March 2018 booklist

The Politics of Police Reform: Society against the State in Post-Soviet Countries by Erica Marat

There is a Russian saying that “police mirror society.” The gist of this is that every society is policed to the extent that it allows itself to be policed. Centralized in control but decentralized in their reach, the police are remarkably similar in structure, chain of command, and their relationships with the political elite across post-Soviet nations–they also remain one of the least reformed post-communist institutions.

As a powerful state organ, the Soviet-style militarized police have resisted change despite democratic transformations in the overall political context, including rounds of competitive elections and growing civil society. While consensus between citizens and the state about reform may be possible in democratic nations, it is considerably more difficult to achieve in authoritarian states. Across post-Soviet countries, such discussions most often occur between political elites and powerful non-state actors, such as criminal syndicates and nationalistic ethnic groups, rather than the wider citizenry. Even in countries where one or more rounds of democratic elections have taken place since 1991, empowered citizens and politicians have not renegotiated the way states police and coerce society. On the contrary, in many post-Soviet countries, police functions have expanded to serve the interests of the ruling political elites.

What does it take to reform a post-Soviet police force? This book explores the conditions in which a meaningful transformation of the police is likely to succeed and when it will fail. Departing from the conventional interpretation of the police as merely an institution of coercion, this book defines it as a medium for state-society consensus on the limits of the state’s legitimate use of violence. It thus considers policing not as a way to measure the state’s capacity to coerce society, but rather as a reflection of a complex society bound together by a web of casual interactions and political structures. The book compares reform efforts in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, finding that bottom-up public mobilization is likely to emerge in the aftermath of transformative violence–an incident when the usual patterns of policing are interrupted with unprecedented brutality against vulnerable individuals. Ultimately, The Politics of Police Reform examines the various pathways to transforming how the state relates to society through policing.

Russia in the Time of Cholera: Disease under Romanovs and Soviets by John P. Davis

As the nineteenth century drew to a close and epidemics in western Europe were waning, the deadly cholera vibrio continued to wreak havoc in Russia, outlasting the Romanovs. Scholars have since argued that cholera eventually fell prey to better sanitation and strict quarantine under the Soviets, citing as evidence imperial mismanagement, a ‘backward’ tsarist medical system and physicians’ anachronistic environmental interpretations of the disease.

Drawing on extensive archival research and the so-called ‘material turn’ in historiography, however, John P. Davis here demonstrates that Romanov-era physicians’ environmental approach to disease was not ill-grounded, nor a consequence of neo-liberal or populist political leanings, but born of pragmatic scientific considerations. The physicians confronted cholera in a broad and sophisticated way, essentially laying the foundations for the system of public health that the Soviets successfully used to defeat cholera during the New Economic Policy (1922–1928).

By focusing for the first time on the conclusion of the cholera epoch in Russia, Davis adds an indispensable layer of nuance to the existing conception of Romanov Russia and its complicated legacy in the Soviet period.

The Politics of Unfree Labour in Russia: Human Trafficking and Labour Migration by Mary Buckley

How, and why, did human trafficking out of Russia escalate at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Why did some labour migrants from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan find happy work situations in Russia whereas others became trapped in forced labour? This book focuses on human trafficking out of the Russian Federation since the collapse of the Soviet state and on labour migration into it from Central Asia, and on some internal movement. It looks at the socio-economic reasons behind labour flows and examines key social, political, legislative and policy responses. Discussion includes how the Russian press covers these topics and what politicians, experts and the public think about them. Based on interviews, polls and focus groups in Russia, this book is rich in original research which highlights different Russian perspectives on exploitation in unfree labour. It gives examples of entrapment in prostitution, construction work, on farms, and in begging rings.

Understanding Contemporary Russia, 2nd ed. edited by Michael L. Bressler

Russia today is in many ways different from the country portrayed a decade ago in the first edition of Understanding Contemporary Russia. With an upsurge of both national pride―despite a struggling economy―and civil society activism, with a palpable tension between the support for democratic values and the intense desire for political stability, with an increased role in world politics that puts Putin in the headlines almost daily, contradictions and complexities abound. These contradictions, complexities, and much more are captured in this new edition. The authors provide sophisticated yet accessible introductions to the country’s history, domestic politics, economy, foreign policy, society, and culture. The result is a well-grounded exploration of the realities of contemporary Russia.

Russian Aviation, Spaceflight, and Visual Culture by Vlad Strukov et al.

Among the many successes of the Soviet Union were inaugural space flight ahead of the United States and many other triumphs related to aviation. Aviators and cosmonauts enjoyed heroic status in the Soviet Union and provided supports of the Soviet project with iconic figures which could be used to bolster the regime’s visions, self-confidence, and the image of itself as forward looking and futuristic. This book explores how the themes of aviation and space flight have been depicted in film, animation, art, architecture, and digital media. Incorporating many illustrations, the book covers a wide range of subjects, including the representations of heroes, the construction of myths, and the relationship between visual art forms and Soviet/Russian culture and society.

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One comment

  1. Verily, verily I say unto thee! The Last Times Are Approaching – for I found no book in the list to screech about in the most unbecoming way!

    Like

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