Call for Papers on Stalinism

Stalinism and Central Asia: Rethinking Early Soviet State Formation from the Periphery

Call for Contributions for a Special Issue of Central Asian Survey to be published in Winter 2016, guest edited by Dr. Botakoz Kassymbekova

Stalinism has been a controversial field of enquiry for historians. Some see Stalinism as instituting paradigmatically modern state in the Soviet Union based on the principle of universal citizenship and rooted in European enlightenment. Others interpret Stalinism as a neo-traditional order which, while proclaiming modern aims, failed the basic transition to political modernity, i.e. the transition from a personal to an institutional system of power. Such frameworks suggest important differences in how we might understand the nature of early Soviet rule in Central Asia: as one region within a modern state, on the one hand, or as the colony of a neo-traditional empire on the other. So far the historical investigations have tended to limit the role played by Central Asia in the overall Soviet project—either as a region or colony—and have privileged an analysis of Stalin’s policies towards the region rather than practices of governance that developed within it and in relation to it. Consequentially, they tended to ignore the crucial question of how Stalinism as a system of political governance evolved in the Central Asian context and what that could mean for the overall Soviet project.

The aim of the Special Issue is to integrate the Central Asian experience in our analysis of Stalinism and to incorporate current debates on Stalinism into our understanding of early Soviet Central Asia. Contributions are invited that explore how broader economic, governmental and administrative policies that were carried out throughout the Soviet Union were planned, communicated and implemented in Central Asia. The Special Issue will foreground an actor- centric approach to understand how various agents, both Central Asian and those from the outside, understood the Soviet project in Central Asia and beyond. It will give particular consideration to questions of violence, for while the early Soviet regime has relied on the threat and execution of physical violence, we know very little about the scope, dynamics and structural bases of such violence in the Central Asian context to be able to reflect upon its role for the early Soviet experience. More generally, the Special Issue aims to lay ground for a nuanced historical periodization, differentiation and comparison between the immediate post-revolutionary, Stalinist, post-Stalinist and late Soviet experiences and regimes, and their legacies for contemporary Central Asia.

The current volume aims to address these underexplored issues. Contributions are solicited that (1) foreground actor-centric perspectives; (2) incorporate social and institutional history in their analysis; and/or (3) engage in theoretical reflection upon the relationship between Soviet state-formation and physical violence. Questions that might be addressed in individual research articles include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Did Central Asians and new Soviet migrants/colonists understand themselves to be universal Soviet citizens or as colonized/colonial subjects? Who were Soviet officials, both at the central and local levels? What agency did they have and what were their strategies of governance? How did communication between the peripheral party officials, the Central Asian Bureau and Moscow take place? How should we understand purges in Central Asia in relation to those outside of the region?
  • How far did the early Soviet bureaucratic and economic modernization in Central Asia differ from those practiced in other parts of the Soviet Union? How did programs of urbanization, collectivization, industrialization take place in Central Asia and what did they mean for local social and political structures and actors? Did they have peculiar regional specificities? How were Stalinist grand mobilization projects, such as the Ferghana Canal, the Vakhsh Valley, or the Pamir Highway realized and what role did they play in Soviet state-building? How did Soviet Central Asian republican governments function and what was their relationship to Moscow? How did communication, decision- making and policy implementation between Moscow and republican centers and peripheries take place?
  • Should the violence that occurred during collectivization, resettlement, political purges of cultural elites be considered colonial violence, or rather as the violence of a modern mobilization state? What role did physical violence play in shaping the political and social structures of Central Asia? How did experiences of violence and deprivation shape and influence governance, social groups and individuals? What did the Stalinist “cultural revolution” mean in people’s everyday lives?
  • How was and is Stalinism interpreted, remembered and commemorated in the post-Stalinist and contemporary periods in Central Asia? How do such dynamics of memorialization compare to those occurring in Russia and other post-Soviet regions?

Paper proposals of up to 500 words and a short biographical statement of 100 words should be sent to by May 15th 2015 with the subject heading ‘Stalinism and Central Asia paper proposal’. Pending external funding, a workshop is planned for the autumn of 2015 for selected contributors to discuss pre-circulated drafts of their papers. Selected contributors will be invited to submit a complete 8,000 word paper by December 1st 2015, which will then be subject to peer review. Papers that successfully pass peer review are scheduled to appear in Central Asian Survey in winter 2016.

Please direct any queries to Dr. Botakoz Kassymbekova, scientific staff member at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin, at

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