Svetlana Stephenson, "Gangs of Russia: From the Streets to the Corridors of Power" (Cornell UP, 2015)


The title of Svetlana Stephenson’s book Gangs of Russia: From the Streets to the Corridors of Power (Cornell UP, 2015) invites a number of questions: How do criminal and legal spheres conflate? Is the cooperation of criminal organizations and legal institutions inherent to a society structure? In what way do gangs shape society, and vice versa? And what model of the societal structure does the Russian case offer? Far from being exhaustive, these issues receive a thorough investigation in Svetlana Stephenson’s attempt to analyze Russian gangs from the perspective of a social form. As the scholar asserts, “Russian gangs are not alien to society: they are firmly embedded in it” (9). Gangs do not constitute separate worlds, although they may seem closed and isolated: gangs signal individual’s aspirations and ambitions and, to a large extent, societal challenges. Gangs of Russia traces the development of Russian criminal organizations, ranging from early Soviet years to the present-day Russia. Including data and information that was received in the course of interviewing current and/or former gang members of different, so to speak, “ranks,” Svetlana Stephenson locates the gang as a social form in the continuum of sociology, history, politics, and culture. On the one hand, the Russian gang is presented as a successor of Soviet criminal organizations and, on the other hand, it is presented as an establishment that pioneers and propels new modes of criminal behavior and new ways of collaboration with legal institutions. This research also includes and further invites comparative perspectives on the nature of the criminal gang: insights into Russian gangs are supplemented with fine observations with regard to the Italian mafia and the American criminal world. While being a compelling read for those who are interested in sociology, Gangs of Russia also provides a fascinating cultural twist.

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Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed

Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed is a Preceptor in Ukrainian at the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University. She has a Ph.D. in Slavic languages and literatures (Indiana University, 2022). She also holds a Ph.D. in American literature (Taras Shevchenko Institute of Literature, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, 2007). Her research interests include contested memory, with a focus on Ukraine and Russia. She is a review editor of H-Ukraine. Since 2016, she has been a host on the New Books Network (Ukrainian Studies, East European Studies, and Literary Studies channels).
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