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Reflective Colonization: Domination, Consent, and the Self in Imperial Russia

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Historians have pointed out that as a terrestrial rather than an overseas empire, the Russian empire has had to grapple with a blurry boundary between imperial center and periphery. Ektind goes a step further to show that the Russian empire was the stage for intensive colonization of the imperial core itself and the attendant processes of self-orientalization and self-alienation. The review identifies and explores three dimensions of the process of internal colonization. In the first, colonization by consent, Russian historical writers’ interpretations of the origins of the state in terms of consent to (foreign) domination are contextualized by drawing on colonizers’ fantasy of consent across contexts and historical periods, and by pointing to resistance as an important aspect of the relation between Russian imperial elites and the colonized. The second dimension is the idea of colonizing “one’s own,” whereby elites not only coerced people of the imperial core into various practices, but also viewed them through an orientalizing lens, and this, from the beginnings of serfdom through the nineteenth-century populists’ efforts at rapprochement (the perceived divide between rulers and ruled is, it is argued, still salient in Russian politics). The last dimension, strangers to ourselves, deals with the “splitting of the self” from a postcolonial studies perspective but it is pointed out that the use of psychoanalytic frameworks and literary theory may reproduce orientalist interpretations of the Russian imperial self. Instead, it is argued that self-orientalizing discourses in the Russian context may serve to divert attention away from one’s actual power.

Affiliations: 1: The University of Manitoba, Email:, URL:


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