Plebeian Modernity

January 2018
5 black and white illustrations
288 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in East and Central Europe
University of Rochester Press
BISAC HIS032000, HIS054000, HIS037070

Plebeian Modernity

Social Practices, Illegality, and the Urban Poor in Russia, 1906-1916

Ilya Gerasimov

Deciphers typical social practices as a hidden language of communication in urban plebeian society
Covering the interrevolutionary decade of 1906-16 in imperial Russia, this book tells the story of the "silent majority" of urban inhabitants in four major cities: Vilna (today Vilnius, Lithuania), Odessa (in today's Ukraine), Kazan, and Nizhny Novgorod. Representatives of underprivileged social groups made up some ninety percent of city populations during this period, yet produced hardly one percent of the surviving written sources. These people, many of them migrants from the countryside, usually did not read newspapers, rarely authored written documents, and had little exposure to public discourse. They often did not even speak a common language.

Our understanding of this population has until recently been based largely on interpretations by educated observers (journalists, legal experts, scholars), whose testimonies reflected the cultural stereotypes of the time. This book bypasses such mediation, arguing that we can come to know the authentic voices of urban commoners by reading their social practices as a nonverbal language. Toward that end, author Ilya Gerasimov closely examines newspaper criminal chronicles, police reports, and anonymous extortion letters, reconstructing typical social practices among this segment of Russian society. The resulting picture represents the distinctive phenomenon of a "plebeian modernity," one that helped shape the outlook of early Soviet society.

Ilya Gerasimov is a founding editor of Ab Imperio. He holds a PhD in Russian history from Rutgers University.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Subalterns Speak Out; Gerasim and the Infamous
Writing Degree Zero, and Beyond: Reading Social Practices between the Lines
The Middle Volga City as the Middle Ground: Urban Plebeian Society
The Patriarchal Metropolis: Trespassing Social Barriers in Late Imperial Vilna
"We Only Kill Each Other": The Anthropology of Deadly Violence and Contested Intergroup Boundaries
The Transformative Social Experience of Illegality
Epilogue: Gerasim in Power; A Plebeian Modernity
Selected Bibliography


Plebeian Modernity is an energetic and thought-provoking book, with some important insights alongside some vivid and compelling anecdotes. EUROPEAN HISTORY QUARTERLY

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