Safronova Ju. A. Involvement in the Political: Revolutionary populism of the 1870s as a Community of Readers (.pdf)


The article attempts, through the study of reading practices, to take a fresh look at the revolutionary populism of the 1870s as a community of readers united not by common ideological guidelines, but by the gesture of reading protest literature. The introductory part offers a brief overview of the historiography of reading practices and explains the relevance of the approach to the study of revolutionary populism. The essay focuses on youth/student clubs’ members reading banned literature in the provincial cities of the Russian Empire. The study shows a variety of texts circulating among young people. Their content cannot be reduced either to the three tendencies of populism traditionally distinguished in the historiography, or to the socialist literature “in general”. A complex mixture of protest writings created a bizarre metatext not always accessible to the understanding of those who appealed to it. The main sources that make it possible to consider reading practices in detail are the materials of pedagogical meetings, mainly of theological seminaries, that used to discuss such actions. Unlike the documents of the political police, which recorded the fact of committing a “crime”, the analyzed texts contain observations of the degree of “corruption” of a reader, i.е. the depth of one’s acceptance of the texts read and their influence on students’ behavior. Studying reading practices gives us the possibility to consider a broader question of the nature of the youth movement of the 1870s and the role played by illegal literature in its formation. Such approach makes it possible to expand the boundaries of the revolutionary community, shifting from its active center to the periphery, and to speak rather of youth political protest than of the revolutionary movement.


Key words: political protest, Alexander II, revolutionary populism, reading practices.


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