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Imperial Connections: Law and Belonging in the Russian Empire
My project is a study of legal process and political imagination in Russia from the mid-19th century through 1917. I focus on the "middle" level of the law--on appeals instances in Kazan, a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional province on the Volga River. The imperial legal system was a transmitter of values in multiple directions: decisions made and passed up and down the legal ladder by provincial and district officials communicated qualities of sovereignty among rulers and users of the legal system. While at the Institute, I will be drafting portions of what will become a monograph about this web of legal connections, based on materials from a single province inhabited by 15 ethnic groups and with a substantial Muslim population. This project offers insights into the long-term political and cultural practices that still inflect governance, values, and expectations of people living in the Russian Federation and in other post-Soviet states; it also argues that we must take a more expansive, differentiated, and contextual approach to understanding "rule of law.
My early work concerned the multiple and insightful interpretations of the Russian revolution of 1917 produced by Russian intellectuals during the first five years of Bolshevik government. The significance of the Bolshevik revolution and in particular its meaning for world socialism was, even in its earliest years, contested within the Russian intelligentsia. I hoped in this work to bring to life critical theories of the revolution that had been erased from the history of 1917. From the Russian intelligentsia, I turned to study of law, in particular law as engaged by Russian peasants in the last years of the imperial regime. My recent monograph on this topic, Russian Peasants Go to court: Legal Culture in the Countryside, 1905-1917, works against the prevailing notion of a rigid opposition between peasant custom and state law. My research on township courts from 1905 to 1917 revealed a robust legal culture in Russian villages. Russian peasants resorted voluntarily and frequently to their local courts to settle disputes over economic resources and responsibility and to address the evil of small crimes in their communities. Although the idea of peasant legal consciousness was unthinkable to most of Russia's elites at the time, this extensive resort to law on the part of rural people enabled slow, but radical transformations of social relations within families, communities, and the larger polity. I am now working on a study of the law in Russia, as imagined and engaged by professionals, officials, theorists, and court users, from 1905 through 1925, and on a second project comparing law in the Russian and Ottoman empires. Another focus of my research and writing is empire. Since 1999, I have been working with Fred Cooper on a project entitled "Empires, States, and Political Imagination," a seminar and research project on imperial polities and culture from the Romans to the present. With Mark von Hagen and Anatolyi Remnev, I am editing a collective study of Russian imperial administration: "Geographies of Empire: Ruling Russia, 1700-1930."