Presentation by Ben Eklof in IGITI

On March 12, a seminar of IGITI Centre for University Studies was held. IGITI Chief Research Fellow and Professor of History at Indiana University Ben Eklof presented a paper "Seeing Like a State? Local Governance and State-Society Relations in Provincial Russia Through the Lens of the School". See the abstract.

Essentially, I would frame it in terms of an interrogation of James C. Scott's pivotal work "Seeing Like a State" and also "neo-institutionalism" as a discipline. I would address to key issues in the history of Russia: local governance, which many in the West call the "Achilles heel" of autocratic (and Soviet) rule; and second: relations between "state and society" (vlast' i obschestvennost') at the provincial level. All of this I would discuss through the lens of (primary) schools/education and specifically within Kazan' regional education district (Kazanskii uchebnyi okrug). I will discuss two case studies:  

1) a file containing teachers' appeals after being removed from their employment around the turn of the twentieth century and the surprising role of district school boards in the appeal procedure. The cases, which involved accusations of personal moral turpitude or political unreliability, if read against the grain, tell us much about local patronage networks and the inability of the state to establish a clear "vertikal" in local affairs.

2) a survey of teachers attending summer refresher courses in Viatka in 1901. More than half of the 400 teachers filled out this survey of thirty questions about their teaching philosophies and approaches as well as their daily experience in the classroom. This survey, as well as other testimonies on site, demonstrate that quite independently of official regulations and decrees, by the turn of the century a child-centered pedagogy promoted by progressive educators had - at least in theory - come to dominate teachers' approaches to classroom practices. This pedagogy had elements which distinguished it from progressive approaches in the West as well, namely an emphasis upon structure, which in turn helps explain the surprisingly positive results achieved according to retention studies of literacy and numeracy carried out at the local level of former pupils as well as the for the 1911 All-Zemstvo Education Conference.