Hooligans in Khrushchevs Russia: Defining, Policing, and Producing Deviance during the Thaw

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Hooligans in Khrushchev's Russia: Defining, Policing, and Producing Deviance during the Thaw

Popular Features. New Releases. Description Swearing, drunkenness, promiscuity, playing loud music, brawling--in the Soviet Union these were not merely bad behaviour, they were all forms of the crime of 'hooliganism. Under its shifting, ambiguous, and elastic terms, millions of Soviet citizens were arrested and incarcerated for periods ranging from three days to five years and for everything from swearing at a wife to stabbing a complete stranger.

Hooligans in Khrushchev's Russia offers the first comprehensive study of how Soviet police, prosecutors, judges, and ordinary citizens during the Khrushchev era understood, fought against, or embraced this catch-all category of criminality. Using a wide range of newly opened archival sources, it portrays the Khrushchev period--usually considered as a time of liberalising reform and reduced repression--as an era of renewed harassment against a wide range of state-defined undesirables and as a time when policing and persecution were expanded to encompass the mundane aspects of everyday life.

In an atmosphere of Cold War competition, foreign cultural penetration, and transatlantic anxiety over 'rebels without a cause,' hooliganism emerged as a vital tool that post-Stalinist elites used to civilise their uncultured working class, confirm their embattled cultural ideals, and create the right-thinking and right-acting socialist society of their dreams. Product details Format Paperback pages Dimensions Review quote Hooligans in Khrushchev's Russia is a well-written study which situates the hooligan in his discursive,social and political background, a book that teaches us much about the tensions between liberalization and repression in the Khrushchev era.

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Hooligans in Khrushchev's Russia : Brian Lapierre :

The book thus exposes the Khrushchev years as a period of confusion, contradiction, and inconsistent judicial practice. Thanks to its focus on the making and unmaking of petty crime, the book is of equal interest to scholars of high politics and historians of everyday life in the Soviet Union. As it is ultimately about the social construction of deviance, it may also appeal to many sociologists, social anthropologists, and scholars working in the field of cultural studies.

LaPierre begins his discussion with the assertion that hooliganism was an ever-present part of Soviet society. This claim is part of a social constructivist argument for which the author relies on the sociological and anthropological literature on deviance, and labelling theory in particular.

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Understood in this manner, hooligans were not so much the result of rapid social change, urbanization, and industrialization; nor was the hooligan a demon created by public discourse. Instead, as a highly fluid and flexible category, mass hooliganism was the result of shifting definitions and of the ways in which law-enforcement agents and other individuals used this label in everyday interpersonal encounters.

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Showing how judges, police, defendants as well as relatives, neighbours, and co-workers of potential and convicted hooligans felt empowered by ambiguously defined laws and used them for their own devices, LaPierre offers a timely challenge to the totalitarian model of Soviet society. To back up his argument, LaPierre traces the use of hooliganism as a legal category from high Stalinism to the mids.

The confusion surrounding the category and its rapidly increasing application were primarily due to a succession of decrees that complemented each other and left much room for local interpretation. They were related to the fact that in the late s many cases of domestic abuse came to be treated as hooliganism. In addition to examining policing, petitioning, and prosecution practices, the book analyzes statistical data on criminal convictions.

This analysis not only confirms that the rise and fall of hooliganism as a mass phenomenon were linked to individual decrees and their local implementation but also shows that the hooligan was usually an average person.


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The vast majority were not regime critics but ordinary people whose formerly innocuous behaviour — cursing, shouting, and pushing people around — was suddenly outlawed. While this argument is persuasive for the most part, it slightly downplays the fact that robberies, street violence, and domestic abuse were often very real.


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Yet, the narrative is far from linear. Second, LaPierre shows that even though efforts to decriminalize minor misbehaviours and improve rather than isolate convicted hooligans dominated in the late s, soft and hard lines on hooliganism always coexisted. On the whole, LaPierre interprets the mass persecution of hooligans under Khrushchev as a tool for civilizing the working class, which the party elite claimed to champion but could neither understand nor esteem. The campaign was an attempt to promote a vision of a model society populated by polite, productive, and politically literate subjects.

LaPierre offers neither a critical reflection on his sources nor on the way he uses them. In many chapters, he relies on complaints — complaints about hooligans, about the auxiliary police, about the hard line on crime, about the soft line on crime. Yet, he does not address the specific nature and distorting effect of these sources.