At the Edge of the Nation: The Southern Kurils and the Search for Russia’s National Identity

Paperback: $28.00
ISBN-13: 9780824888879
Published: August 2020
Hardback: $72.00
ISBN-13: 9780824872625
Published: June 2018

Additional Information

264 pages | 3 b&w illustrations, 2 maps
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  • About the Book
  • Debates over the remote and beguiling Southern Kuril Islands have revealed a kaleidoscope of divergent and contradictory ideas, convictions, and beliefs on what constitutes the “national” identity of post-Soviet Russia. Forming part of an archipelago stretching from Kamchatka to Hokkaido, administered by Russia but claimed by Japan, these disputed islands offer new perspectives on the ways in which territorial visions of the nation are refracted, inverted, and remade in a myriad of different ways. At the Edge of the Nation provides a unique account of how the Southern Kurils have shaped the parameters of the Russian state and framed debates on the politics of identity in the post-Soviet era. By shifting the debate beyond a proliferation of Eurocentric and Moscow-focused writings, Paul B. Richardson reveals broad alternatives and possibilities for Russian identity in Asia.

    After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Russia was suffering the fragmentation of empire and a sudden decline in its international standing, these disputed islands became symbolic of a much larger debate on self-image, nationalism, national space, and Russia’s place in world politics. When viewed through the prism of the Southern Kurils, ideas associated with the “border,” “state,” and “nation” become destabilized, uncovering new insights into state-society relations in modern Russia. At the Edge of the Nation explores how disparate groups of political elites have attempted to use these islands to negotiate enduring tensions within Russia’s identity, and traces how the destiny of these isolated yet evocative islands became irrecoverably bound to the destiny of Russia itself.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Paul B. Richardson, Author

      Paul B. Richardson is associate professor in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham.
    • Anand A. Yang, Series Editor

    • Kieko Matteson, Series Editor

  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • At the Edge of the Nation is probably the first book-length study that persuasively explains the importance of the Southern Kuril Islands “for defining a national identity” in post-Soviet Russia, while comprehensively examining the problem from various angles. . . . the author masterfully guides the reader through the ongoing debate of post-Soviet times.
      —Pacific Affairs
    • This book addresses the Southern Kurils issue with a sophistication that is lacking in most of the competing literature. . . . Overall, this book not only provides an in-depth explanation of Russian elite thinking about the Southern Kurils, but it also delivers valuable insight into broader debates about Russian national identity and federal–regional relations.
      —James D. J. Brown, Temple University-Japan Campus, Japanese Studies, 39:3
    • If you want to read a book not so much about the disputed Kuril Islands, but instead about what people—especially Russians—think and say about the Kuril Islands, this is a book for you.
      —The Historian
    • Richardson’s excavation of the post-Soviet debates over national identity, territory, and prestige will offer non- Russia specialists valuable insight into Russian foreign policy thinking.
      —Journal of Asian Studies
    • This is an indispensable analysis of the Russo-Japanese conflict over four islands and of Russian national identity. It adds importantly to scholarship and policymaking by covering in depth three schools of Russian thinking and their evolution and the input from local officials and activists. Among the ten or so leading books on the conflict over the past quarter century, there is no similar depth achieved in delving into the Russian mindset. For those who seek to grasp how and why Russian policy toward Northeast Asia has shifted, there is also much of value in this volume. . . . For a well-informed, well-written study of how Russians have understood the challenge from Japan and reconstructed their national identity with that in mind, this is the one book that will be read and reread for decades to come.
      —The Russian Review
    • At the Edge of the Nation offers an important contribution, and an Asia-focused complement, to our understanding of contemporary Russian approaches to borders and the places and peoples within and beyond them. . . . At the Edge of the Nation is a work of compelling historical, cultural and political depth and a timely addition to debates over where—and what—Russia is today.
      —Inner Asia
    • Paul B. Richardson casts a critical eye over the highly disputed Kuril Islands (Chishima in Japanese) in the North Pacific Ocean. Claimed and coveted by Japan, administered and occupied by Russia. While Europeans focus on the “near abroad” closest to their borderlands, this book reminds us that territorial visions are being made and remade in the Russian Far East. The “dots on the map” are integral to making sense of the how, what, and where of Russia. At the Edge of the Nation is an indispensable guide.
      —Klaus Dodds, Royal Holloway University of London
    • Paul Richardson’s At the Edge of the Nation is both a sophisticated study of the Kuril Islands—a strategic pivot in Russo-Japanese relations—and a thoughtful reflection on wider issues of nationalism and territorial sovereignty in the context of Russia. It will be invaluable reading for specialists of the region, as well as for scholars of ethnicity and nationalism generally.
      —Franck Billé, University of California, Berkeley
    • Paul Richardson has written a must-read for anyone interested in identity politics in post-Soviet Russia. By shifting our focus from well-known sites of Russian nationhood to a seemingly insignificant space at the edge of the former empire, and from Russia’s obsession with the West to Russian identity in Asia, this book forces the reader to rethink dominant assumptions about how Russia’s national space has been imagined since 1991 and to reconsider what the political consequences of this reimagining might be.
      —Vera Tolz, The University of Manchester
    • Paul B. Richardson’s At the Edge of the Nation is an eloquent and readable account of the politics around the Kuril Islands. It provides a convincing picture of a local border community at odds with the national narrative from Moscow elites.
      —Peter Rutland, Wesleyan University
    • In clear and elegant prose, Paul Richardson argues that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Southern Kurils became a site of critical importance for defining a national identity and national interests for a new Russia. The merit of this book is not merely that it is the first to examine the Kuril issue in the framework of Russian foreign policy, but that it offers unique and substantial contributions to the larger issues of Russian foreign policy, nationalism, national identity, elite politics, and center-peripheries relations in foreign policy decision making.
      —Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, University of California, Santa Barbara
    • This is a well-written, stimulating, well-researched work that situates itself in the field of critical geopolitics. At the Edge of the Nation will add to the existing literature, which is not large, on Russian nationalism and also, to a lesser extent, Russia-Japan relations.
      —Natasha Kuhrt, King’s College London
    • This is an especially timely book given the latest attempt by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin to accelerate the bilateral territorial and peace treaty negotiations. . . . Richardson’s analytical skills and his ability to draw out the multi-layered complexities and nuances surrounding the debates over the status of the islands in relation to Russia’s search for national identity is reflected across the nine chapters of the book. . . . Through this book, Richardson has provided a nuanced and compelling account demonstrating the instrumental relationship between territory and national identity.
      —Christopher Len, Eurasia Border Review, 10:1 (Fall 2019)