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Regular version of the site

190068 Saint Petersburg
123 Griboedov channel, Room 123

Phone:+7 (812)786-92-49 

Postal address: 
190068 Saint Petersburg
123 Griboedov channel

Department Head Adrian A. Selin
Academic Supervisor Evgeniy Anisimov
Changing Menstrual Habits in Late 20th- and Early 21st-Century Russia

Vasilyev P., Konovalova Alexandra.

Open Library of Humanities. 2023. Vol. 9. No. 1. P. 1-20.

Book chapter
Creating the Soviet Arctic, 1917–1991

Bruno A., Kalemeneva E.

In bk.: The Cambridge History of the Polar Regions. Cambridge University Press, 2023. Ch. 19. P. 462-486.

Working paper
The Image of the Past in Ciro Spontone’s ‘Historia Della Transilvania’

Khvalkov E., Levin F., Кузнецова А. Д.

Working Papers of Humanities. WP. Издательский дом НИУ ВШЭ, 2021

When Postcolonial Meets Postimperial: Sovereignty, Politics of Difference, and Composite Society in Comparative Perspectives

On May 27-28 the Faculty of History of the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg together with the academic jornal "Ab Imperio: Studies of New Imperioa; Histry and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Space" held the international workshop, designed to be an attempt to give a new impetus to the analysis of culturally heterogeneous and politically composite societies by transcending the semi-isolationist tendencies of the two main conceptual approaches to their study (imperial history and postcolonial studies) as well as by bridging disciplinary boundaries between history, anthropology, sociology, and political science.

Faculty of History, National Research University-Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg

Together with international scholarly journal Ab Imperio: Studies of New Imperial History and Nationalism in Post Soviet Space

May 27−28, 2013

St. Petersburg, Russia


When Postcolonial Meets Postimperial:
Sovereignty, Politics of Difference, and Composite Society in Comparative Perspectives


Empire has become a universal metaphor for a wide variety of sustained asymmetrical relationships in the spheres of politics, culture, and economy. Modern European empires of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (mostly the British and the French) provided the major frame of reference and empirical base for case studies of empire and its main modes of operation: imperialism and colonialism. One tradition of studies of the imperial situation proceeded from the “empire’s  end” (“from above”), as imperial history, the other – from the perspective of the colonized (“from below”), as postcolonial studies. The former has always been suspected of attempts to white-wash historical empires and imperialism, the latter − of political partisanship and association with activism.

The original binary opposition of the two approaches has softened in several important aspects, particularly with the rise of new imperial history after 2000, with its interest in the ways imperial “peripheries” influenced and reshaped the metropole society. Likewise, recent developments in postcolonial studies have departed from the original interpretation of the colonial situation as single-mode relationships of oppression and resistance, and discovered the problem of uneven composition of the colonized groups, often in conflict with each other. Another binary opposition that was relativized recently is that between the two allegedly distinct types of imperial systems: maritime or colonial empires and land-based contiguous empires. This opposition used to be a commonplace not only in imperial history, but in postcolonial studies as well: it is notable that earlier theoretical texts, such as Edward Said’s Orientalism, did not include the examination of German or Russian orientalisms and forms of culture-power that were associated with it. Recent historiography of colonialism and empires critically revises this earlier typology and further complicates it. The rising popularity of the concept of “gunpowder empires” (still applied intuitively rather than as an analytical model) or of such concepts as fiscal “garrison state” further problematize the nature of relationships of the British with the Mughal Empire, or of the Russian imperial formations with many of its neighbors that it came to dominate. The deconstruction of nation and nationalism as ideal types and poles in a binary juxtaposition to empire and colonialism and further blurred the formerly clear-cut structuralist model. The ambiguous and varying combination of coercion and emancipation, protection of one category of human rights at the expense of violating other categories make both “imperial” and “anti-imperial” forces an uneasy ideal for political partisanship. These all have resulted in the opening up of a void in place of former well-established orthodoxies, and the most urgent problem is the search for a new meta-language needed to embrace and describe this emerging heterogeneous terrain unsystematically sketched out from within several conflicting disciplines.

The workshop will be organized as a series of sessions structured by several thematic tracks: each session will be opened by two position papers (each 30 minutes long), followed by a discussion. The research questions and problems outlined below are a tentative and partial formulation of agendas for all workshop participants as well as for presenters.


Workshop program

Venue: ul. Soiuza Pechatnikov, 16, room 301

(please refer to the welcome package for the map and directions)




May 27

10.00-10.30. Introduction to the workshop and introduction of the participants

Alexander Semyonov


10.30- 13.30. Session 1. The Persistence and Transformation of Empire-Paradigm in European Political Imagination and Historical Writing


Julia Hell. Post-Roman Mimesis and the End of Rome

Stephen Howe. Historians, Postcolonialism and the Idea of Intellectual Decolonisation

George Steinmetz. Colonies and Empires in the Sociological Imagination: The First 200 years

How do we understand empire today and how this understanding has been underpinned by historic languages of self-representation of European empires? How the challenge of post colonial studies was perceived in the field of European imperial studies, what was the response to this challenge? How meaningful is the category of imperial legacy? Can one talk about the gradient of modernity and therefore of gradient of colonialism and imperialism? Is there a link between the birth of social sciences and imperial experience and how the critique of nation-centered paradigm of social sciences help scholars address the problem of imperial society? Is catching up or reactive imperialism (France’s acquisition of colonial possessions after the loss of Napoleonic empire, Russia’s drive to the Central Asia after the loss of the Crimean war) a form of subalternity, lack of autonomy and dependence?


Lunch 14.00-15.30


15.30-17.30. Session 2. “Invisible empire” and languages of imperial self-description.

Marina Mogilner. Late Imperial Epistemologies: From "Empire as a Fact" to "Empire as a Problem"

Alexander Semyonov. Invisible Empire? Languages of Rationalization of Imperial Diversity


Hybridity as a quality of imperial identity and what are the pressures to overcome it? Can the anti-imperial and post-imperial identities be colonial and imperial? What are other forms of post-imperial identities beyond the national identity? How free are imperial subjects in constructing their alternative identities in imperial and post-imperial settings? Does the embracing of anti-imperial (post-imperial) and national agenda which is based upon the “realism of the group” vision necessarily eliminate hybridity and heterogeneity? How multiple imperial and post-imperial identities reformulate patterns of imperial domination? Can symbolic and conceptual repertoire of imperial domination and sustaining difference be reinterpreted as a new language of identity building? The disconnect between the regimes of political hegemony and discursive hegemony: varieties of imperialism?


18.30. Dinner



May 28


10.00-12.00. Session 3. Can scholars write postnational, postsubaltern, and postimperial?

Gyan Prakash. TBA

Ilya Gerasimov. The Subalterns Speak Out: Urban Plebeian Society in Late Imperial Russia.

Is the category of imperial society meaningful, it is hegemonic or counter-hegemonic? How is it possible to write the social history of empire without reductionism of groupist social history? How productive is the tension between the imperial history and post-colonial analytics for thinking beyond the pure political history of empire and beyond the binary opposition of the colonizers and the colonized? The language of self-orientalization as a political resource, cultural practice and metaphor. Intellectual roots of orientalism beyond the normative framework of Franco-British imperialism. Strategies of appropriating anticolonial critiques by imperial and nationalist agendas. Translations of orientalism in contemporary contexts.  


Lunch 12.00-13.30


1330-1530. Session 4. Post-Soviet post-coloniality: what does it mean?

Serguei Alex. Oushakine. The Art of Not Saying Things: History as Texture

Political agency in postimperial and postcolonial society. How to formulate a political agenda of humanitarian and emancipatory politics without groupist and nationalist agendas. The experience of postcommunist transition, historicity and ahistoricity of forms of post-soviet politics. Performativity of the language of postcolonialism in post-Soviet soceties. Problems of historical justice, autochtonism, and the historically interpreted right of retribution and compensation? The problem of value judgments in scholarship and political activism.


16.00-17.30. Session 5. FINAL DISCUSSION

18.00. Farewell Dinner