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Do the “Assemblage Points” Exist?

From: Ab Imperio
pp. 16-21

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The Kantian understanding of time and space not only became instrumental for the modern concept of subjectivity but also laid the foundation for the conceptual apparatus of the social sciences. We speak the language of Kantian space and time, and therefore perceive social groups as lasting in time and having clear social and geographic boundaries. To be sure, Kant postulated the categories of space and time as immanent to the observer, while modern social sciences tend to operate with them as “objective” and universal characteristics of groups. These “objective criteria” inform academic chronologies, histories, and geographies, and shape our understanding of modern political communities as “nations,” rooted in shared historical experience and common territoriality. There is an obvious contradiction between the subjectivity of the Kantian perception of temporality and space − and the objectivity of the structuralist representation of social reality using these categories. This contradiction informs the annual theme of the journal in 2014 with its focus on heterogeneous imperial temporality and spatially framed experience of diversity.

The first thematic issue within Ab Imperio ’s 2014 annual program, “Assemblage Points of the Imperial Situation: Places and Spaces of Diversity,” focuses on possible roots of the imperial situation in the very condition of spatial or temporal intersection of different groups and processes in imperial society. The initial expectation in regard to the issue “ Zeit und Raum : Adjacent Spaces, Overlapping Epochs” was that upon reviewing several cases featuring the structural situation of adjacent institutions, cultures, and temporalities, the elements producing an imperial situation would be revealed. Looking now at the contributions to this issue of Ab Imperio , we see that physical proximity by itself does not necessarily produce complex common social spaces (characterized by coexisting and partially overlapping nomenclatures of social statuses and hierarchies of authority) and asynchronicity. Whether because of the modern language of classification and essentialization or because of the nature of human collectivities, in zones and situations of contact, people rather tend to resist the prospects of amalgamations by reifying old and producing new intergroup barriers and markers of difference.

The long nineteenth century had established the new norm of fashioning the “primordial” and spontaneous hybridity of the imperial situation in the Modiglianesque aesthetics (to borrow a well-known metaphor by Ernest Gellner): that is, as a space produced by the complex and hierarchical dynamics of adjacent multicolor but internally homogeneous “blocs”−collectives. Each of them is ascribed with autonomy and unanimous will. In order to restore the historic agency of individuals (rather than the imagined unanimous collectives), we have to understand the logic of imagination and the language that were responsible for the creation of that Modiglianesque worldview. Therefore, the fact that we do not see vivid evidence of the existence of a certain “mechanism” of producing an imperial situation does not necessarily mean that this mechanism did not exist in a given case. The very language of observers (and of the accounts they left) was structured so as to ignore and directly silence everything ambivalent, multidimensional, “non-national.” Deconstruction of this language (both in historical sources and in the analysis of modern-day scholars) is the priority task and precondition for any prospect of understanding the “construction” of the imperial situation.

The Methodology and Theory section features an article by Andrew Zimmerman that so appropriately resonates the Germanized title of this issue of Ab Imperio (alluding to the German ideological context of the nineteenth century): “Race against Revolution in Central and Eastern Europe: From Hegel to Weber, from Rural Insurgency to ‘Polonization.’” Zimmerman forcefully reestablishes the roots of racism in counterrevolution as “political reactions to preserve hierarchies of power against democratic revolutions.” By the same token, he dismisses as false the traditional dichotomy of a racial vs. cultural approach to diversity by recovering the essentially “cultural racist” foundations of modern social sciences exemplified by the sociology of Max Weber. According to Zimmerman, Weber turned to the language of cultural racism to counter the danger of “social contamination” of the German economy and society by migrant workers from the Russian Poland and the general trend of proletarization – which he rendered in terms of racial (ethnocultural) contamination. While Zimmerman stresses the counterrevolutionary roots of the Weberian discourse of intergroup...

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