Towards the semantics of ethnic hierarchy:
concepts of “diversity” and “tolerance” in the ethnographic discourse of the late imperial period
The present research project is dedicated to the analysis of Russian official ethnographic discourse on Siberia of the second half of the 19th century in its relations with German ethnographic tradition and ethnographic/anthropologic descriptions of the region made by Polish scholars (professional or not). My hypothesis is that Russian ethnographic discourse was a mechanism regulating the process of the emergence of a new type of modernized society, where, for the first time in Russian history, new social actors have appeared under the name of Russian and “indigenous” people (narod and inorodtsy). To maintain the control of this powerful tool of ideological structuring of society, it was necessary to establish Russian monopoly on the ethnographic discourse and thus eliminate the German academic tradition in ethnography (initially adopted by Russian academy of Sciences). Beyond a simple antagonism between the “scientific” (German scholars) and “nationalistic” (Russians) approach to the ethnography animating the initial period of Russian Imperial geographic society of 1840-s, a certain hostility of Russian scholars towards the German heritage in Siberian ethnography in the second half of the 19th century is a reflexion of quite an elaborate fusion of geopolitical and ideological interests of Russian empire.
The degradation of Russian-German relationship on the one hand, and the “great game” of a global antagonism between British and Russian empires about the domination in Central Asia, made it necessary for Russian empire to break with the “civilising chain of being”, where the Germans civilize the Russians and the Russians civilize the Siberians and to define itself as a proper imperial power with its own colonies and its own “burden” of the ethnic Russians civilizing the autochthonic populations in the historically Russian territories.
I intend to demonstrate that the ideological mechanisms proper to the studying period are not limited to the official state propaganda (after all, even if such institutions as Academy of Sciences or Geographic society were labelled “imperial”, they were animated by scholars more then by bureaucrats), but constitute the inherent conjecture of ethnographic discourse. It is in this discourse that one should look for the “factory” of social roles attributed to the ethnic Russians and non-Slavic populations, for the available “options” for rotation between the two categories (the concept of “our educated indigenous”) and the semantics of the category “Russian” in its socio-political and imperial/national aspects.
As V. Tolz has demonstrated, the concept of race was far from being marginal to the intellectual process in Russia that was mostly coherent with respective processes in Europe . She thus contested N. Knight , who claimed, that the notion of race did not receive any particular value in Russian context, as the main attention was paid to the concept of nation (narodnost’). These questions became crucial to the ethnographic discourse, with its inner goal of developing the conceptual instruments to maintain the difference and to structure a new social order in Russia during the Great reforms. Both Tolz’s as well as Knight’s approaches are based on the a priory unquestionable notion of hierarchy. But the way of thinking of an hierarchy of different ethnicities in Russian empire is itself an ideological construction which included all the emerging notions of nationalistic discourse of the late imperial period.
I will try to demonstrate how the hierarchical category of nationality, based on the cognitive model “profile - base”, where nation (narodnost’) doesn’t exclude, but rather embraces the “alieness” (inorodchestvo). It seems that such a category was not exactly created “on orders from above”, neither was it a conscious willing of a particular person or institution. It appeared as a result of multifactorial conceptual conjecture during the studying period, within its particular social and political formations. I will analyse the concepts of “diversity” and “tolerance” which, in a rather paradoxical way, turn to be the key-concepts of Russian colonial discourse about etnic hierarchy.