A useful four-part interpretive taxonomy is visible in the amazing range of generic concepts and actual associations and institutions one meets in the swarm of public events in the Russian 1860s [EG]. And it promotes a more precise and subtle positioning of the many hundreds of active individuals in that famous decade [EG]. This taxonomy brings some order to the many and diverse “groups” into which humans are gathered by others or into which humans gather themselves.

THEORETICAL groups position themselves at the top of the following table. However useful, maybe even necessary, these are merely gathering concepts. They are “imagined communities”. And they represent very different levels of correspondence to actual, functioning “real-life” groups.

As we move toward the bottom of the table, groups become more actual. The taxonomic order runs from conceptual or THEORETICAL down to specific, namable units of organized, VOLUNTARY sodality.


Four Categories of Social Groups

I. THEORETICAL: Large, abstract terms or grouping words found in the vocabulary of the time, as well as in our later accounts, e.g., state [gosudarstvo], government [pravitel’stvo], civil society [obshchestvo], the public [publika]. Political discourse is peppered over with “liberals”, “radicals”, “conservatives”, and “reactionaries” [ID]. This first taxonomic category is the home of the ubiquitous “-isms” that so becloud our political discourse. The Russian 1860s witnessed the first documented use of the term “intelligentsia”. The miscellaneous social category raznochintsy [people of no defined position within traditional social/service hierarchies (CF=below)] was forced on contemporaries with increasing frequency. Studies are filled with “revolutionary democrats” and persuasive but spectral “movements”. Then there is the challenging, bulking but little word narod which has three interwoven meanings: “the nation”, “the people”, or less frequently and more narrowly “peasants”. All these expressions, and many others like these, are large conceptual “sacks” into which supposedly related specific groups and individuals might be gathered.

II. NATAL: Group identities given at birth range from gender, through mother-tongue communities, and further through formal Russian imperial social estate or class [soslovie, pronounced “soSLOViyeh”], and on to vaguer “national” or “ethnic” identity or association, and include religious association or heritage.

III. ASSIGNED: Groups formed within official state institutions or defined by governmental legal norms and action range from the royal court [tsarist dvor and its vast udel possessions and perquisites], through high state ministerial authorities, down to the bureaucracy [chinovnichestvo, i.e., and holders of state service rank = chin, pronounced “cheen”]. These would include military officers and civilian government officials, clerics who held positions in the Russian Orthodox Church, and a small, precious, ultra-insider category of courtiers (an especially influential and ensconced power elite, sometimes designated sanovniki or vel'mozhi). In Russia, the ASSIGNED phylum also included university students. We should acknowledge that criminals, political or otherwise, are an ASSIGNED group everywhere. To a significant degree and over the long duration, those Russian NATAL groups called sosloviia (plural) were also ASSIGNED, so far as they became enmeshed with official service ranks, what can be called the Russian imperial social/service hierarchies [ID]. Any group formed and/or maintained by official state institutional action must in some measure be considered ASSIGNED.

IV. VOLUNTARY: Associations formed by groups of individuals in relative independence from specific ASSIGNED or NATAL association. These groups promoted what must be called “public interests” perceived and acted upon by identifiable individuals in specific associations.