2015 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize

The Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, sponsored by the Association for Slavic Studies, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) and the Stanford University Center for Russian and East European Studies, is awarded annually for the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences published in English in the United States in the previous calendar year. 

The 2015 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize was awarded to Ekaterina Pravilova for A Public Empire: Property and the Quest for the Common Good in Imperial Russia (Princeton University Press) 

In her outstanding new book, Ekaterina Pravilova forces us to rethink how systems of public property or res public, private property, and state property evolved during Russia’s long nineteenth century. She demonstrates that, contrary to perceived wisdom, the Russian empire did not suffer unduly from a poorly developed system of private property. Instead, autocratic patrimonial rule solidified the rights of private property owners to such an extent that it took generations of activists, bureaucrats, intellectuals, and lawyers in the post-emancipation era to create both the conception and the materiality of a public property and a public domain that was different both from the Tsar’s property, state property, and individual private property. In her erudite comparative analysis, positioned at the intersection of legal theory and social history, Pravilova demonstrates that the concept of public property served as a discursive playing field for competing parties, including the tsar, state institutions, and state and non-state experts representing the ill-defined public, in managing both natural and cultural resources, such as water and forests, literary estates, and art markets. Pravilova has brought to the fore a remarkable history of how systems of property, nature, capital, state, and the commons were constituted in the nineteenth century and how this influenced Bolshevik thinking after the revolution. Her interdisciplinary analysis brilliantly complements current research into the category of the “commons” in American political economy and legal theory. Pravilova’s work is particularly relevant in the face of ongoing climate change as various stakeholders are challenging the neoliberal privatization of natural resources throughout the world.

Honorable Mentions

Alan Barenberg recieved an Honorable Mention for Gulag Town, Company Town: Forced Labor and its Legacy in Vorkuta (Yale University Press)

With his book, Alan Barenberg joins several other recent scholars in a radical break with the deeply-set notion of the Gulag as separate and different from and outside of Soviet life. His narrative of the creation and development of Vorkuta as a coal-mining settlement in the far north, constructed by prisoner “engineers” from its start, is eminently readable but also vibrantly revisionist. The depiction of the Soviet “bosses” who doled out privilege and punishment, the interactions of very different kinds of prisoner and non-prisoner residents, the social hierarchies and negotiations—the political economy of Vorkuta in the context of Soviet pre-war, war-time, and post-war history complements the existing work on Stalinism, remote settlements and prisoner/exile deployments, and the place of camp complexes in the development of the Soviet system. Through his great archival and field research over many years on Vorkuta, Barenberg convincingly demonstrates the profound integration of the Gulag into the whole history of Soviet economic practice, planning, and experience.

Karen Dawisha recieved an Honorable Mention for Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon and Schuster)

Karen Dawisha’s Putin’s Kleptocracy does a magisterial job of sorting through incredibly complicated tangles of political relationships, economic strategies, and entwined practices of kleptocracy and authoritarianism in Russia. Based on a wide variety of journalistic sources and governmental and NGO reports (in multiple languages), the book provides an extremely provocative critique of Russia’s political regime. Many have written about corruption in Russia, but very few pulled the pieces together with the command that Dawisha’s book shows. This is a readable, exciting, fascinating, erudite, compelling, and courageous work.