Theorizing racialization as modernization: interpreting social change in Russia
Sociology Uppsala University Uppsala, Sweden
Despite the fact that racism and the processes of race-making have often been recognised as one of the attributes of modernity, they remain underdeveloped on a theoretical level. This becomes clear when one takes into account the absence of work on analysis of the processes of racialization in "different" modernities. Whereas in western countries, anti-modernization sentiments were characterized by nostalgia for lost traditions, the Soviet view of the anomies of modernity allowed no looking backwards. Aimed at drastically transforming its society and battling against "the backwardness for which we've been punished" in the economic, research and education spheres, the race concept was developed using possibilities opened up by Enlightenment methodologies. At the same time, racism was seen as the salient evil of capitalism, successfully overcome in the process of socialistic modernization. The analysis I offer of racialization processes in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia allows one, firstly, to demonstrate the centrality of analyzing the processes of racialization in order to understand the processes of socio-historical change conceptualized in terms of modernization theory. Western modernity remains the only frame of reference for an analysis of the success of modernization, but only in the sense that its antinomies become a challenge which is taken up by "alternative modernities". The internal contradictions of modernity, which allow one to speak of the postmodern condition and of reflexive modernization, are also characteristic of a key concept of modernity such as race, which holds the social fabric together at the same time as undermining the unity of society, thus operating in a dialectical fashion. Secondly, in this paper I argue that racialization processes in the post-communist world cannot be considered to be either "fake modernization", or a return to traditionalization, but rather a compromise between modernizing imperatives and the constraints of communist legacy, between a striving towards global unity and ethnic-centred particularism, a compromise which consists of indigenous Russian traditions containing pro-modernization themes. I argue that it is possible to apply both path dependency and "latecomers-learning" approaches to the analysis of social change in Russia and thereby affirm the continuing viability of some insights of modernization theory.