Tag Archives: Russia

State of Madness: Psychiatry, Literature, and Dissent After Stalin

New from Northern Illinois University Press is State of Madness: Psychiatry, Literature, and Dissent After Stalin by Rebecca Reich. The book is described on the publisher’s website as follows:

What madness meant was a fiercely contested question in Soviet society. State of Madness examines the politically fraught collision between psychiatric and literary discourses in the years after Joseph Stalin’s death. State psychiatrists deployed set narratives of mental illness to pathologize dissenting politics and art. Dissidents such as Aleksandr Vol’pin, Vladimir Bukovskii, and Semen Gluzman responded by highlighting a pernicious overlap between those narratives and their life stories. The state, they suggested in their own psychiatrically themed texts, had crafted an idealized view of reality that itself resembled a pathological work of art. In their unsanctioned poetry and prose, the writers Joseph Brodsky, Andrei Siniavskii, and Venedikt Erofeev similarly engaged with psychiatric discourse to probe where creativity ended and insanity began. Together, these dissenters cast themselves as psychiatrists to a sick society.

By challenging psychiatry’s right to declare them or what they wrote insane, dissenters exposed as a self-serving fiction the state’s renewed claims to rationality and modernity in the post-Stalin years. They were, as they observed, like the child who breaks the spell of collective delusion in Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In a society where normality means insisting that the naked monarch is clothed, it is the truth-teller who is pathologized. Situating literature’s encounter with psychiatry at the center of a wider struggle over authority and power, this bold interdisciplinary study will appeal to literary specialists; historians of culture, science, and medicine; and scholars and students of the Soviet Union and its legacy for Russia today.

Centaurus Articles on Cold War Social Science, Race, and Anthropology

Karl von Baer, 1865

A number of recent articles in Centaurus may be of interest to AHP readers. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Détente Science? Transformations of Knowledge and Expertise in the 1970s,” by Rüdiger Graf. Abstract:

Scrutinizing the multifaceted relationship between the history of science and the political, economic and cultural transformations of the 1970s, while acknowledging that ‘Cold War [social] science’ has proven to be a fruitful heuristic concept, the paper asks if– in a period decreasing confrontation –there was also a ‘détente [social] science’? First, it presents a short overview of the most significant transformations of the 1970s and sketches if and to what extent developments in the realm of science influenced them or even brought them about. Secondly, the perspective will be turned around. After developing the concept of Cold War Science in greater detail, the paper asks whether the changes of the 1970s influenced the development of the natural and social sciences. In particular, it analyzes their influence on the conceptions of knowledge and expertise that have been described as constitutive elements of Cold War Science. In conclusion, it tries to assess if these changes amount to anything that might be labelled fruitfully as détente science.

“Geography, Race and the Malleability of Man: Karl von Baer and the Problem of Academic Particularism in the Russian Human Sciences,” by Nathaniel Knight. Abstract:

The question of national specificity in science was vigorously debated in 19th century Russia and remains relevant to the geographical and cultural contextualization of scholarship. This article introduces the term academic particularism to denote this phenomenon and addresses it through an examination of the career, ideas and legacy of Karl von Baer in the fields of geography, ethnology and physical anthropology. The article traces significant shifts in Baer’s interests and views after his relocation to Russia in 1835 and identifies a cluster of key ideas present in Baer’s work in the mid-19th century that were further developed by subsequent scholars in the late 19th century and came to constitute a distinctive strain in the Russian human sciences.

“‘With the Risk of Being Called Retrograde’. Racial Classifications and the Attack on the Aryan Myth by Jean-Baptiste d’Omalius d’Halloy (1783–1875),” by Maarten Couttenier. Abstract: Continue reading Centaurus Articles on Cold War Social Science, Race, and Anthropology

New Medical History: Psychiatry in the Atomic Age, Transvestism in Finland, Therapy in Russian Defectology

The January 2018 issue of Medical History is now available and includes several articles that may be of interest to AHP readers. Full details below.

“Healing a Sick World: Psychiatric Medicine and the Atomic Age,” by Ran Zwigenberg. Abstract:

The onset of nuclear warfare in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had far-reaching implications for the world of medicine. The study of the A-bomb and its implications led to the launching of new fields and avenues of research, most notably in genetics and radiation studies. Far less understood and under-studied was the impact of nuclear research on psychiatric medicine. Psychological research, however, was a major focus of post-war military and civilian research into the bomb. This research and the perceived revolutionary impact of atomic energy and warfare on society, this paper argues, played an important role in the global development of post-war psychiatry. Focusing on psychiatrists in North America, Japan and the United Nations, this paper examines the reaction of the profession to the nuclear age from the early post-war period to the mid 1960s. The way psychiatric medicine related to atomic issues, I argue, shifted significantly between the immediate post-war period and the 1960s. While the early post-war psychiatrists sought to help society deal with and adjust to the new nuclear reality, later psychiatrists moved towards a more radical position that sought to resist the establishment’s efforts to normalise the bomb and nuclear energy. This shift had important consequences for research into the psychological trauma suffered by victims of nuclear warfare, which, ultimately, together with other research into the impact of war and systematic violence, led to our current understanding of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Boyish Mannerisms and Womanly Coquetry: Patients with the Diagnosis of Transvestitismus in the Helsinki Psychiatric Clinic in Finland, 1954–68,” by Katariina Parhi. Abstract:

This article examines the case files of patients diagnosed with Transvestitismus [transvestism] in the Psychiatric Clinic of the Helsinki University Central Hospital in the years 1954–68. These individuals did not only want to cross-dress, but also had a strong feeling of being of a different sex from their assigned one. The scientific concept of transsexuality had begun to take form, and this knowledge reached Finland in phases. The case files of the transvestism patients show that they were highly aware of their condition and were very capable of describing it, even if they had no medical name for it. Psychiatrists were willing to engage in dialogue with the patients, and did not treat them as passive objects of study. Although some patients felt that they had been helped, many left the institution as frustrated, angered or desperate as before. They had sought medical help in the hope of having their bodies altered to correspond to their identity, but the Clinic psychiatrists insisted on seeing the problem in psychiatric terms and did not recommend surgical or hormonal treatments in most cases. This attitude would gradually change over the course of the 1970s and 1980s.

“Lechebnaia pedagogika: The Concept and Practice of Therapy in Russian Defectology, c. 1880–1936,” by Andy Byford. Abstract:

Therapy is not simply a domain or form of medical practice, but also a metaphor for and a performance of medicine, of its functions and status, of its distinctive mode of action upon the world. This article examines medical treatment or therapy (in Russian lechenie), as concept and practice, in what came to be known in Russia as defectology (defektologiia) – the discipline and occupation concerned with the study and care of children with developmental pathologies, disabilities and special needs. Defectology formed an impure, occupationally ambiguous, therapeutic field, which emerged between different types of expertise in the niche populated by children considered ‘difficult to cure’, ‘difficult to teach’, and ‘difficult to discipline’. The article follows the multiple genealogy of defectological therapeutics in the medical, pedagogical and juridical domains, across the late tsarist and early Soviet eras. It argues that the distinctiveness of defectological therapeutics emerged from the tensions between its biomedical, sociopedagogical and moral-juridical framings, resulting in ambiguous hybrid forms, in which medical treatment strategically interlaced with education or upbringing, on the one hand, and moral correction, on the other.

Andy Byford’s “The Imperfect Child in Early Twentieth-Century Russia”

A newly published article by Andy Byford (left) on “The imperfect child in early twentieth-century Russia” may be of interest to AHP readers. The article is currently available open access in the journal History of Education. The abstract reads,

The article discusses the role that conceptualisations of child ‘imperfection’ played in the rise and fall of Russian ‘child study’ between the 1900s and the 1930s. Drawing on Georges Canguilhem’s ideas on ‘the normal’ and ‘the pathological’, the article analyses practices centred on diagnosing subnormality and pathology in the Russian child population in the late tsarist and early Soviet eras. It first examines mutually competing normative regimes that framed categorisations of ‘imperfection’ among Russia’s children in the context of the empire’s accelerated, yet ambivalent modernisation during the 1900s–1910s. It then charts the expansion of this diagnostics in the first decade or so of the Soviet regime, following its shift in focus from the early-1920s’ ‘delinquent child’ to the late-1920s’ ‘mass child’. The article concludes with a discussion of the emergence, over this same period, of the Russian field of medicalised special education known as ‘defectology’. It argues that defectology’s disciplinary specificity crystallised in 1936 around a purposely restrictive concept of ‘imperfection’, understood as individualised and clinically established pathological ‘impairment’. The latter conceptualisation became fixed at the height of Stalinism as a strategic counter to the expansive flux in which the diagnostics and conceptualisation of child ‘imperfection’ had otherwise been over the first three decades of the twentieth century in the context of the remarkable rise of child study during this period.

New NBN Podcast: Governing Habits: Treating Alcoholism in the Post-Soviet Clinic

The New Books Network (NBN) has just released an interview with anthropologist Eugene Raikhel on his recently released monograph Governing Habits: Treating Alcoholism in the Post-Soviet ClinicAs NBN describes,

Alcoholism is a strange thing. That it exists, no one seriously doubts. But it’s not entirely clear (diagnostically speaking) what it is, who has it, how they get it, or how to treat it. The answers to these questions depend, apparently, on where you are, which is to say what culture you were born and raise in. Alcoholism and treatments for it in Country A might be very different from alcoholism and treatments for it in countries B, C, and D. Alcoholism is, well, relative.

This is one of the many thing I learned from reading Eugene Raikhel‘s fascinating book Governing Habits: Treating Alcoholism in the Post-Soviet Clinic (Cornell University Press, 2016). An anthropologist, Raikhel tells us the tale of how the Soviet discipline of “narcology”–the diagnosis and treatment of addiction– evolved during Soviet times and how it adapted after the USSR fell. I won’t spoil the story for you, but suffice it to say that Russians treated and continue to treat alcoholism quite differently that we do in the U.S., though that’s changing (AA has arrived in Russia, something we also discuss).

Listen to the full interview here.

Cornell University Press describes Raikhel’s book on its site follows: Continue reading New NBN Podcast: Governing Habits: Treating Alcoholism in the Post-Soviet Clinic