Update 3: Theoretical Framing for Kadyrov Bridge

Upon arriving back in the States, I dug deep into the theoretical framework through which I hoped to understand my bridge. I found the toponymic work of Reuben Rose-Redwood et al. and began to use it to interpret what I found. The discrepancy between the state memory and unofficial memory of Akhmad Kadyrov was what particularly intrigued me, and the bridge served as a perfect site to delve into that.

Rose-Redwood provided me with a few key tenets about urban commemoration and toponymy. First, the “city-text,” composed of the names of streets, bridges, squares, etc. is dynamic and reflects the priorities of the city’s officials. Second, the act of naming something imbues it with a secondary meaning, on top of its functional purpose. Third, commemorative place-names become sites in which the legacy of their namesake is contested. And finally, the geographic can eventually overcome the historical as a referent.

I was intrigued by the idea of city officials–in this case, the Toponymic Commission of St. Petersburg–prioritizing Akhmad Kadyrov. In one way, by naming anything for him, they are asserting his status as heroic and a positive historical figure. In another way, though, the bridge itself calls into question the extent to which he is prioritized. It is physically decentralized, and has no signs saying for whom it is named. There was a tension here, I think, between wanting to commemorate him and knowing the controversy that would bring about.

The second and third elements of Rose-Redwood’s argument that I’m engaging with are intertwined. Because the bridge now has a semiotic value, and is not merely a functional piece of municipal architecture, it is contested. Those who rage against Kadyrov sometimes refuse to call the bridge by its official name, as I saw in my engagement with Google Map reviews. This act of toponymic rebellion is indicative of the fact that the official narrative surrounding Akhmad Kadyrov’s legacy is still contested.

But Rose-Redwood’s last point, about the geographical overcoming the historical, also seems to play out with Akhmad Kadyrov Bridge. The idea here is that people who engage with the bridge daily will not consider the historical figure for whom it is named. Either they will think of the bridge only as that bridge, or, if they do associate it with the name Kadyrov, that name, that word, will be divorced from the man and associated with the physical bridge. In my readings of Google Map reviews, I’ve seen a lot of this. People who live in this neighborhood see the bridge as a lovely place to walk, a traffic nuisance, a good fishing spot, or an eyesore. It is a part of their lives, not a part of a grand historical narrative.

Comments

  1. Reuben Rose-Redwood says:

    Hi Catherine,

    I’m glad you found our work on the politics of place naming useful for your project! I’d love to read the paper you are working on.

    Best of luck with your studies!

    Reuben

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