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Population Politics, Power and the Problem of Modernity in Stephen Kotkin's Magnetic Mountain


Did population policy under Stalin differ, in any fundamental respect, from those of inter-war France or other Western countries? In a radical rethinking of the Soviet experience, Stephen Kotkin said no. Magnetic Mountain moved the field of Soviet history past an increasingly sterile cold war standoff between the so-called new social history and the totalitarian school. With the social history generation, Kotkin insisted on seeing the Soviet project from the perspective of ordinary people, subject to the same kind of forces that applied throughout Europe. He had no truck with ideas like oriental despotism or Russian exceptionalism, but, with the totalitarian school, he took ideology seriously, presenting everyday life and high politics within a single analytical frame. To do so, he drew eclectically on a range of theoretical perspectives, above all on the work of the late Michel Foucault. Foucault often implied that Auschwitz and the Gulag were the logical outcome of the Enlightenment project, but his primary goal was to illuminate the corrosive, coercive nature of liberal reform efforts in Western Europe, to puncture their claims to universality. The vast bulk of his corpus avoided the twentieth century. Kotkin, by contrast, used Foucault's perspective directly on the Soviet system itself.

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Contemporary European History
  • ISSN: 0960-7773
  • EISSN: 1469-2171
  • URL: /core/journals/contemporary-european-history
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