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Hierarchies of Territory: Precedence and Interrelationship between Regions in Russian Space, 1700-1991

Moscow, Russian Federation
Organisation: The International Research Laboratory “Russia’s Regions in Historical Perspective”
The Russian Federation today consists of over 80 federal units (sub”ekty federatsii), including republics, kraia, autonomous okrugs, oblasts, and so forth. Each of these forms of territorial organization has its own standing and place within the state hierarchy. But this represents just the most basic level of the state’s territorial organization. Each of these units in turn forms part of larger conglomerations or groupings of territories, such as federal or military districts, economic macroregions, or archbishoprics, as well as less determinate political-cultural entities such as the North, the South, Siberia, the Volga Region, and so forth, all of which occupy their own distinct niches within official and popular conceptions of the national area. The variety of these spatial formations and the different ways of “reading” Russian territory that they represent appear all the more striking when one considers the complex historical legacies that inform them. Even past spatial forms that are no longer visible today nonetheless remain deeply resonant and influential.
None of these ways of representing territory, past or present, is autonomous. Instead, each plays a role and has its assigned place within structures of meaning. As such, they reflect the reality that Russian space, like the territory of all states, is organized according to a range of hierarchies that together define the socio-political, economic, and cultural ordering of the state. It’s worth noting that the very understanding of region as a territorial entity is itself fundamentally relational. Put differently, no region can exist on its own. Every region is the product of likenesses, contrasts, and/or connections, real or imagined, with at least one other region. In a basic sense, there can be no North without a South, no center without a periphery. Europe would not be Europe without Asia, and so on.
Building from this conceptual foundation, our conference aims to explore the history of how different definitions of territory and the relations between them emerged and developed within Russian space over the preceding three centuries, taking into account the shifting effects of political and economic power as well as cultural values that defined this long period. We are especially interested in examining the factors that influenced how and why a given region might be seen to be higher or lower or of greater or lesser importance within the different imperial and national hierarchies that characterized Russian space during the imperial and Soviet eras, tracing the dynamics that shaped how these various hierarchies formed, evolved, changed, or, conversely, endured across time even through periods of otherwise momentous political and cultural-historical transformation.
Venue: Higher School of Economics, Moscow
Language: Russian and English