ian campbell on russian settler colonialism and the shcherbina expedition

24Oct11

Ian W. Campbell, ‘Settlement promoted, settlement contested: the Shcherbina Expedition of 1896–1903’, Central Asian Survey 30, 3-4 (2011).

The Shcherbina Expedition of 1896–1903 was the Russian Empire’s most concerted effort to gather the data necessary to facilitate peasant settlers’ migration to its largely nomadic steppe oblasts. Although this expedition was a massive exercise of imperial power privileging sedentary over mobile pastoralist lifeways, the oppositional views of its participants made matters more ambiguous. The civilizational hierarchies that emerged in its materials did not strictly privilege sedentary lifeways, and an effort was made to preserve mobile pastoralists’ lifeways and economic wellbeing. The project of objectively correct colonization that the expedition embodied was initially embraced by all interested parties as a certain solution to the clash of lifeways brought about by peasant migration to the steppe. After its work was published, however, contested use of its statistical norms made it clear that the idea of ‘correct colonization’ could not prevent the serious conflicts engendered by settlement in the steppe.



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