In Search of a New Model for Russia’s Modernisation: Letters and Notes to the Authorities in the Second Half of the 1850s
Referring to the analysis of letters and notes written by representatives of the Russian public and addressed to the emperor and other representatives of the supreme authorities, the author considers one of the forms in which the government and society interacted during the preparation for the Great Reforms between the 1860s and 1870s. Theoretically and methodologically, the research is based on the historical and sociological theories of European sociologists and philosophers and approaches to the new intellectual history. These can help us comprehend the goals the Russian public sought to attain while creating their journalistic texts and letters and take into account the influence of sociocultural and political processes on their content. The second half of the 1850s was characterised by a rise in social consciousness and another stage in modernization. In this situation, letters and notes addressed to the authorities were an important means for expressing the public’s reaction to the changes, turning them into an instrument of social “expertise” that pointed out the need to alter the government’s foreign and domestic policy. The first years of Emperor Alexander II’s reign were characterised by unique conditions which made it possible for the Russian public to discuss the most relevant issues and let the authorities know about its perception of the changes, while the authorities were ready to listen to the public’s opinion and take its suggestions into account when working on the ideological foundations of modernisation. Letters and notes addressed to the authorities testify to the expansion of public life in Russia and the formation of a new model of interaction between the authorities and the public as part of subject-to-subject relations. These were characterised by the need of both sides to take each other’s interests into account in the context of reform.
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