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HomeThe Journal of Power Institutions...Issue 1Book Reviews : The Dedovshchina I...K. Bannikov. Antropologiia ekstre...

Book Reviews : The Dedovshchina Issue

K. Bannikov. Antropologiia ekstremal’nykh grupp. Dominanthye otnoshenie sredi voennosluzhashchikh srochnoi sluzhby Rossiiskoi Armii, RAN, Moskva, 2002. 399 p.

Françoise Daucé

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1Bannikov’s book is a prominent work in the social-scientific landscape of post-Soviet Russia. Devoted to the study of informal hierarchies in the army, this work is quite unusual in terms of Russian human sciences where military studies have usually been monopolised by military sociologists.

2Bannikov offers a lot of new sociological material on the army analysed in a convincing anthropological way. Initially, not specialized on military matters but a specialist on traditional rituals in Eastern Asia societies, he received a higher education in cultural history, ethnography and social anthropology. But, like every young man in the USSR, Bannikov served in the Soviet army at the end of the 1980’s.

3Deciding to come back to this personal experience in the 2000’s, and motivated by the necessity of understanding and analyzing what he observed in the army during his own service, his book fruitfully applies anthropological methodology to personal observations and field researches.

4His sources are numerous and diversified. Gathering conscripts’ letters, interviews, diaries, drawings and military songs together as primary sources, their diversity allows him to propose an original and decisive analysis of relationships among Russian soldiers in today’s Russia.

5 Bannikov’s book is devoted to the study of violence inside the Russian army. He does not deal with violence against a foreign enemy and avoids the question of war situations (as in Afghanistan or Chechnya). He is interested in an anthropological approach of violence and the Russian army offers him an illuminating object.

6In the Soviet army, dedovshchina appeared in the 1950’s and was officially recognised at the beginning of the 1960’s. This phenomenon seems to be a quite specific Soviet one, harder and more violent than hazing in Western armies. In the Russian army, dedovshchina involves specified stages. The two-year term of service is informally divided into four or five periods of time that confer a special status on enforced participants, from the lowest to the highest. The raw recruits are called dukhi during their first six months of service. They become molodye for the next six months, then cherepa. During the last semester, they are called dedy and dembelia when they are about to quit the army. Older conscripts abuse younger one. The informal status is more important than the official rank in everyday relationships. People in the army wear the same clothes, are submitted to the same time organization and the same orders. However, each soldier in every military unit is submitted to varying local traditions. Bannikov underlines the effect of external influences on each group member. Daily life is attentively described: the progressive personalization of the uniforms, the barracks life, the quality of food, and the transformation of the body during these times.

7 But Bannikov shows that these observations are not as specific as they could seem. As he suggests, informal hierarchies in the Russian army coincide with the universal trinomial model “pariah – mass - elite”. Inside external groups, inter-individual communications deteriorate and are progressively replaced with new norms, new hierarchies, new signs and symbols and, as a conclusion, new traditions. However, as underlines Bannikov, these new structures remember archaic rituals more than modern legal institutions. In army communities, the rites of transition to the next hierarchical stage involve a ritual of beating. During the first year of service individuality is steadily destroyed; while during the second year this individuality destroys the others. Social mobility in extreme communities reproduces a system of organized violence on the principals of archaic initiation rites.

8Bannikov here refers to his own initial works and interests for traditionnal rituals. Dedovshchina appears as the symbol of an archaic syndrome. Inspired by the work of Erving Goffman on closed institutions, Bannikov briefly compares different closed institutions in post-Soviet Russia. The difference between army and prisons, according to Bannikov, is slight. The main difference lays in the fact that the term of service is the same for everybody and the seasonal manning. This conclusion is important in the context of post-Soviet Russia. Indeed, as Bannikov underlines, “The scientific investigation of aggression and violence in contemporary Russia is rather specific : resulting from the structural transformation of all socio-political systems, violence and aggression invading all social strata are developing much faster than our knowledge about them” (p. 364). From the army’s case, Bannikov contributes to the understanding of post-Soviet society, underlying the violence of archaic practices generated by the liberalization of an authoritarian regime.

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Electronic reference

Françoise Daucé, « K. Bannikov. Antropologiia ekstremal’nykh grupp. Dominanthye otnoshenie sredi voennosluzhashchikh srochnoi sluzhby Rossiiskoi Armii, RAN, Moskva, 2002. 399 p. », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 1 | 2004, Online since 12 July 2004, connection on 08 December 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Françoise Daucé

Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand

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