Loughborough University
Thesis_Leila Wilmers_Nationalism as an Engaged Ideology_Dilemmas of National Continuity.pdf (2.95 MB)

Nationalism as an engaged ideology: negotiating dilemmas of national continuity in Russia

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posted on 2020-07-03, 08:43 authored by Leila Wilmers

This thesis puts forward an approach to nationalism as an ‘engaged ideology’ that operates through the active negotiation of dilemmas around its key principles. In particular, the thesis focuses on dilemmas concerning national continuity in contexts of change. The idea that nations continue indefinitely over time is a fundamental principle of nationalist ideology, reproduced in vernacular discourse as well as in politics, historiography and popular culture. However, little is known of how this principle is reconciled with the modern value of progress or with lived experiences of societal change. Addressing this gap is particularly important for understanding the workings of nationalism in communities affected by rapid globalisation processes resulting from political transitions, of which post-Soviet Russia provides a pertinent example. Russia’s historical ethnic diversity and ethno-national territorialisation also bring into play the potential for tensions between minority and majority nationalisms in narratives of national continuity and change.

Narratives about the nation’s continuity are explored in Kazan and Ekaterinburg, two prosperous regional capitals in Russia that have undergone significant economic, social and cultural changes in the post-Soviet period. The thesis examines how dilemmas between national continuity and progress are navigated in public and vernacular narratives of the Russian and Tatar nations, the functions that such narratives perform and their implications for engagement with the principle of national continuity in contemporary societies. The study is based on fieldwork conducted in 2017-2018 comprising in-depth interviews with 68 men and women of diverse ages, ethnic and social backgrounds in both cities and with representatives of 10 local cultural institutions, as well as participant observation of 6 major public nation-themed events, and documentation of institutions’ exhibitions and communications. The thesis uncovers different strategies for navigating tensions between ideas of continuity and progress in the context of local and national political tensions around national identity, manifesting in narratives emphasising the nation’s enduring nature or its evolution. In the public communications of the cities’ cultural institutions, these narratives are often gauged to promote a particular form of collective memory among audiences drawn to novelty and sensitive to the politicisation of the past. At the same time, the national continuities constructed reflect the curation of nuanced institutional positions in political tensions specific to the local context. Drawing from public narratives, people also engage in vernacular re-storying of the nation over time, interlinking personal and collective memory to judge the nation’s fate, at times reassuring themselves or defending personal and collective pride, at other times forcing open uncomfortable questions about what to do with the past in looking to Russia’s unknown national futures, and positioning themselves and their life choices in relation to these questions. Altogether, the thesis demonstrates the value of an engaged ideology approach in exposing the dynamic and localised operations of nationalist principles, bridging understanding of top-down structure and bottom-up agency in expressions of nationalism.


Loughborough University (research studentship)



  • Geography and Environment


Loughborough University

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© Leila Wilmers

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A doctoral thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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Marco Antonsich ; Sabina Mihelj

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  • PhD

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  • Doctoral

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