International Criminology and the Russian Fight against Transnational Obscenity, 1885–1925

‘The Highest Guardian of the Child’

In: Russian History
Philippa HetheringtonLecturer in Modern Eurasian History, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London,

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This article examines Russian criminologists’ engagements with emergent norms of international criminal law at the fin-de-siècle. In particular, it discusses attempts to end the ‘international traffic in pornography’ from the 1880s onwards, framing these attempts as key elements in the development of Russian ideas about sexual crime more broadly. For pre- and post-revolutionary Russian criminologists involved with the Hague-based International Union for Penal Law, the crime of trafficking in pornography was conceptualized as both a crime against the censor and also an offense that did specific harm to certain social groups, namely women and children. In this way, anxieties about gender and sex lay at the heart of the calls to ban the cross-border trade in obscenity, suggesting a particular biopolitical understanding of international security haunting early twentieth century international criminal law.

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