We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Find using OpenURL

Die korrupte Provinz? Russische Beamte im 19. Jahrhundert by Susanne Schattenberg (review)

From: Ab Imperio
pp. 364-366 | 10.1353/imp.2013.0036

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In the nineteenth century, a Russian official had to find middle ground between government and citizens. He had to meet the requirements of the state, without unnecessarily antagonizing the local inhabitants. A historian in the twenty-first century has to find middle ground between the power of the academic tradition and a readership with less and less time to deal with the growing body of research literature. The present book is a German Habilitationsschrift, accepted in 2006 at the Humboldt University in Berlin, and yet it is not. A typical Habilitationsschrift in history would be 500 to 800 pages long. In this case, the text consists of only 260 pages and thus adheres to the strict Oxford norm for a PhD dissertation: 10,000 words plus footnotes. Obviously, it is increasingly accepted for a Habilitationsschrift not to distinguish itself from a PhD dissertation by sheer volume and stamina. The former should not triple the number of words and footnote references. The maturity of its argument and breadth of the author's historical knowledge are more important. In this respect the author heeded the Anglo-Saxon norm as well. The discussion of existing historiography in the first chapter is not a colossal bibliography, in which the footnotes occupy more than half of each page. Instead, it is a crystalclear and selective presentation of the important developments and desiderata of the literature.

Schattenberg's stated objective is to analyze the bureaucracy of the empire on the basis of the officials' self-perceptions found in memoirs and administrative acts. She distances her approach clearly from the research tradition of modernization theory based on Max Weber's ideal type of civil servant. Allegedly, the modern states of the West were able to meet these standards, whereas Russian and other states of the East failed miserably. Not only this idealized image of the West and Prussia but also the story of Russian deficits in modern public administration, the story of clientelism and corruption have since been corrected by new studies. In the West, modern state building made good progress in the eighteenth century, without however completely eradicating "premodern" elements and attitudes. In St. Petersburg, conversely, only the 1860s witnessed a similar push to modernization. Without proposing any "alternative modernity," and without tabooing terms like "progress" or "modernization" altogether (P. 44), Schattenberg gives voice to the historical officials: "the objective here is not to classify Russia in terms of a certain stage of development and to measure the degree of progress. Instead, the objective is to understand the predominant cultural practices of officialdom of the nineteenth century" (P. 47).

The study focuses on officials in Orel, Saratov, Simbirsk, Yakutsk, Taganrog, and Penza − quite different cities, not only in terms of the traveling distance to the capital. Methodologically more relevant is the author's decision to forsake a quantitative approach with as many objective data for as many unnamed officials as possible. Instead, she portrays a selection of individual officials and their careers. However, she has examined ample archival material to make a competent distinction between what is typical or representative and what is idiosyncratic in these memoirs and life stories.

The narrated life stories show, for example, that in a relatively short time in the middle of the century "expertise" beyond basic skills of reading and writing became important for status promotion, although it is not clear how lower-level officials really needed this expert knowledge in their everyday practice. A few decades earlier they had largely considered such expertise a nuisance and an insult. Again, the courageous decision not to bother the reader with all the big and small "treasures" gathered painstakingly from various Russian archives, pays off. The carefully selected case studies produce a crisp and well-founded line of argument.

At a higher level, the governors were in a similar predicament between the tsar in the capital and their local officials. In terms of power projection, for a governor in Yakutsk the tsar was far away, but due to the rudimentary road infrastructure his own officials in the hinterland might actually be out of reach, too. The result was the tsar's ubiquitous dilemma of a choice between institutionalization and a personalized relationship...

You must be logged in through an institution that subscribes to this journal or book to access the full text.


Shibboleth authentication is only available to registered institutions.

Project MUSE

For subscribing associations only.