Exclusiveness of the Excluded: Marginality and Historical Change in Imperial, Soviet and Post-Soviet Times

On 20-21 June 2016, the Centre for Comparative History and Political Studies held a conference entitled “Exclusiveness of the Excluded: Marginality and Historical Change in Imperial, Soviet and Post-Soviet Times”.

The conference included five sections: “Marginality and religion”, “Between medicalization and criminalization”, “Marginalization of the Other”, “Marginalization through representation”, “Marginal spaces of creative freedom”, an open lecture by Jacob Gilinsky “Deviantology on "exclusion" and "marginality"”, a round table “On prison cells and begging bowls: how to speak about marginality”, and the opening of the exhibition “Monologues”.

The Conference was attended by representatives from the following organizations: Baltic University of Ecology, Politics and Law, European University at St. Petersburg, Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, Higher School of Economics, Institute for the Study of Northern Development (Siberian Branch of the RAS, Tyumen), Institute of History and Archaeology (Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences), Institute of Russian History (Russian Academy of Sciences), Max Planck Institute for Human Development (Center History of Emotions), Perm State University, Radishchev State Art Museum in Saratov, Russian State University for the Humanities, Rutgers University, St. Petersburg Law institute (branch) of the Academy of the General Prosecutor's Office, Centre for Comparative History and Political Studies, University of Lethbridge, Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ural Federal University, Yale University. The conference was also attended by journalists and civic activists.

The conference embraced an interdisciplinary approach and included presentations by scholars of social sciences and humanities. Participants discussed such topics as: living on the margins, strategies and tactics of marginalization; politics of marginalization and resistance; representations of marginality in art and culture; spaces of marginality and marginalization; being marginalized vs marginality as a choice; marginality and technology; marginal body; ethnic, gender, class, religious, age and other dimensions of marginality.

The starting point of the conference was that over the last two centuries, starting with post-emancipation modernization in the mid-nineteenth century and up to the political, economic, social and cultural transformations of late twentieth – early twenty-first century, populations of the territories of the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and post-Soviet countries have lived through several profound changes in the trajectory of societal development. These shifts were accompanied with changes in power relations that privileged some social groups and excluded others.

Following Michael Foucault, marginalization was interpreted by participants as a process of social exclusion, while marginality was seen as a phenomenon intrinsically linked with practices of disciplining and normalizing a population. The participants examined these mechanisms in watershed moments of Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet history. The objective of the conference was to analyze practices of marginalization as well as strategies in overcoming marginality and living in marginality.  For instance, following the revolutionary events of 1917 hundreds of thousands of people found themselves excluded, while other social groups, many of whom had been an object of public assistance at best, were mobilized to be integrated into society and the body politic. Yet some groups remained marginalized regardless of changes in political regimes. During the conference, participants were trying to explore the problematic status of those on the margins of society. The participants were also interested in analyzing marginal groups as agents, makers of their own histories, as the social exclusion can also be an important resource for developing life strategies, a certain “space of freedom” from the normalizing control of the state and society.