№ 2, 2022
On the Edge of the State: Political Formation of the Periphery of Power
The article is devoted to the analysis of a special political form that arises in the “empty space” on the “edge of the state”, where actors of power exist remotely, beyond the boundaries of the “emptiness”, but they can be materialized in it. The authors use the term “periphery of power” to describe this political form. The article shows that “empty space” is not a vacuum, but it does not contain what the observer (in this case, the authorities) expects to see, what he can read and comprehend as some kind of entity. It is the absence of the expected objects, actors and practices that makes the space “empty”.
The paper verifies the hypothesis that, being “empty” for an observer, such space is populated and has authorities. Empirically, the study is based on the results of two field works to the upper Lena River. The territory has neither settlement structure nor legal economic activity, and the number of registered residents is minimal. The nearest authorities (police, environmental protection, municipal authorities, etc.) are located on the borders of the territory, and the distance to the nearest large city (Irkutsk) is 500—700 km. Nevertheless, the field work there revealed a fairly large community with its own hierarchy, stable forms of communication, legalization and mobilization of remote authorities. For members of this community, staying in the “empty territory” makes no sense from the economic point of view. They are registered in other places (district centers or other regional cities, including capitals) and represent relatively successful citizens. However, the city remains for them nothing else but a source of resources (material, financial, etc.). They live exactly in the “empty space”. Social networks are formed in it, statuses and communication are built, which can be turned into the space of power.
The insights that the authors obtained give ground to assume that this process is not an outlier, but rather represented a more general process of separating a place to earn money and a place to live. According to their conclusion, while maintaining the current trends, the “exit space” documented by them will expand, forming more and more new forms of “emptiness”
№ 1, 2022
A City in the Shadow of Empires: Life, Death and Afterlife of the Imperial City of Harbin
The article is devoted to the phenomenon of imperial cities — structures, the main function of which is to transmit power impul se from the imperial center to its adjacent periphery, linking the heterogeneous body of the empire. Such cities are not merely a result of natural agglome ration proces ses, but rather they represent political constructs that make it possible to hold the empire together and at the same time take into account its heterogeneity. Today, in the vast post-Soviet space, the imperial cities of the vanished empire of the USSR (capitals of the former Soviet republics, regional, economic and military centers) are undergoing a period of transformation, which is often described as the absorption of the city by its surrounding periphery. It is difficult to identify the main determinants of such transformation and build a stable model for predicting further changes, because even today this process is far from being complete, which makes it impossible for researchers to reveal all groups of factors that could impact the development of an imperial city outside the influence of the empi re that left it.
To solve this problem, the authors turn to the experience of the imperial city, which has already undergone a similar evolution, the so called “Russian Harbin”. The article describes the transformations of the external appearance of the city, daily household routines, power distribution in the urban space, which are considered to be markers of change in the meanings of the imperial signals. Along with the trends that are common to the imperial cities of the East of Russia (“Europe for Asia”), there are also trends that are specific to Harbin as an imperial city outside the empire. The article demonstrates that the structure of the imperial city, which was created to transmit power impulse, is capable of transmitting the meanings of another empire. The authors show that the disappearance of the “Russian Harbin” as a historical and cultural phenomenon does not mean the disappearance of the imperial city, which comes back to life every time the political center begins to produce meanings that need to be relayed to a heterogeneous territory.
№ 1, 2021
Without Leaders, Mottos or Billboards: Fight for the City and Routine Resistance in the Private Sector of Cities in East Russia (Case of Khabarovsk)
The article examines the forms of routine resistance of the community that was established within the space of the Soviet private sector in the cities located in the eastern part of Russia. Despite active regular construction, these spaces still make up a significant part of cities. However, in contrast to the Soviet period, when living there was perceived as forced and temporary, today this form of residence is a conscious choice. The former private sector witnesses the emergence of the community, whose existence is based on values, social and communicative practices, and forms of economic activity that are noticeably different from the official ones. This community “produces space” that is appropriate to its lifestyle. For the official authorities (at the state and city levels), this space turns out to be “empty”, representing “promising areas of development”. Its population remains invisible to these authorities. This creates a latent conflict that gives rise to the forms of re sistance described in the article. With all the variety of such forms, there is one main thing that unites them — people’s desire to distance from the state and the city it regulates.
The authors find out that another group of city dwellers with a much higher socio-economic status — residents of urban mansion districts — share the same aspiration. According to the authors, this desire can be explained by the fact that a resident of a Russian city has few opportunities to find soli da rity community within the existing urban structures and therefore builds his/her life “outside the city wall”, creating analogs of the pre-modern Euro pean municipalities. The remaining “urban” part of the city is increasingly turning into a feudal lord’s castle that from time to time sends troops to punish the “rebels”.
As long as a feudal lord has an understanding that he really needs townspeople, and they have the opportunity to “escape” from the raid, the situation seems stable. When the raids become too frequent, and it is impossible to escape from them, the population will attack. At the moment, judging by the attitude of the group studied in the article to the rallies in defense of S.Furgal, ex-governor of Khabarovsk region, the authorities still have room for maneuver. However, for how long this situation will last remains to be seen.
№ 4, 2020
What Was It? (Preliminary Reflection on Khabarovsk Rallies)
The Khabarovsk protest has been going on for months: first, it suddenly made headlines of the world media and then it was pushed to the periphery of the information space. The predictions about the protest fading away stubbornly refuse to come true. Maybe not tens of thousands as it was earlier, but thousands of city residents still take to the streets. Moreover, tension, uncertainty, and discontent persist in the air. Dozens of articles and many reports have been written about Khabarovsk, and even a full-length documentary has been released. Nevertheless, the question remains: why did the population of the city, who for decades preferred to distance themselves from any government’s initiatives, all of a sudden switched to a strategy of protest? What part of this situation is unique to Khabarovsk, and where do we observe more general patterns? This article is devoted to finding answers to these questions.
Having examined the main facets of the events unfolding in Khabarovsk, L.Bliakher and A.Kovalevsky come to the conclusion that these events are about the most important political phenomenon — the formation of the political agency of the population that for many years has been reduced to the position of an object. In the case of Khabarovsk, residents started to perceive themselves as a political agent after the 2018 protest voting. In this situation, people began to view the ex-governor of the Khabarovsk region not so much as a good — or not very good — leader, but rather as a symbol of acquiring political agency, which became a key element of regional identification, the formation of the local community. That is why his arrest was perceived by the residents of the region as a personal insult. And it is their identity that they defend on the streets of Khabarovsk.
Main Page ~ Authors ~ L. E.Bliakher