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Home > Catalogue > Cultures of Power in Post-Communist Russia
Cultures of Power in Post-Communist Russia


  • Page extent: 230 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.48 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 306.20947
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: JN6695 .U885 2010
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Political culture--Russia (Federation)
    • Elite (Social sciences)--Russia (Federation)--Language
    • Politicians--Russia (Federation)--Interviews
    • Discourse analysis--Political aspects--Russia (Federation)
    • Russia (Federation)--Politics and government--1991-

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521195164)

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Cultures of Power in Post-Communist Russia
Cambridge University Press
9780521195164 - Cultures of Power in Post-Communist Russia - An Analysis of Elite Political Discourse - By Michael Urban

Cultures of Power in Post-Communist Russia

In Russian politics reliable information is scarce, formal relations are of relatively little significance, and things are seldom what they seem. Applying an original theory of political language to narratives taken from interviews with thirty-four of Russia's leading political figures, Michael Urban explores the ways in which political actors construct themselves with words. By tracing individual narratives back to the discourses available to speakers, he identifies what can and cannot be intelligibly said within the bounds of the country's political culture, and then documents how elites rely on the personal elements of political discourse at the expense of those addressed to political community. Urban shows that this discursive orientation is congruent with social relations prevailing in Russia and helps to account for the fact that, despite two revolutions proclaiming democracy in the last century, Russia remains an authoritarian state.

Michael Urban is Professor of Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of numerous books including The Rebirth of Politics in Russia (Cambridge, 1997) and Russia Gets the Blues: Music, Culture and Community in Unsettled Times (2004). He has frequently commented on Russian affairs on radio and television in the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia.

Cultures of Power in Post-Communist Russia

An Analysis of Elite Political Discourse

Michael Urban

University of California, Santa Cruz

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo, Delhi, Dubai, Tokyo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© Michael Urban 2010

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2010

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data

Urban, Michael E., 1947–
Cultures of power in post-Communist Russia : an analysis of elite
political discourse / Michael Urban.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-0-521-19516-4 (Hardback)
1. Political culture–Russia (Federation) 2. Elite (Social sciences)–Russia
(Federation)–Language. 3. Politicians–Russia (Federation)–Interviews.
4. Discourse analysis–Political aspects–Russia (Federation). 5. Russia
(Federation)–Politics and government–1991– I. Title.
JN6695.U885 2010

ISBN 978-0-521-19516-4 Hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For Veronica, one more time.


List of figure and tables
Note on transliteration
1             Introduction
2             Social relations
3             Community
4             Morality
5             Competence
6             Revolution
7             Conclusion
Appendix:     Sketches of respondents' backgrounds

Figure and tables


1.1   The elements of political discourse


2.1   Two models of civil society
5.1   Analytic distinctions between the discourse of professionals in politics and the discourse of professional politicians
6.1   Five permutations of discourse elements and binary structures in narratives on revolution
6.2   Positive (+) and Negative (–) uses of discourse elements and binary structures concerning “revolution” across cohorts in the sample


The first group of people whom I would like to thank are those who sat for the interviews on which this study is based. Their names are listed in the Appendix. For me, talking with them represented the most enjoyable part of the project. Their candor and generosity of spirit amazed me not a few times, perhaps even more than their many insights into the world of Russian politics. I learned a lot from them. I also benefited from the counsel of two Russian scholars – Alexei Kuzmin and Viktor Sergeyev – whose advice during the early stages of my work proved invaluable, as did the support and encouragement of Mary McAuley and Ronald Suny.

I am particularly grateful to Vyacheslav Igrunov, a veteran of innumerable political struggles in his country and a scholar in his own right, who pulled every imaginable string to arrange the great majority of the interviews that were done. That gratitude extends, too, to Elena Alekseenkova and Vadim Sharomov who conducted some of the interviews for me while I was away from Moscow. Likewise, my thanks go to Vladimir Pribylovskii for furnishing the biographical information used in the Appendix.

The final draft of the text was informed by the encouraging and critical comments rendered by a number of scholars who had read earlier versions in whole or in part. My thanks in this regard go to: Richard Anderson, George Breslauer, Archie Brown, Craig Calhoun, G. William Domhoff, Paul Frymer, Stephen Hanson, James Hughes, Eugene Huskey, Grigori Ioffe, Cynthia Kaplan, Peter Kenez, Jonathan Larson, Ronnie Lipschutz, Aleksandr Smirnov, Vadim Volkov and Stephen White. I am likewise thankful for the opportunities to present my work in progress at Miami University of Ohio and the University of California, Berkeley. Venelin Ganev and Karen Dawisha made possible the first of these and Yuri Slezkine, the second. At later stages of the project, Paul Held, Benjamin Read and Kent Eaton fed my thinking with some very helpful suggestions on things to read. George Urban sat for many days before the computer screen painstakingly constructing a complex electronic index.

I wish to thank the Academic Senate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, for the travel grant that enabled me to make the site visit that started my research, and the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research for a generous grant that financially sustained it thereafter. Chapters 2, 4 and 5 of this volume appeared in earlier version in, respectively, International Political Anthropology, Europe-Asia Studies and Post-Soviet Affairs. My thanks go to the editors of those journals for permission to reprint those articles here.

Reserving pride of place for last, I make another inadequate attempt to thank my wife, Veronica, for technical and moral support, for inexhaustible patience with a person preoccupied (to his own chagrin) with thinking about the stuff of this book, and for long conversations, as well as the offhanded quip, that made that stuff better.

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