New Issue – Ab Imperio

cover_medThe “rather obscure” (quoting the reader who called our attention to it) Russian journal, Ab Imperio published in its latest number in 2014 four articles dealing with psychiatry in the early Soviet Union. Please find below the titles and abstracts of the papers.

Forum: Sociobiological Science in the Early Soviet Union – Guest Editors: Elena Astafieva and Wladimir Berelowitch

Elena Astafieva and Wladimir Berelowitch, “Humanities and Social Sciences in the Russian Empire and the USSR: An Unwritten History,” Ab Imperio 4 (2014): 94-135. [subscription required]

This introduction to the forum places its contributions into a larger context of debates about dynamics in the fields of humanities and social sciences in imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. This research perspective informed the focus ofthe collaborative research project “The Constitution of Humanities and Social Sciences in Russia: Networks and Circulations of Models of Knowledge from the Eighteenth Century to the 1920s.” The primary impetus for the project’s organizers came from the French academic tradition, specifically, studies of”cultural transfers,” or to use the terminol­ogy preferred by some project participants, “histoire croisee” or cultural circulation that have been popular since the 1980s. Of no less importance was the desire to modify this paradigm by introducing the approaches of imperial history and the repertoire of research problems characterizing studies of Soviet modernity.

Solomon, Susan Gross. “Soviet Social Hygienists and Sexology after the Revolution: Dynamics of ‘Capture’ at Home and Abroad. Ab Imperio 2014, no. 4 (2014): 107-135. [subscription required]

In 1925, Dr. Grigorii Abramovich Batkis, the young social hygienist who was the leading figure in the kabinet of sexology (seksologiia) of the newly created State Institute of Social Hygiene in Moscow, published in Germany a twenty-four-page pamphlet on the sexual revolution in Russia. The inclusion of Batkis’s pamphlet in the prestigious series, Beitrage zum Sexualproblem, edited by Felix Theilhaber, might suggest that Soviet social hygiene research on sexual issues had struck resonance in international sexo­logical circles and that the intense efforts of Soviet scientists in the 1920s to “reclaim place” in international public health and medicine were bearing fruit. But appearances can be deceiving. While part of Batkis’s pamphlet was widely discussed in international circles, another part was studiously ignored. Moreover, Batkis’s pamphlet never appeared in Russia, nor did Batkis include the pamphlet in his list of publications. This article uses the puzzles surrounding Batkis’s pamphlet as a spring board to analyze Soviet seksologiia poised between the Russian and the international arenas for sexological research. What does the publication of this pamphlet in Germany tell us about Soviet social hygienists’ “capture” of place in international sexology? What was the relationship between social hygienists’ “capture” of place abroad and their “capture” of the sexological sciences at home?

Defaud, Gregory. “Vyzov fiziologii: sovetskaia psikhiatriia v 1930-e gody.” Ab Imperio 2014, no. 4 (2014): 136-166. [In Russian] [subscription required]

The article aspires to understand the nature of changes that had happened in psychiatry in the 1930s as a result of its competition with physiology and under the influence of Anatolii Ivanov-Smolenskii. Physiology challenged psychiatry with some old questions, such as: What role does the body play in mental illness? What place do experimental techniques occupy in psychia­try? Which clinical methods should be prioritized? Following psychiatric discussions, the author traces the shifting borders between somatic and psychiatric approaches and offers his original interpretation of the evolution of biomedical sciences. At the same time, the study of the field of psychiatry in a particular historical moment allows him to evaluate the degree of the Soviet state’s interference in science and the limits of professional autonomy of its representatives.

Zajicek, Benjamin. “Soviet Madness: Nervousness, Mild Schizophrenia, and the Professional Jurisdiction of Psychiatry in the USSR, 1918–1936.” Ab Imperio 2014, no. 4 (2014): 167-194. [subscription required]

Between 1931 and 1936, psychiatrists in the Soviet Union diagnosed large numbers of people with “mild schizophrenia,” a “neurosis-like” form of schizophrenia that was allegedly unique to the USSR. In 1936 the USSR Commissariat of Public Health intervened, dissolving the research institute most associated with “mild schizophrenia” and fundamentally reorienting the discipline of psychiatry away from “borderline illness” and problems of psychological adjustment and toward major mental illness and its biologi­cal causes. This article examines the origins of the “mild schizophrenia” concept and seeks to understand why the Soviet government saw “mild schizophrenia” as a problem. More broadly, it examines the relationship between psychiatric expertise and the state during the period of high Stalin­ism. The author finds that the concept of “mild schizophrenia” was closely associated with psychiatrists at the Institute of Neuropsychiatric Prophylaxis, particularly its director, Lev Rozenshtein. In the 1920s these psychiatrists sought to create a new discipline, psikhogigiena, which they identified as part of the international mental hygiene movement established by Ameri­can psychiatrist Adolf Meyer. The Soviet mental hygienists envisioned a countrywide network of “neuropsychiatric dispensaries” that would study environmental and social conditions in order to improve mental health and prevent mental illness. This work brought Rozenshtein and his colleagues into conflict with the Communist Party authorities. Using the category of “mild schizophrenia,” psychiatrists were attempting to define normalcy in terms of psychometric and social indices, not in terms of political or ideo­logical consciousness. Party authorities insisted that medical expertise gave jurisdiction only over specific types of illness, not over conditions of work and life in general. In response Rozenshtein and his colleagues reformulated their claims in the form of a biological disease entity, “mild schizophrenia.” By disbanding Rozenshtein’s institute and denouncing the concept of “mild schizophrenia,” authorities reestablished firm jurisdictional boundaries for psychiatrists. As a result, Soviet psychiatry was oriented firmly toward a conception of psychiatric illness as biological disease.

Trinity Term 2015 – Research Seminars in the History of Medicine, Oxford

H_ccf91f7a4aThe Trinity Term 2015 Seminar Series of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, is this year dedicated to ‘Medicine and Modern Warfare’ and has several topics that may interest the readers of h-madness.

Week 1 – 27 April
Ben Shephard, Bristol
‘Culture, politics or biology? How does American PTSD relate to European war trauma?’

Week 2 – 4 May
Bank Holiday – No Seminar Continue reading

Religion & Anti-psychiatry in Imperial Germany

111146d0H-Madness co-editor Eric Engstrom will be speaking on “Pastoral Psychiatry and Irrenseelsorge: Religious Aspects of the Anti-psychiatry Debates in Imperial Germany.” at the BPS History of Psychological Disciplines Seminar Series on Monday, 20 April. The abstract reads:

Historians of psychiatry have often enough interpreted the relationship between psychiatry and religion within narrative frameworks that focus on diagnoses and treatments (religious madness, exorcism) or that emphasise broader historical processes such as secularisation, medicalisation, and biologisation. While there is considerable merit to such frameworks, recent critiques of the secularisation paradigm have suggested a larger place for religion and spirituality in late 19th-century urban culture than is often assumed. The work of the American historian Edward R. Dickinson in particular has reminded us of the enduring influence and inertia of conservative Christian organisations in shaping moral discourse and social policy in the Kaiserreich.

My paper examines more closely the interdisciplinary topography between psychiatric and religious professionals, mapping out some of the common terrain on which they cooperated and/or disagreed with one another. In particular, I will examine debates about the place of religion in 19th-century asylum culture and the role of the so-called ‘Irrenseelsorger’. Against this backdrop and drawing especially on examples from Berlin, I will then explore efforts by religious organisations to expand their role in psychiatric after-/extramural care and show how those efforts contributed decisively to a nascent ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement in the years leading up to World War One.

For more information have a look at the blog Advances in the History of Psychology.

Book announcement – Les antipsychiatries : une histoire

Electre_978-2-7381-3179-9_9782738131799Jacques Hochmann, psychiatre et psychanalyste, spécialiste de l’enfance, est entre autres auteur d’une Histoire de la psychiatrie dans la collection Que sais-je. Dans un nouveau livre, il s’intéresse à l’histoire de l’antipsychiatrie.La quatrième de couverture annonce:

L’histoire de la psychiatrie est indissociable de celle d’une antipsychiatrie. Jacques Hochmann met ici au jour le constant balancement entre critiques et réactions, entre démarches « alternatives » et reprises en main qui a habité la psychiatrie depuis ses origines. Analysant en particulier l’antipsychiatrie anglaise ainsi que la psychiatrie démocratique italienne des années 1970, il retrace aussi tous les mouvements qui, dès le XIXe siècle, se sont opposés à la médecine officielle, aux pratiques thérapeutiques attentatoires aux libertés, à l’asile d’aliénés rebaptisé hôpital psychiatrique, etc. Il propose enfin les bases scientifiques qui pourraient permettre de sortir de ce combat permanent. Une relecture complète de l’histoire de la psychiatrie qui permet d’éclairer les débats actuels.

News: FDA recognizing “drinking less” an an acceptable outcome

Top of counter Bar with Blurred beer bottle Restaurant Interior

Writer Anne Fletcher has written a piece describing a change in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) criteria for an acceptable outcome in the treatment of alcohol abuse.  As Fletcher notes:

… [the] FDA issued an official draft to guide development of drugs for the treatment of “alcoholism” that allows not only for abstinence as an outcome of studies showing efficacy of medications for their approval for clinical use but also allowing for a pattern of reduced drinking – described as “no heavy drinking days” – as an outcome.

(Many thanks to our reader Laura for drawing our attention to this).

Hidden Persuaders: Brainwashing, Culture, Clinical Knowledge and the Cold War Human Sciences


Under the direction of Daniel Pick, the Birkbeck College project ‘Hidden Persuaders: Brainwashing, Culture, Clinical Knowledge and the Cold War Human Sciences’, has launched a website with an accompanying blog:

Upcoming events and announcements include the following:

14 May seminar with Catalina Bronstein
Prof. Catalina Bronstein will lead a seminar on “Working in Fear: Memories of Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis during the Argentinian Dictatorship.” This seminar will be held from 11:45-13:30 on Thursday, 14 May, at Birkbeck. Catalina Bronstein is a Visiting Professor in the Psychoanalysis Unit, Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology within the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences (PALS) at University College, London where she is the coordinator of the MSc seminars on Melanie Klein. She is a Training Analyst and Supervisor and a Fellow of the British Psycho-Analytical Society. Prof. Bronstein originally trained in Medicine and became a Psychiatrist in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She will be speaking about her experiences as a psychiatrist during Argentina’s ‘Dirty War.’
21 May seminar with Robert Jay Lifton
Robert Jay Lifton will lead a seminar on Thursday, 21 May at Birkbeck. Prof. Lifton is a psychiatrist and well-respected author of many books, including Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (1961) and The Nazi Doctors (1986). Prof. Lifton will speak on his early research on Chinese ‘thought reform’ – exploring what this can tell us about what he calls ‘totalism’ – and his study of the psychological and ethical issues surrounding the atomic attack on Hiroshima. He will reflect on his psychohistorical research methods, including the development of his interview approach, use of psychoanalytical principles, and his perspective on the psychoanalytical movement in America.
Doctoral Studentship—deadline 1 July
The project’s website has announced a doctoral studentship. Students interested in applying for this can find more information here:


Book announcement – Rencontres, thérapie et création

27574100061500LChristophe Boulanger, Anouck Capte et Catherine Denève viennent de publier un livre sur la relation entre Henry Bauchau, écrivain et thérapeute, et Lionel, un de ses patients. Le quatrième de couverture indique: Continue reading

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