This presidential address was delivered on November 17, 2007 at the awards presentation ceremony during the 39th AAASS National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, by Professor of Politics at Princeton University, Mark R. Beissinger, who served in 2007 as the AAASS President.
Mark Beissinger opens his address pointing to the irony presented by the case of the Russian empire/the USSR: the self-avowed Tsarist empire (that was self-consciously imperial) evolved into the Soviet state that sought precisely the opposite – to convince its citizens and the world that it was not imperial. And yet the Soviet state ultimately died widely construed as an empire, and is routinely referred to as such today. The belief persists that today’s Russia is again an imperialist state. Beissinger in his address is less interested in the persistence of empire as an apt analytical model for the Soviet Union or contemporary Russia, than in contemplating empire as a persisting practical category of politics in the region. It is a social fact that fear of, aspirations to, memory of, and longing for empire are widespread throughout the region and continue to shape the region’s culture and politics, begging for explanation. In this address the author seeks to probe the questions of what makes people understand power as imperial in a world in which empires formally no longer exist; what types of acts do authorities engage in that become labeled as imperial; and how have these changed over time.