The Question of Serfdom in Russia: Social Dialogue and Communicative Practices of Power (First Quarter of the 19th Century)
This article puts forward a research model for studying the interaction between power structures and Russian subjects in the first quarter of the 19th century. The starting point of the model is a revision of the structuralist approach. The author considers it important to study “social dialogue” as a history of the communicative practices emerging among Russian subjects, local representatives of power, and high-ranking officials of the imperial administration. In order to reconstruct the channels, content, and results of this “social dialogue”, the author uses two groups of primary sources: texts produced in the process of public communication with an unspecified addressee that created a general intellectual and emotional context for the perception of existing social, economic, and political issues; and texts of public communication with a specified addressee, aimed at official structures of different levels with the purpose of solving certain practical problems. The author compares publications of Russian journals discussing the problem of “slavery” in different countries of the world, archival materials from the Russian State Historical Archive on “the issues connected with peasants’ appeals for emancipation from non-noble masters”, the serf-owners’ complaints about the “illegal” emancipation of peasants without proper compensation, and projects for the abolition of serfdom created on the basis of the generalisation of complaints and petitions. The author distinguishes the two models of social dialogue, i.e. the conflict model and the project model. Taken together, these two models make it possible to trace both the government’s reaction to amendments of existing laws meant to solve conflicts between serfs and their masters and efforts to develop an all-Russian solution for the issue of serfdom.
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