Empire has become a common analytical frame through which the Soviet state and its collapse are interpreted. Commenting on the other contributions to this forum, Mark R. Beissinger examines the limits and utility of this concept, arguing that empire needs to be understood, not as a clearly bounded transhistorical model, but as a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance” whose meaning and referents have altered significantly over time. The article then probes the ways the concept of empire has been redeployed in the Soviet context, addressing in particular the role of nationalism in the making of empire, the injustices associated with empire, and the contested boundary between the multinational empire and the multinational state. It concludes by arguing for a more interpretive approach to Soviet empire as a way of relating to authority rather than a common set of political practices.
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