Guest edited by

Gilles Favarel-Garrigues, CNRS Research Professor in Sciences Po-CERI, Paris.


Ioulia Shukan, Assistant Professor at the University Paris Nanterre, researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of Politics

Since the breakdown of the USSR, policing has changed in different ways in post-Soviet societies, as result of numerous reforms of law enforcement agencies and a promotion of new forms of cooperation with private firms, as well as with citizens (registered volunteers, druzhiny, neighborhood communities and vigilantes). In the 2010s, new forms of policing initiatives have developed: car drivers involved in in denunciating corrupt road traffic policemen; anti-migrant and anti-drug patrols; raids against smokers and drinkers in public spaces; pedophile hunting; organized surveillance of prohibited contents on the Internet; raids in shops to check expiration dates, etc. Those practices encompass—more or less exhaustively according to the case—provocation, search, inquiry, patrol, arrest, seizure and punishment.

At first glance, the terms “vigilantes” and “vigilantism,” that anthropologists define as “cheap forms of law enforcement” may seem irrelevant in post-Soviet contexts, especially as they immediately evoke the issue of the frontier and racial conflicts in US history and as they have no equivalent in Russian. Vigilantism has however spread all over the world and is particularly boosted by the development of new technologies that allow vigilantes to set traps against the presumed “offenders” or “deviants,” to gather people to form vigilante mobs and later show the results of their activity on social networks.

In our view, vigilantism as a concept means collective coercive practices implemented by unofficial players to enforce compliance with certain (moral, social or legal) norms and/or to render justice. Targeting delinquents external to the community but also, very often, the community’s own deviants, vigilantes engage in crime fighting as much as in social control. Some of their activities are carried out publicly, in the name of a reference community; some other are more discreet and punitive and involve witnesses who are supposed to spread the information and feed the group’s reputation. The vigilantes have at least some form of rudimentary organization, which allows them to place their actions in a sort of routine (not like lynch mobs) even if they remain ephemeral.

This issue of Laboratorium aims at gathering papers on this subject, mixing languages (English-written and Russian-written papers) and disciplines (sociology, anthropology, political science, history, geography). We welcome papers focusing on contemporary forms of policing from below and vigilantism in post-Soviet societies, but also those giving historical background to these phenomena, from the nineteenth century (“vozhdenie” practices in Russian villages; Cossacks; urban policing) to the Soviet era (policing practices of “komsomol'skie spetsotriady” or “DND”). Papers may focus on different sources: personal observations and interviews, communication of the policing groups, media coverage of their activities, controversies and trials, etc.

Of particular interest are the following issues:

Trajectories of collective/individual commitment to vigilantism and payoffs it generates. What are these justice dispensers seeking? What kind of payoffs do leaders get from their activities? How to understand the involvement of rank-and-file participants who remain in the shadows:  as a search for “sneaky thrill” or for local fame?

Relationships between vigilantes, law-enforcement agencies and local political elites. Is vigilantism in post-Soviet space a “spontaneous,” grassroots phenomena, as the standard definition pretends? On what kind of actors do they rely in their search for equipment and funding? What are their relations with law enforcement agencies and the government? May we talk about state-sponsored vigilantism in Russian case?

Legitimacy of coercion. How legitimate are these policing initiatives? How does the governmental management of these groups reflect (or not) the willingness to suggest that maintaining order justifies breaking the law? How do these initiatives impact the activity and legitimacy of law enforcement agencies?

Defining citizenship and civil society. As all post-Soviet vigilante groups, including neo-Nazis, claim to be part of the civil society, renewing our conceptualization of state-society relationships in post-Soviet societies is central to the issue. How do these groups define civil society? Which conceptions of citizenship are promoted in these initiatives? To what institutional resources granted to NGOs vigilantes may pretend?  

Proposals and short author biography should be sent by July 15, 2018, to the managing editor Oksana Parfenova Please, indicate the subject of the message as “For special issue VIGILANTISM.”

Full papers should be submitted by December 31, 2018, through the website of the journal, indicating that your submission is for the special issue.