in African state-building and market economy. Thus, a whole variety of forms of imperial coercion are reconsidered as practices that entered into complex relationships with indigenous structures of coercion and violence, sometimes with the purpose of suppressing or substituting those local forms. The imperial situation emerges then out of the partial overlapping of those different interests, practices, and values. A question remains, though, as to whether the contributors to the forum are as criti¬cal of the categories of comparison they use in striving to neutralize the hegemonic West-centered discourse (whether imperial or postcolonial), as they are of the generalizations they want to deconstruct, such as “slavery” or “freedom.” Do the notions of “market” and “property” they are using as seemingly self-evident not require the same procedure of relativization through reciprocal comparison?

The second possible reason why “imperial” coercion does not necessarily result in widespread cloning of the metropole can be seen in the ambiguity or inaccuracy of the self-perception of the metropole. This problem is vividly illustrated in the forum “In Search of ‘Natural Boundaries’ of Russia’s Central Asia” in the “History” section. Articles discussing the Russian Empire’s expansion into Turkestan in the second half of the nineteenth century and territorial delimitation of the Soviet Central Asian republics in the 1920s explicate the unintended consequences of imperial politics. For instance, reliance on the most advanced western geographic theories (such as a purely academic concept of “natural boundaries”) had led imperial Russia to a semi-improvised mass-scale military expansion in the region. The occupation by Russian troops of Khoqand and Kuldja (Ghulja) was perceived (and is still perceived) by many as an example of adventurist politics or, at best, “a fit of absence of mind” (as John Robert Seeley has characterized the British imperial expansion). Yet, as contributors to the forum demonstrate, both politicians in St. Petersburg and commanders acting on the spot were anything but absentminded. They were motivated by shared rational and even scientific considerations and they tried to find in the actual landscape inhabited by diverse populations those “natural boundaries” that the science of the time confidently presented as the only guarantee of political stability of the state. Later, in the 1920s, those responsible for drawing the borders of Soviet republics in Central Asia did not recognize the formidable potential for nationalist mobilization invested in this process because it was overshadowed by the official rhetoric of Soviet economic development and social modernization. Thus, even the desire to impose a certain “imperial” program by means of coercion (whether open or indirect) could lead to unexpected results because of the ambiguity or even polyvalence of that program.

The article by Madeleine Reeves published in the “Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science” section is directly related to the forum in the “History” section. The theme of dynamic borders (symbolic and political) in modern-day Kyrgyzstan – in the postimperial or “postcolonial” situation − is central to this article. In a sense, the reality described by Reeves is reminiscent of that a hundred fifty years ago. Both at the peak of imperial expansion and after the demise of the empire, the “assembly points” of the imperial situation are indistinguishable. There is no common sphere of “mutual creative misunderstanding” that, apparently, was there in the Soviet period, even during the territorial delimitation of the 1920s, or this sphere has fallen apart. Instead of attempts at “mutual translation” and formation of a common space and hybrid identity, the purely colonial and postcolonial societies demonstrate an explicit lack of understanding of and interest in the Other.

A very different post-Soviet dynamics is presented in the article by Marco Puleri in the “Newest Mythologies” section. The theme of his article is modern Ukrainian literature in the Russian language. The confrontation provoked by this literature is the struggle for “assemblage points” of the imperial situation, when the prospects of sustaining multifaceted diversity and composite cultural identities are at stake. A nationalizing perspective, just as the imperial hegemonic ideal, strive to eliminate any ambiguity as being subversive to claims for hegemony based on simple and obvious criteria: one’s belonging to the dominant political, national, or cultural group.

The entire history of the region of the former Soviet Union is perme¬ated by this struggle. Sometimes the necessary “assemblage points” came together, producing a heterogeneous imperial situation. At other times, social ties decomposed, or some single monolithic will triumphed and imposed its terms over its subordinates. This historical process is studied in the history course “A New Imperial History of Northern Eurasia” developed by the Ab Imperio team. The “ABC” section of this issue presents the next two chapters of this course.

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

Table of contents


Crossroads and Multiple Temporalities: Contact Zones and Middle Grounds

I. Methodology and Theory

From the Editors (R&E)

Forum AI: Freedom, Labor, and Empires: Reciprocal Comparisons and Entanglements

Alessandro Stanziani: Introduction to the Forum (E)

Martin A. Klein: African Traditions of Servitude and the Evolution of African Society (E)

Ulbe Bosma: Reciprocal Comparisons and the Domains beyond Imperial Control (E)

Alessandro Stanziani: Russian Serfdom: A Reappraisal (E)

II. History

Forum AI: In Search of “Natural Boundaries” of Russia’s Central Asia

Svetlana Gorshenina: A Theory of “Natural Boundaries” and the Conquest of Kuldja (1870–1871): A Self-portrait of Russian Military and Diplomatic Elites in St. Petersburg and Turkestan (R)

Alexander Morrison: Russia, Khoqand, and the Search for a “Natural” Frontier, 1863–1865 (E)

Beatrice Penati: Life on the Edge: Border-Making and Agrarian Policies in the Aim District (Eastern Fergana), 1924−1929 (E)

IV. Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science

Madeleine Reeves: Roads of Hope and Dislocation: Infrastructure and the Remaking of Territory at a Central Asian Border (E)

V. ABC: Empire & Nationalism Studies

Project AI: History Course “A New Imperial History of Northern Eurasia”

Chapter 3. Consolidation of New Political Systems: State Building in Northern Eurasia, 11–12th Centuries (R)

Chapter 4. From Local Political Spaces to Hierarchical Statehood: Interactions and Entanglements of Local Scenarios of Power, 13–14th Centuries (R)

VI. Newest Mythologies

Marco Puleri: Ukraïns’kyi, Rosiis’komovnyi, Rosiis’kyi: Self-Identification in Post-Soviet Ukrainian Literature in Russian (E)

VII. Book Reviews

1. Historiography

Oleksandr Zaitsev: Ukrainskii integralnyi natsionalizm (1920-ti – 1930-ti roki). Narisi intelektualnoi istorii. Kiiv: Kritika, 2013. 488 S. ISBN: 978-966-8978-66-1

Alexander Gogun A Book about a Branch of East-Slavic Totalitarianism (R)

Oleksandr Zaitsev A Book about the Ukrainian Branch of Integral Nationalism (A Response to the Review by Alexander Gogun) (R)

2. Reviews

Alice L. Conklin, In the Museum of Man: Race, Anthropology, and Empire in France, 1850−1950 (Cornell University Press, 2013). xii + 374 pp. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-8014-7878-9.
Julia Fein (E)

Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009). 314 pp. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-696-01577-4.
Elizabeth Bishop (E)

Valerie Kivelson, Desperate Magic: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Russia (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2013). 349 pp., ill. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-8014-5146-1.
Vitalii Ananiev (R)

Karsten Brüggemann and Bradley D. Woodworth (Eds.), Russland an der Ostsee: Imperiale Strategien der Macht und kulturelle Wahrnehmungsmuster (16. bis 20. Jahrhundert) – Russia on the Baltic: Imperial Strategies of Power and Cultural Patterns of Perception (16th–20th Centuries) (Quellen und Studien zur baltischen Geschichte. No. 22) (Wien, Köln and Weimar: Böhlau, 2012). 423 pp. Index. ISBN: 978-3-412-20671-0.
Sebastian Rimestad (E)

Karen Petrone, The Great War in Russian Memory (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011). 385 pp. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-253-35617-8.
Sam Johnson (E)

A. V. Antoshchenko. Russkii liberal-anglofil Pavel Vinogradov: Monografiia. Petrozavodsk: Izd-vo PetrGU, 2010. 344 S. ISBN: 978-5-8021-1018-8.
Anton Sveshnikov (R)

Alexey Golubev and Irina Takala, The Search for Socialist Eldorado: Finnish Immigration to Soviet Karelia from the United States and Canada in the 1930s (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2014). 274 pp. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-88755-764-4.
Evgeny Efremkin (E)

Jeremy Smith, Red Nations: The Nationalities Experience in and after the USSR (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013). xix, 408 pp. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-521-12870-4.
Anika Walke (E)

Natalya Chernyshova, Soviet Consumer Culture in the Brezhnev Era (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2013). 262 pp., ills. Index. ISBN: 978-0-415-68754-6.
Natalia Pristupa (R)

Jeff Sahadeo and Russell Zanca (Eds.), Everyday Life in Central Asia. Past and Present (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007). 401 pp. Maps, black and white photographic illustrations. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-253-21904-6.
Dorena Caroli (E)

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