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Law and Empire in Late Imperial Russia

Youth and Globalization in Soviet and Post-Soviet
Central Asia

Dr Stefan B. Kirmse

My work, past and present, explores Russia’s Eurasian borderlands and its culturally diverse population from several disciplinary angles. While my doctoral thesis adopted an anthropological perspective to analyze socialist legacies and new global entanglements in post-Soviet Central Asia (and in the Ferghana Valley, in particular), my second monograph offers a traditional historical inquiry based on extensive work in Russian and Eurasian archives: it discusses ethnic and religious diversity in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Russia, focusing on Crimea and Kazan. This historical project also compares minority policy in the Russian Empire with other imperial contexts.

In trying to shed light on changing policies and state-society interaction in Russia’s Eurasian borderlands, I have drawn on different theoretical schools – in particular, the “law and society” research tradition, globalization theory, post-colonial studies, gender studies, and theories of nationalism. Thus, my research combines a theoretically-informed, interdisciplinary approach to the study of political, social, and cultural history with an analysis of archival and published materials in different languages (Russian, Uzbek, Ukrainian, along with English, German, and French).

With a background in both history and anthropology, I explore historical developments from both “above” and “below”, with a strong emphasis on ordinary people’s lived historical realities. My upcoming monograph “The Lawful Empire? Legal Change and Cultural Diversity in Late Imperial Russia” combines an investigation of law and law-enforcement after the Great Reforms of the 1860s with an analysis of imperial rule over a multicultural empire. Examining the advance and gradual spread of state courts into the steppes of “New Russia” on the Black Sea coast and the woodlands of the Middle Volga region, it explores the degree to which this expansion promoted the integration of culturally diverse peripheries with the core of the empire. By focusing on Crimea and Kazan, the book places the discussion of centralization and legal reform in the context of the empire’s management of cultural diversity.

Eurasia’s cultural diversity, in fact, has triggered my interest in the Muslim populations of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the post-Soviet states. In different projects, I examine the attitudes of local Muslims towards state institutions, political elites, and their non-Muslim neighbours from the tsarist to the post-Soviet periods. My research on the imperial period pays particular attention to the Muslim population along the Russian Empire’s southern and eastern fringes, concentrating on Tatars, who made up about 30 percent of the population in Kazan and at least 40 percent in Crimea. My previous book “Youth and Globalization in Central Asia. Everyday Life between Religion, Media, and International Donors”, published in paperback in 2013, focused on the multiple identities of Muslim youth in contemporary Kyrgyzstan, while analyzing the ways in which young people’s lives have become part of an ever-changing global space.

What is more, with the second monograph virtually finished, I have begun to expand my research on the post-Soviet period into the Brezhnev years. This new project on Cultural Globalization in the Soviet Union is designed to explore the cross-border exchange of goods, ideas, and people in Soviet borderlands from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, paying particular attention to Soviet exchanges with Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Concentrating on young people in several large cities along the Soviet Union’s southern border (Almaty, Yerevan, and Odessa), it will trace the effects of global interconnectedness on the development of the Soviet system and on young people’s identification with this system. At the same time, it is designed to analyze another trend among youth across different union republics: a growing interest in, and idealization of, national culture. Using the lived experiences of youth along the Soviet Union’s southern border, the project addresses the complexity of loyalties and cultural identities under socialism. It proposes a historical enquiry combining oral history with extensive work in Russian and Eurasian archives.