24-25.05.2018 – Workshop: Life-Stories on the Move: Subaltern autobiographical practices from the Early Modern Period to the First World War

Workshop, Centre Marc Bloch, May 24-25, 2018

Concept and organization: Malte Griesse, CMB Berlin

Supported by the Research Area « Mobility, Migration and Space »

On our workshop about Life-Stories on the Move we have dealt with ego-documents (autobiographies, memoirs, diaries, family books, correspondence/letters, etc.) written by authors who had to live largely from their own labor: peasants, serfs, slaves, artisans, workers, etc. We speak of autobiographical practices, since we are interested in the texts in their communicative context. The interactive writing situation for letters is obvious. But even texts that seemingly or even professedly stand alone would be inconceivable without an interlocutor or addressee, even if s/he was purely imagined. In addition, the writing of subordinate life-stories was often prepared through inter-social exchange, for example when politically engaged intellectuals approached farmers, serfs, slaves, craftsmen, workers, etc. and encouraged them to write an account of their life. For especially in popular milieus writing about oneself was often chided as a token of excessive vanity, as a flight of Icarus, as the Catalan tanner Miquel Parets called it in the 17thcentury (J. Amelang).

This is also the reason why we put a particular focus on mobility that was in most cases both an inducement for writing and a favored topic of writing. The emphasis on mobility stands in an ambiguous relationship to labor that determined the conditio humana subalternabut tended to be neglected in autobiographical writing well into the 19thcentury. However, in the early modern period and even more so in the age of modernity, the traditional disdain for work as a punishment imposed by God for original sin was increasingly confronted with a growing appreciation of work in Protestantism, political theory and economic thinking. This raises the question to what extent and under what circumstances this esteem was taken up by representatives of the laboring people, or whether, and if so, in what way, they themselves contributed to the changing attitude towards work.

We roughly distinguished three main types of mobility: physical, social and ideological mobility.

  • Physical-geographical mobility: Those who had travelled around could tell stories, especially if they had seen different countries and cultures. It is not for nothing that accounts of the journeyman’s tours by craftsmen are strongly represented in surviving texts. The popular genre of travelogue allowed for an environment-centered rather than ego-centric approach to one’s life-account, which alleviated the accusation of arrogance and vanity. At the same time, many authors who turned to the public with some emancipatory agenda did not denounce in the first place unfree labor, but unfree mobility or immobility and made it the pivotal point of their criticism. Often religious-denominational or political persecution, but also economic hardship forced them to flee, and slaves were sold as a commodity. In many cases slavery or serfdom constrained them to immobility, almost similar to imprisonment. Some of the American slave narratives have been canonized worldwide and read by subaltern writers in many other countries. They often decried the uprooting from native African soil and the separation of families in the context of the slave trade that became early the main target of (somewhat anti-capitalist) criticism, while it took a long time for slavery as an institution to be attacked head-on. It seems as if forced mobility was recognized a bigger or at least much more urgent problem than forced labor, since labor simply belonged to the realm of necessity. Thus popular life-writing often traced international mobility, both voluntary and involuntary. To what extent and in what way did this subaltern reflection of international mobility inform proletarian internationalism, as it would be designed by intellectuals in the first place? And when, under what circumstances and in what way did subalterns begin to talk and write about different forms of unfree or alienated work?
  • Increased social mobility was an important indicator of the emergence of modern societies. Often it allowed climbers to write with hindsight about the underprivileged circumstances of their origins, from which they had worked their way up. How are work and industry weighed in relation to mostly autodidactic learning and self-education and presented as catalyzers of social mobility? And to what extent did narratives of this kind require a position in which the author was no longer directly forced to sell his/her labor? How is « external » social advancement weighted in relation to internal growth in terms of education, knowledge, self-consciousness? Sometimes authors also described their social decline. In the criticalvariant, personal failure tended to be presented as a prototype and attributed to adverse socio-political and economic conditions; in the self-criticalvariant, one’s own case was presented as a negative example in order to save readers from similar missteps. Here too, the question arises as to what role work and education played in the underlying arguments.
  • Finally, ideological mobilityas a structuring element of life stories can also be observed in two distinct versions: religious/denominational and secular-political mobility. Religious mobility was at the heart of conversion narratives. Few of them were inscribed in the Pauline tradition and the change of worldview and life-style was depicted as the result of inspiration and sudden insight. Most them built on the Augustinian tradition that related a prolonged search and extensive process of change (see G. Carl, A. Schaser) – a more or less intricate path to true faith and into the community of true believers. Converts saw themselves exposed to great pressure to justify their act in front of their surrounding and they are strongly represented among the writers. It also seems that Protestant cultures have produced a stronger autobiographical tradition than Catholic ones, whereas subalterns in the orbit of Russian-Orthodox culture seem to have been able to assimilate some important features of the powerful Protestant-Anglo-Saxon autobiographical tradition – for instance when Russian serfs relied on American slave narratives and social climbers on the figure of the self-made man. How did these different autobiographical cultures emerge and to what extent did Protestant ethics (or the widespread working ethic among the Old Believers in Russia) play a part here? Analogous to the religious-denominational, in the politicalvariant of ideological mobility authors traced their path from the ignorant and isolated individual to the class-conscious worker, who found his or her strength in the collective. This is particularly impressive in the context of the workers’ movement in the late 19th century, where work as a producer of added value plays an increasingly pivotal role. To what extent can the hypothesis of a (gradual) secularization of ideological mobility be upheld? Which continuities and ruptures can be observed from the conversion narrative to the account of the political activist? How did the concepts of work change in the course of the shift from descriptions of spiritual life to the accounts written by subaltern political activists?

These were some of the leading questions of our inquiry, which was pan-European in its design and also included the colonial dimension. By bringing together expertise from various regions and cultural realms, we tried not simply to compareautobiographical practices from different cultures, but we were also interested in the interactionsbetween them.

The first section of the workshop « Facing Adversity » started with Ulrich Niggemann‘s (Augsburg) contribution on « Confessional Migration and Autobiography: Some considerations ». He outlined a new project on Huguenot emigration from France, mostly in the aftermath of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. While a handful of prominent Huguenot memoirs such as Jean Migault’s Diary or Marie de la Rochefoucauld’s memoirs have attracted much scholarly attention, those of more humble actors have never been published and remained in the shadow. They are not necessarily written for a public, and included petitions to the authorities of (potential) host countries, negotiations about conditions of settlement, etc. A central observation is that, contrary to English Puritans or German Pietists, the Huguenots did not have a particular autobiographical tradition in France. This raises the leading question of the project, how the refuge from the country of origin (i.e. forced mobility) has triggered autobiographical writing, and especially how divergent autobiographical legacies in different or even successive host countries have shaped and maybe diversified the modes of life-writing within the emergent Huguenot diaspora.

While the question of trauma was already mentioned in the case of the Huguenot, Friedrich Beiderbeck (Berlin/Potsdam) made it the pivotal focus of his talk on « Violence and Trauma in 17thCentury Life-Writing: Reflexions Towards a Historical Traumatology Informed by Cultural Studies ». It was his aim to enrich historical analysis by insights of modern psychology. Therefore he defined psychic trauma as a deep and existential loss of significations due to the impact of excessive violence. The crucial point in his argument was that generating meaning and coherence is not simply a matter of the individual person, but that it is to a large extent culturally coded. And these cultural codes are the means to historicize trauma and to make this psychological concept fruitful to the analysis of early modern ego-documents. Beiderbeck started from a semiotic-phenomenological concept of meaning: The generation of meaning stands for basal cognitive-mental consciousness and orientation, which can be deeply damaged by trauma in multiple ways: The traumatic event does not only destroy the indispensable distribution of meaning in a concrete situation of immediate threat, which is a fundamental function of survival in a hostile environment; it also calls into question existential meanings in a more fundamental and durable way, such as the integrity of the concerned self and its capacity to act; and at the same time it challenges the spiritual and material foundations of community with its specific economies of worth. His concept of meaning is therefore crucial for historically and culturally dependent definitions of both violence and trauma. In his demonstration Beiderbeck drew on literary examples such as Gryphius’ Tränen des Vaterlandes(Tears of the Fatherland, 1643/63) and Grimmelshausen’s Simplicissimus (1668/69), as well as on more classical ego-documents. Since trauma is characterized by the concerned person’s inability verbalize the devastating experience, referring to or even describing traumatic events in life-writing is already an act of resilience.

Anke Sczesny‘s (Augsburg) considerations on « Pauper letters in 19thcentury Augsburg » are part of a bigger project, in which she studies poverty in both rural and urban regions from the end of the Holy Roman Empire to the First World War. Her emphasis in the framework of the workshop was on letters written by paupers in the 19thcentury to the Fuggerei, an Augsburg-specific institution that administers dwellings of a social nature with extremely low rents. Privately held by the Fuggers it is administered in cooperation with municipal authorities. In a first step, she explained the functioning of the institution and the instances paupers had to go through to be admitted to live in these dwellings of a social nature. In particular she showed the structuring role of the questionnaires applicants had to complete. Naturally it was important explain one’s neediness, but at the same time the applicants had to demonstrate that their poverty was due to unfavorable circumstances and that they were not personally to blame for their social decline (downward social mobility). In a second step she drew on two exemplary letters: the supplication of a male social climber aged 39, who said he had managed a tailor shop and was then ruined by economic hardship, his wife’s illness and finally his own health problems; and the supplication of a 52-year old widow of a gauger, who faced social decline due to her breadearner’s death and even though she had made all efforts to provide her two children with the best possible education, as she claimed. In the third step Sczesny showed how the provided information about work, unemployment or education as well as underlying arguments were dependent on the asymmetrical communication situation that thereby shaped the self-narratives of the concerned. Obviously, the specific entrance requirements into the Fuggerei created a particular kind of letter writing.

This was a bridge to the second section on « Institutional Framing of Self Perceptions », where Sigrid Wadauer (Vienna) presented her project on « Bureaucracy and (Auto-)Biography in the Habsburg Monarchy/ Austria ». She works on the history of identifying and registering. Her starting point is not state intentions, instruments and techniques, but rather inner-bureaucratic interactions that « produced » biographical facts. The focus was on files containing letters and protocols, where persons identified and presented themselves to various authorities. In addition, Wadauer draws on more deliberate autobiographical texts in order to investigate the possible uses of official documents. For the Habsburg monarchy she observed that autobiographies did not only describe interactions with the authorities, but often quoted or in the 20thcentury even enclosed official documents. To what extent did official categorizations and a certain bureaucratic socialization shape self-portrayal and self-perception? How much coherence is necessary between the personal data in different documents/contexts? Since people with changing places of residence or mobile lifestyles were particularly dependent on identity documents and written proof, mobility, living expenses and questions of affiliation play a crucial role in her project. People who applied for the right of residence or citizenship usually knew about the bureaucratic requirements, but often provided much more biographical information than necessary, which did not always serve their cause. In general, migrants struggled to demonstrate their connection and rootedness within the region, country and culture, in order to emphasize their political reliability and honest way of life, while confessional issues also played a role. In particular, she wants to systematically make legible ego-documents of social strata, who have rarely left autobiographies in a narrower sense.

The second talk on institutional framing by Yury Zaretsky (Moscow) was devoted to « Official Self-Accounts as Means of Governmentality in Imperial Russia ». In his project he examines the practice of composing official self-accounts by people belonging to different strata of Russian society with a particular emphasis on persons in custody, fugitive serfs, lower-level and mid-level military personnel and foreigners. The official self-accounts under scrutiny are in most cases short (1-3 pages), told in sober style (with mostly factual data), and have been written not by the authors themselves, but by scribes. They are addressed to state officials. In some cases, though, the accounts became detailed life-stories with the authors’ descriptions of personal motives, about individual thoughts and judgments. These more substantial self-accounts, placed in their social contexts, are supposed to elucidate the relationship between individual and state, in particular the means through which state power was exercised – Zaretsky draws in the first place on Foucault’s concept of governmentality. Close reading of the life-stories of Russian subalterns shall thus allow distinguishing different voices coming from the ‘silent majority.’ As examples Zaretsky presented accounts by Cossacks, fiscal officers, fugitive serfs and even a Japanese, who entered Russia via Kamchatka and was brought to Tsar Peter the Great at the beginning of the 18thcentury. Even when the interrogated person was literate, the account was written by the employee scribe, but even illiterate authors had to put their signature in order to confirm the veracity of their story as they had accounted it and as it was written down.

The next panel was devoted to « Peasant Mobility ». In her talk on « Peasant peregrination between pleasure, curiosity and necessity » Eva Kormann (Karlsruhe) built on the classical example of Ulrich Bräker’s (1735-1798) Lebensgeschichte und natürliche Ebenteuer des Armen Mannes im Tockenburg (1788/89, recently translated into English as The poor man of Toggenburg, being The diary of Ulrich Bräker). Bräker was a small farmer and door-to-door yarn salesman in Switzerland. He was an enlightened pietist and in his autobiography he highlights the formative role of the Reformierte Moralische Gesellschaft(Reformed Moral Society) for his education, reading and writing practices. Bräker regarded both his writing and his wanderings as a welcome escape from the monotony of a poor man’s everyday life and work. But he had also faced forced mobility, especially in his early twenties, when he was recruited by a cunning subscription agent into the Prussian army during the Seven Years War – an engagement that ended with his desertion half a year later. Kormann emphasized Bräker’s connections to the literary world, both through his extensive reading and commenting, and through his personal contacts that encouraged him to writing and helped him publish some of his manuscripts. Looking back on his own writing, especially in the diary, Bräker deplored its fragmentation and considered it a mingle-mangle, comparing himself to the autobiographical beacons of Jung-Stilling’s and Rousseau’s memoirs.

ThenKai Struve (Halle) spoke about « Polish Peasant Autobiographies: Historical Contexts and Research Traditions from the Second Half of the 19thCentury to the 1930s ». He gave an overview of the first published peasant autobiographies and discussed their relation to the Polish peasant movement before World War I. Kazimierz Deczynski’s (1800-1838) memoirs were only published in 1907, but would become a model for numerous autobiographies of Polish activists in the 20thcentury. He was borne into a peasant family, but at the age of 17 became a teacher in his native village. Fighting for peasants’ rights he was removed by the landlord in 1829. Drafted into the army he was drawn into the November uprising (1830/1) and then immigrated to France, where he wrote his memoirs. Maciej Szarek (1826-1904) also came from an impoverished peasant family, but became a well-known poet and ethnographer, whose autobiography was published in 1895 for the first time in a journal, whereas Jan Słomka’s (1842-1832) success-story with the telling title From Serfdom to Self-Government: Memoirs of a Polish Village Mayor [in Dzików] was printed in 1912. In addition Struve presented two other famous memoirs written by (ex-)peasants, Bartek Nowak (1823-1890) and Ignacy Drygas (1841-1914), who had participated in the January Uprising of 1863. As Struve observed, Polish nationalist intellectuals, generally members of the nobility, had enormous difficulties to mobilize peasants for an inclusive national cause against the partition of the country. Social cleavages were too big and nobles would not substantially alleviate the peasants’ living conditions. Therefore the peasants did not support the two big national uprisings of the 1830s and 1860s, but rose against the nobility in the Rabacja uprising in Galicia in 1846. Inter-social relationships were established only in the late 19thcentury, when nobles increasingly supported the Polish peasant movement in Galicia in the 1880s, which laid the foundations for peasant autobiographical practices that would explode in the interwar-period. Encouraged by William Thomas’ and Florian Znaniecki’s major sociological study The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, 5 vols. (1918-1920) that inaugurated the « biographical method » in emergent Polish sociology, a bulk of memoir competitions would be organized mostly by Marxist intellectuals for specific subaltern social strata such as peasants, unemployed, migrants, etc. throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

The following panel was devoted to « Privileged Subalternity in Multi-Religious Spaces ». Under the heading « Caught Between all Stools – Life and Importance of the Cameroonian Mission Teacher Richard Edube Mbene (1879.1907) » Michael Kißkalt (Elstal) moved to the colonial history of Cameroon that is closely connected with the history of Christian missions working in the country. In particular the activities of the Baptists illustrate to what extent colonized subjects themselves assumed responsibility and even had a lasting impact on the European colonizers. With their grassroots democracy the Baptists were also attractive for colonial subjects sympathizing with socialist ideas and striving for some sort of emancipation. A particularly important mediator between the representatives of the African population and the German colonial government was the Baptist pastor Eduard Scheve, who became a father figure for many young Cameroonian mission teachers including Richard E. Mbene (1879-1907), whose unique diary bears witness to the struggle of a man who sought his place between the two cultures and eventually fell in love with a German missionary. Mbene was trained as a teacher in Berlin and sent back to Duala in Cameroon as a highly educated missionary by the German Baptist Mission. Back in his home country, he stood up for German values, and was at the same time close to the Duala resistance movement against German colonial rule. He kept his substantial diary (260 pages) for only two months in 1906/7, before he died in a boat accident on the Wouri river. His numerous reflections on death suggest that his death might in fact have been a suicide. It was immediately after the death of his German love Frieda Lutz that Mbene started to keep the diary, which is mostly an imaginary dialogue with her. Passages about love are written in a particular stenotype, since inter-racial marriages and love affairs were strictly prohibited. At the same time the diary contains substantial consideration about German and Cameroonian cultures that complement Mbene’s occasional public writings in an interesting way. While he fully adopts the dichotomy of German civilization versus African barbarianism in both his diary and the published articles, the diary is much more critical of German colonial policy that wanted to superimpose its own legal and cultural standards without taking into account the inertia of ingrained cultural patterns.

Franziska Davies (Munich) moved us to « Privileged Subalternity » as it was sometimes articulated in « Muslim Life-Writing in the Russian Imperial Army ». In the Russian Empire the integration of non-Russian elites into the upper echelons of the army was one of the key strategies for the establishment and upholding of imperial rule. The different Muslim regions (Volga-Ural region, Crimea, Northern and Southern Caucasus and Central Asia) were no exception in this respect. In the nineteenth century Muslim officers were a small, but important group for securing the loyalty of Muslims to Russian imperial rule. However, in the course of the nineteenth century administrative, intellectual and Orthodox elites grew increasingly wary of Islam and the notion of “Muslim fanaticism” gained prominence in public and governmental discourse. The supposed disloyalty of Crimean Tatars during the Crimean War (1853-56), the lengthy resistance of Muslim peoples of the Northern Caucasus against Russian expansion and the waves of apostasy from Russian Orthodoxy by baptized Tatars in the Volga-Region were among the reasons why many Russian officials doubted whether loyalty to Russia and Muslim identity were compatible. Thus, Muslim officers could find themselves in a precarious position: On the one hand, they belonged to a socially privileged group, but on the other hand they professed a religion which clearly ranked below Orthodoxy in the Russian Empire. Which repercussions did this have for Muslim officers in the Russian army? How did they themselves make sense of their role as mediators between their respective communities and the Russian state? Did the Islamophobic discourse influence their loyalty to the tsar and the Russian state? These are Davies’ leading questions, which cannot be answered globally, since Muslim officers were a very heterogeneous group. Studying individual lives and autobiographical writings instead she illuminated the strikingly different responses Muslim officers formulated to these challenges. Drawing on the writings and biographies of two of such individuals from the Northern Caucasus, Mussa Kundukhov and Maksud Alikhanov, she showed how one man found it ultimately impossible to reconcile his Muslim identity with service for the Russian Tsar, while the other articulated no conflict of interest whatsoever and even turned into a symbol of Russian autocratic rule.

The last panel dealt with different forms of « Captivity, Slavery and Imprisonment ». Viorel Achim (Bucharest) gave his talk about the « Autobiographical Value of Texts coming from the Gypsy Slaves in the Romanian Principalities ». In the Romanian archives he found a relatively large number of petitions coming from the Gypsies, slaves or recently emancipated, dating from the last stage of slavery in Wallachia and Moldavia (c. 1830 to c. 1860), since the emancipation of the Gypsies in the Romanian principalities was realized through a series of laws enacted between 1843 and 1856. The petitions addressed by Gypsies to various state authorities, church, slave owners, etc. refer to the problems faced by individuals, families or a larger Gypsy groups or clans. They give insight into the universe of Gypsy slaves, their habits, their mentalities and their specific social relationships, a universe that was very different from that of the peasants. After presenting a typology of the Gypsy slaves petitions, Achim dealt with their autobiographical value. Many petitions present life-moments of individuals or groups, and sometimes they recur to history, even over several generations. Beyond their historical information that is extremely useful to the historian studying the institution of slavery, and more generally the social history of the Romanian principalities at that time, the petitions also contain reflections by individual slaves about their humble conditions, the transformations they went through during their lives, such as the involuntary change of occupation, forced sedentarisation, the change of domicile or frequent separation of families by the slave owner. Even reflections on emancipation and freedom can be found, which is far from being self-evident in petitions addressed to state authorities or owners. The petitions reflect very heterogeneous situations and living-conditions, which is due to the relatively large number of Gypsy slaves (who accounted for about 7% of the country’s population) in a very diverse socio-cultural landscape, and to the enormous dynamics of Romanian society that had entered a process of rapid modernization following Western models.

Aleksandr Lavrov‘s (Paris) communication was devoted to « Narrating Captivity: Muscovite Prisoners in the Crimean Khanate and in the Ottoman Empire ». He dealt with the autobiographical testimonies of prisoners from Muscovy, who were captured by the Crimean Tatars during raids and sold into slavery in the Crimean Khanate or the Ottoman Empire. These prisoners were of different social origins: among them were servicemen (sluzhilye lyudi), peasants and slaves (kholopy). Not all of them were Orthodox and the Moscow authorities also helped to return home Muslims, when they served the tsar. They all preferred to return to Muscovy instead of remaining in the Crimean Khanate or in the Ottoman Empire, and they managed to do so through escape, redemption or release with the consent of the slave owner. Repatriated captives were usually interrogated. And for the sake of awards or monetary assistance they often made petitions (chelobitnye). Based on these two genres – the record of interrogation (raprosnye rechi) and petitions –Lavrov observed that several themes were omitted in the life-accounts: 1) conversion to Islam in captivity, since the prisoners were reasonably afraid of being accused of apostasy and they preferred not to give compromising data about themselves; 2) sexual exploitation – an omission which was not due to fear of punishment, but to a sense of shame and an unwillingness to be exposed. Only in exceptional cases the prisoners told stories about such experience. The Cossack widow Lubava Kupreyanova, for instance, who had been a concubine of the Crimean Khan, is an interesting exception.

As one of the best illustrations for what such interrogations can give for the study of “popular autobiography”, Lavrov focused on the autobiographical testimony of the Rodion Isaev, who had been captured at the age of five and had spent all his conscious life in the Crimean khanate, from where he escaped from captivity in 1686. The way he talks about his life in a Crimean village, about his escape with his friend, the Ukrainian Mykhaylo, and the military situation on the Russian-Crimean border, discloses many details relating to his cultural and linguistic competence and to his religious identity.

Finally, Malte Griesse‘s (Berlin) talk dealt with « Life-Writing in the Russian Enlightenment: Global Horizons and Political Grammars » and he put a particular focus on the serf intelligentsia (krepostnaja intelligentsia). In the center of his contribution was the gifted young serf Nikolai Smirnov. His masters from the Golitsyn family wanted him to follow his father as manager of their Estates. More than basic education was required for the job and Smirnov was even allowed to study at Moscow University. In 1785, though, at the age of 18, he attempted to flee from his country and from serfdom, but was arrested at Russia’s Western border. He was transferred from one prison to the next and soon found himself before the Secret Investigation Office (Tainaia Ekspeditsiia pri Senate), the highest tribunal for the persecution of political crimes, which shows to what extent his case was taken seriously by the imperial authorities. He faced the threat of explicit or implicit (by excessive knouting) death penalty or mutilation and forced labor. After numerous interrogations he made a written deposition, in which he declaredly wanted to express his penitence. But the text, one of the first Russian serf-autobiographies, became rather an ambiguous blend of justification of his behavior and accusation of serfdom as an inhumane institution. In fact, Smirnov seems to have composed it in the (well-founded) hope that it would fall into the hands of the reigning tsar Catherine II. He tried to appeal to her Enlightenment values and depicted his serfdom as a life of enormous suffering (in spite of his comparatively privileged status). In the end he came along with being exiled to Tobol’sk in the Ural, where he even managed to place some of his prose texts and poems (under pseudonym) in emerging regional literary journals and to deliver Aesopian debates with a fellow-poet. In analyzing these texts Griesse showed their indebtedness to different strands of contemporaneous Enlightenment thinking and tried to decipher the emancipatory political grammars underlying Smirnov’s writings. that oscillate between complaint of his personal fate and denunciation of serfdom as a whole. In particular, Griesse highlighted how deeply Smirnov’s texts were inscribed into a global horizon of an impending age of revolutionary change. Notwithstanding Catherine II’s epistolary exchanges with French enlighteners such as Voltaire or Diderot, Smirnov mainly drew on Anglo-Saxon enlightenment positions. The famous Russian Enlightener A. Radishchev included a variation of Smirnov’s account into his Journey from Sankt Petersburg to Moscow. This is how the serf’s arguments could prepare the self-fashioning of the ex-serfs after Emancipation, who compared their fate to the experience of black slaves on the plantations of the Southern Confederacy.

Debates revolved around narrative patterns and regional/ confessional traditions of autobiographical writing on the one hand, and arguments, collective relevancies, common goods and orders of worth on the other. Especially the final discussion was devoted to methodological questions. How to analyze the diversity of personal documents from very different regions and political cultures in a comprehensive conceptual framework that allows to establish equivalences? How to assess ego-documents in a broader societal perspective? How to reconcile micro-history with a macro-perspective? Pragmatic sociology as it has been proposed by Luc Boltanski, Laurent Thévenot and others, who analyzed situations of conflict in terms of the involved social actors’ recourse to commonly held principles (montées en généralité) might provide a sufficiently open approach, since apart from the potentially public regime of justification and critique, where actors invoke orders of worth with a claim of validity for society at large, these sociologists have also examined regimes of proximity and familiarity, where the main reference is not an imagined community such as the nation, a class or even humanity, but a much smaller horizon of face-to-face contacts, such as the family or a circle of friends. The framework offers the concept of a multistoried person as architecture of communicative relationships that are attached to commitments both in terms of obligation and trust, and in terms of worth. The experience of self-fragmentation is certainly not a specific feature of dissociation due to traumatic experience as in the case of French Huguenots expulsed from their countries, or Christians prisoners of war in Ottoman captivity; it is rather universal, as it can be seen, for instance, from Bräker’s reflections on his previous writings, reflections he wrote down and thereby resumed and somehow tried to piece together fragmented debris. From this point of view, the major autobiographical challenge is the construction of biographical coherence via story-telling, and this construction of the self is closely interconnected and interdependent with a bigger universe of significations and culturally coded orders of worth. Interdependence means that ego-documents or other micro-interactions do more than simply reflect, reproduce or perpetuate inherited values. Even if it is hardly imaginable to completely ignore these commonly held sets of value, social actors and autobiographers in their communicative interactions also contribute to shape and transform the existing orders of worth.

Author : Malte Griesse


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