"Boundaries of History": Ilya Gerasimov "Plebeian Modernity through the eyes of elite observers: between Populism and Orientalism"
On December 16 Ilya Gerasimov, a well-known historian and executive editor of the journal Ab Imperio, presented his paper on the topic "Plebeian Modernity through the eyes of elite observers: between populism and Orientalism" within the framework of the seminar "Boundaries of History"
In his research in the field of social history, Ilya Gerasimov explores rural and urban environments. But, being also in dialogue with postcolonial studies and subaltern studies, he also studies the category of plebeian society, which takes us from the countryside to the urban imperial city of late imperial Russia. In particular, this is a work with the concept of constructing imagination within the framework of developing the history of imperial diversity.
Ilya Gerasimov's research projects have always been dedicated to people who are unable to express their thoughts through rational discourse. The first book was devoted to dreams – narcotic trips by Alexander Chayanov, read and analyzed within the framework of the category of Jung's collective unconscious.
The second research project was dedicated to Chayanov's social cohort – people who share a certain socio-historical experience and, in Chayanov's case, professional interests. The social elite that formed this cohort formulated a project of agricultural reform by measures of social self-organization. Ilya Gerasimov considered this movement as part of the global progressive reformism of the early 20th century. The movement proved successful and even its foundations were borrowed during the Stolypin reforms. But most importantly, these people managed to establish direct contact with the peasants and strengthen the subjectivity of the peasants, however, often with unpredictable and undesirable consequences. Becoming economic subjects, the peasants began to act in their own interests, and not those that the intelligentsia projected on them. From the peasants, some written evidence has reached the nai, which should document this subjectivity. these texts can be endlessly deconstructed in search of an authentic voice, because there are layers of borrowing intellectual rhetoric, which makes it impossible to understand where the reproduction of hegemonic discourse ends and the self begins.
Thus, the mood of the peasants is even more evidenced by their actions – changing crop rotation, joining a cooperative, willingness to plow the land not in the usual terms - are significant social statements. The general context of this reform, inside and outside of its interaction with the Stolypin reform, makes it possible to read the actions of peasants as announced statements, read thanks to the semantic context created by this textual multi-layered intelligentsia. This movement was reconstructed by Ilya Gerasimov as an intertext and became the key to understanding the actions of the peasants.
Ilya Gerasimov's third project was dedicated to the four imperial cities of Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Vilna and Odessa. Through the prism of nationality studies, Ilya Gerasimov turned to the study of the categories of nationality, ethnic crime, ethnic minorities. Ilya Gerasimov associates the appearance of such categories with the formation of the imperial city as a place of manifestation of multilevel diversity.
Based on all of the above, in the book on the basis of which the report was presented, Ilya Gerasimov concentrates on four local cases: Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Vilna and Odessa. These cities are comparable and can be divided into pairs on different grounds for a comprehensive analysis, that is, they are quite a representative sample.
The study of the townspeople showed that they were textual, that is, they understood events, made rational decisions and understood what language to speak with the authorities. But they were not subjects of the public sphere, did not participate in its formation and functioning.
These people did not leave behind documentary evidence (diaries, letters, etc.), so the only chance for them to get into the archive is to get involved in criminal history, which determines the specifics of existing archival funds.
Ilya Gerasimov identified several social practices that manifest themselves in all four cities, which allows us to talk about a single phenomenon of the imperial city. People who moved between these cities\. We felt comfortable thanks to similar practices.
These practices can be divided into compromise, patriarchy and violence. They formed the basis of a non-verbal universal language of a multicultural, non-textual, non-discursive population. This population migrated with these practices to the Soviet period.
This population consisted of people who were forced to gather in selected cities due to various social reasons. Therefore, they could actually speak different languages, but understand each other thanks to the common social practices built within this plebeian society, adaptable and incredibly resilient. Starting from the 80s, we can start this society as subalterns.
Both orientalism and populism are by definition elements of patrician culture, forms of projection of the public sphere, circulation of common ideas and opinions to the non-discursive world. And these ideologically opposite positions equally neglect the subjectivity of subalterns. They are trying to force the subalterns to speak their language. But we, researchers, must deconstruct the objects of our research in order to reproduce their subjectivity and not project our scientific hegemonic discourse on them.