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Representations of Enlightened Entrepreneurship in Russia

Rosalinde Sartorti, Dr. phil.



Representations of Enlightened Entrepreneurship in Russia.

The Konovalov Dynasty




The project adopts a cultural approach in the study of  the production of meaning and conditions of perceptions  in periods of transition such as Russia’s road to modernisation in the 19th century, and in contemporary conditions of globalisation.


By examining the changing views and interpretations of the entrepreneurial activities of one of the most powerful 19th century Russian  textile magnates, the Konovalov dynasty, seen together with the self-assessment, reasoning, and public appearance of the industrialists themselves, the study attempts to disclose the complex  fabric of different voices, images and social practices that make up the social representations of entrepreneurship in Russia. Further,  it asks which factors determine the obvious durability of certain mental representations, cultural icons and traditions of thought, throughout periods of radical social and political change. In other words, what factors reinforce the strength and revival of traditional thought and its renewed application to today’s fundamentally new structures and conditions. This apparently universal phenomenon, particularly evident in times of crisis, can be seen in present day Russia’s nostalgic cult of memory about the lives and works of ‘enlightened’ entrepreneurs of Tsarist times. Voices, now and  then, have been divided as to their motivations regarding principles of enlightenment, charitable acts, humanistic ideas and Russian Orthodox convictions.


Thus, the project reveals, embedded in the representations of entrepreneurship, questions of moral judgment  and the formation of values. Specifically, this relates to work ethics and business practices that  shift between premodern and future orientated thought. In this respect, the study addresses the problem of consciousness and  cognitive capacities effected by social change. Applying the concept of representation (R. Chartier, P. Ricoeur, St. Hall)  will also help to challenge static notions of mentality that imply the existence of anonymous elements of a specific worldview.


Against the background and on the basis of  ample literature on the social history of  Russian merchants and entrepreneurs, the ongoing philosophical debate between protagonists of and opponents to modernisation, the literature on “enlightened” economic theory and business ethics, and, last but not least, the depictions of entrepreneurs in Russian literature,  the study will draw on extremely rich archival sources. It will focus on the analysis of public discourse as contained in newspaper reports, monthly journals, memoirs, literary fiction, private and business correspondence, diaries, church confession books and procedures at local courts and the justices of peace. It will highlight periods of radical shifts in politics, jurisdiction or local ambiance over the period of two centuries (1812 until present day) as to disclose the relation between social change and judgment.

The analysis uses a society-based constructivist approach where discourses are considered as an inherent part of sociocultural practices (Fairclough).


The micro-historical analysis of representations of entrepreneurship in Russia is a contribution both to transition studies, and to the cultural history of the formation of consciousness.