Elective Affinities: Friendship in Russia, 1750-1840


ACLS Fellowship Program




No social institution is more important in contemporary Russia than friendship. Russians view it as key to both personal flourishing and to politics. This project traces the origins of the Russian friendship cult to the mid-eighteenth century, when Russia's political elites discovered the philosophy of sentimentalism and when autocracy was routinized as a modern state form. Most historical studies of friendship hinge on a normative definition—an affective connection between two equals. This project takes the opposite approach, starting with the practices of historical agents to ask how and when they referred to one another as friend. In the late eighteenth century, these invocations became essential affective tools, intended to tie the nobility to the court; in the early nineteenth century, they became essential tools of opposition.