The project aims to explore the nature of informal relations in public administration in Russia in the 18th century and their definitive role in the state policy. Prima facie, this would seem an obvious topic, which leaves nothing to look for. Informal relations are an inherent aspect of all official institutions that would ever exist, regardless of whether it is a historical monarchy or a modern democracy. They follow directly and inevitably from the social practices, because of the simple personal need for communication and emotional contact, forming the “network of trust” which is imperative in the struggle for social statuses and power. However, these self-suggestive interpretations of informal relation have led the social sciences (such as history, historical sociology) to adopt a rather narrow understanding of this phenomenon. The “networks of trust” are often seen strictly as mechanisms for achieving personal gains with the help of state institutions and are commonly labeled with the blanket term “corruption”.
It is the same fertile background that these multiple theories of backwardness or progressiveness of the development of public institutions would stem from. In this sense, there are roughly two approaches to the problem:
1) the “State view”: informal relations are anomalies that are destructive for the political stability and social order;
2) the “anti-State view”: informal relations is the real policy-making instrument, whereas the state itself is essentially fiction, with all power exercised through elite patron-client ties (“parties”, “clans”, “alliances”).
In this regard, the focus of our team is just the opposite. In our view, informal relations are essentially unrelated to the process of bureaucratization as such, nor are they a sign of the backwardness or archaism within the state structure. It proves that the existing models of informal relations ignore the huge variety of situations when no “patron” and “client” roles apply, but the “equal” ones, seeking something apart from the personal benefits, building “team” relationship for the sake of pursuing the interest of the State and thus contributing to the external stability of the political structure.
The provisions of this new approach will be “tested” on the materials from the history of state administration of Russia of the 18th century, namely, by reconstructing the informal ties linking representatives of the ruling elite and those of other social groups in the context of the day-to-day history of the government (with a particular focus on the territory of the Urals). The relations with representatives of local (national) elites (by the example of the Cossack groups of “Malorossiya (Little Russia)”) will also receive a due account. Since the most important source for recreating these “networks of trust” is the private correspondence of domestic and foreign origin, the team will also take to collect and catalogue them, to be thematically grouped and included into the monographic publications planned for the project.
The overall goal of the project is to deliver a better understanding of the inner functioning of the state, an insight of how the state “machine” reacted to external challenges and adjusted to them, and an awareness of the ways the (un)transition from the “patrimonial state” to the “bureaucratic state” took place in the New Time. In addition, studying the context of the relationship between the center with local (national) elites (using the example of the Cossack elites of “Malorossiya (Little Russia)”) provides for finding the points of their integration through informal relations, which is key to understanding the real mechanisms for the decline of the autonomy.
The project’s implementation would be utterly impossible without a bright team of 8 researchers it together: the core of the research team (including the head of the project) are the staff of the Laboratory of Archeographic Studies (headed by the Doctor of History, Prof. D.A.Redin) – namely, О.К. Ermakova, M.A. Kiselev, Ya.A. Lazarev, A.S. Lystsova, M.T. Nakishova, A. Plate. Concurrently, this project is an example of close collaboration with Moscow researchers – M.Yu. Chepurin (State Academic University for Humanities / Institute of World History, Russian Academy of Sciences) and K.A. Kochegarov (Institute of Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences).
Created / Updated: 7 June 2019 / 7 June 2019
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