This article examines the growth of civil society in imperial Russia by focusing on voluntary associations, especially learned societies, closely watched by tsarist officialdom but neglected by historians. Although scholars often emphasize the peculiarities of Russian development, Russia’s societies were part of a broader European phenomenon. A study of associations highlights the relationship between state and society in authoritarian regimes where civil society is most vigorously contested. Because authoritarian regimes close the channels of representative politics and make it difficult for their subjects to act freely in concert, associations demonstrate the potential for the self-organization of society. They cultivate the microspaces of initiative and autonomy not completely under state control where the capacity of citizenship can appear. This study conceptualizes the development ofRussian civil society and theway in which the disenfranchised could enter public life by using the examples of six Russian learned societies. Owing to the mission of the learned societies, Russian civil society became inextricably linked to patriotism and the dissemination of scientific knowledge. Associations raised consciousness, accorded an opportunity for special-interest constituencies of men to enter the public arena, framed policy issues, and mobilized a public in the language of representation. Although civil society and the autocratic state are often described as bitter rivals, cooperation, not confrontation, in the project of national prestige and prosperity was more often the rule. However, an increasing public assertiveness challenged autocratic authority, as Russian officialdom was unwilling to relinquish its tutelary supervision of civil society. Thus, associations became a focal point of a contradictory political culture.


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pp. 19-42
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