Research Portfolio Post #8: Qualitative Data Sources for Interpretivist Research 2

I want to analyze Soviet-era discourses on the Stalinist regime’s perceptions of émigré populations because I want to find out why the Soviet Union felt so strongly against “traitors”, “defectors”, and those that “betrayed the motherland” in order to help my reader understand why the regime might have employed mechanisms of extraterritorial repression such as “liquidation” or “lethal retribution.”[1]I would have liked to extend my analysis to the present-day regime under Putin and trace how the discourses have evolved over time; however, for the purposes of this project, I will solely focus on the Stalinist regime’s discourses as it is more feasible at the moment.

I am seeking to explore why and how Stalin’s regime villainized émigrés and how this act of meaning-making might have influenced the wet-work policies enacted abroad. The participants in the discourses I plan to analyze are the political elite including and surrounding Stalin, and, in a broader sense, the top tier of the power network. Their perceptions constituted the polices that affected the object of the discourse/practice: émigré populations living abroad. Their ways of speaking not only convey meanings but also have material effects — this helps me understand how state-sanctioned murders on foreign soil could have become possible.[2]

The Soviet definition of defection is broader than the West’s in which a defector is an individual who cooperates with a hostile foreign intelligence service.[3]Given that Soviet citizens were prohibited from leaving the country to settle elsewhere, those who sought political asylum were labeled defectors.[4]The political elite interchangeably used derogatory terms to villainize nationals living abroad, including byvshie liudi, or “former people.”[5]These individuals are “no longer regarded as human beings” after their offenses, which included “traveling abroad or having relatives abroad.”[6]This book, which includes direct excerpts from statements by Stalin’s team helps me understand how the identities of emigres are constructed and represented as traitors of the collective. These texts are connected to executive orders such as the NKVD Executive Order No. 00447, passed in July 30, 1937, which was an operational order for agents to slaughter “enemies-of-the-state.”[7]The laws and regulations in 1929, 1934, and 1937 focused on the punishment of the soviets who had left the USSR without permission and been sentenced for “betrayal of Motherland.”[8]

Why is the detestation of defectors so deeply codified in the Soviet-Russian collectivist narrative? As a researcher who is closely tied to the Soviet/Russian culture, I hold certain assumptions as to why the regime might have considered emigration as a form of betrayal; but, I am eager to analyze the relevant discourses and explore this puzzle more in-depth.

[1]I have borrowed the term “Lethal Retribution” from Dana M. Moss’s typology of extraterritorial state repression. Dana M. Moss, “Transnational Repression, Diaspora Mobilization, and the Case of The Arab Spring,” Social Problems63, 2016, p. 485

[2]Jean Carabine, “Unmarried Motherhood 1830-1990: A Genealogical Analysis,” in Discourse as Data: A Guide to Analysis, ed. Margaret Wetherell, Stephanie Taylor, and Simeon J. Yates, London: Sage, 2000, pp.269

[3]“Defectors, Soviet Era.” Encyclopedia of Russian History, The Gale Group Inc. Accessed Nov. 10, 2018:


[5]Paul S. Gregory. Lenin’s Brain and Other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archive, 1. (Stanford, California, Stanford University: Hoover Institution Press, 2008) p. 38.


[7]An image of the original document accessed here:

[8]Nikita Petrov, “Crimes of the Soviet Regime: Legal Assessment and Punishment of the Guilty Ones,” International Conference ‘Crimes of Communist Regimes’(Prague, Feb.24-26), Accessed Nov.09, 2018:


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2 thoughts on “Research Portfolio Post #8: Qualitative Data Sources for Interpretivist Research

  • Avatar
    Phoebe McAlevey

    Hi Tina,
    Your interprevist thinking seems like it’s off to a good start. I agree it would have been interesting to see how this discourse has developed in the present day regime but given the several discussions, we’ve had in class the past few days I can understand why you decided against that long of a timespan. The laws and executive order you reference are all from the first half of the USSR’s existence, will you only be looking at the early part of the Soviet Union’s extrajudicial, international killings? Or will you look at the discourse throughout the tenure of the Soviet Union?
    Can’t wait to see what discourses are revealed through this methodology. Best of luck with this methodology.

  • Avatar
    Dr. Boesenecker

    Overall this is an excellent start, Tina! As you continue your work keep thinking about how you can make the middle part of your problem statement even more precise as you identify the specific discourses that you propose to analyze. What you have right now — “…because I want to find out why the Soviet Union felt so strongly against “traitors”, “defectors”, and those that “betrayed the motherland”…” — is a good start, but you could work on framing this more around the discourses themselves and less around the “feeling” of the Soviet Union. Notice how Aradau might have done this: “I am researching discourses on trafficked women in post-2000s Europe because I want to find out why victims of human trafficking were constructed to be security risks to the state (and themselves) as well as objects of pity, in order to help my reader understand…” That middle part points right to the key content of the discourses — the symbols, meanings, identities — that are being analyzed. You have a great start here, but just keep thinking about this as you continue your research!