Course Content

Total learning: 15 lessons Time: 1 semester

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Week 3. Population Politics, Total Mobilization, and the “Dark Side of Modernity” at the Imperial Center and in the Borderlands: Social and Political Consequences of the War

This class will examine two phenomena which dominated and radically reshaped the East European space during the war and in its aftermath within the broader framework of increasing societal mobilization. First, it will tackle the origins and trajectory of modern ‘population politics,’ which was inextricably linked to the emergence of the ‘social’ and to the highly interventionist policies of the modern state with regard to the social realm. Mainly addressing the case of the Russian Empire – but also the emulation and application of Western ‘models’ of population politics – we will discuss the rise of ethnicity as the primary category for ”reading” and classifying human diversity within the Russian Empire, the emergence of colonial „technologies of rule” on the Russian peripheries and the “re-importation” of the colonial technologies of violence back to Europe during World War I, and the parallel readings of modernity, mass politics and the changing role of the state. Specifically, we will emphasize the notions of ‘legibility / high modernism’ (James Scott) and ‘the interwar conjuncture’ (Stephen Kotkin) in order to account for the intertwined nature of these processes. The main focus will be on the connection between total war, radical societal transformations and mass population displacements (deportations). Second, the class will look at the phenomenon of ‘refugeedom’ from a social-historical point of view, not only in its socially destructive dimension of displacement and societal unravelling, but also in its constructive hypostasis of social change (including downward and upward social mobility) and long-term transformation through activism ‘from below.’ The gender aspect and the increasing role and agency of women in society as a consequence of the wartime transformations will be also discussed.


  • Holquist, “To Count, To Extract, To Exterminate”, Martin and Suny, A State of Nations, 2001, 111-144.
  • Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking, 1999/ 2005, chapters 1 (“War and the origins of involuntary displacements”) and 2 (“The politics of refugeedom”), 15-48.
  • Kotkin, “Modern Times: The Soviet Union and the Interwar Conjuncture,” Kritika, 2001, 111-164.