Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Residential Institutions for Disabled People in Russia: Two Models of Care

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Please join us for an event in our Work of Care in Russia speaker series, a talk with Anna Klepikova, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the European University at St. Petersburg, and author of I Must Be A Fool (European University Press, 2018). Moderated by Svetlana Borodina (Harriman Institute).

Anna Klepikova’s dissertation field research was conducted in two residential institutions for people with disabilities in St. Petersburg. Klepikova was inspired to study institutional disability care after watching an NGO volunteer recruitment ad about an orphanage for children with disabilities. She decided to learn more about the volunteers’ motivations and experience by joining them as a volunteer and participant observer for her dissertation research.

At the orphanage, Klepikova witnessed a conflict developing between the NGO volunteers and the nurses: a clash between two models of care on the practical level, and two versions of understanding disability on the ideological level. This disconnect resembled the conflict between Western humanistic pedagogics and a patriarchal discriminating approach to disability and difference. After a year, Klepikova transferred to volunteer at a similar institution for adults. There, she found a different conflict between the volunteers and medical staff due to the latter being responsible for various psychiatric restrictions, forced administration of sedative drugs, and involuntary hospitalizations. In this case, the conflict was between the social-constructionist and medicalized approaches to mental illness.

In this presentation, Klepikova discusses the differences and intersections in these polar approaches to disability care. Introducing her ethnographic material, she reflects on the nature of anthropological understanding that might form various grounds for solidarity.


Anna Klepikova is Dean and Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the European University at St. Petersburg. Klepikova’s research interests include disability studies, anthropology of disability, medical anthropology, psychological anthropology, anthropological aspects of alternative and extended communication, healing and magical services in modern Russia.




The Work of Care in Russia

This speaker series, organized by Svetlana Borodina and co-sponsored by the IU Russian Studies Workshop, will explore how Soviet and post-Soviet Russian care workers have been sustaining lives, and why sometimes their efforts hurt rather than heal. Our speakers include historians and anthropologists who will discuss the global and domestic pressures and victories of post/socialist care work in Russia. We invite you to learn about the controversial work of Soviet defectologists, the operations of the notorious system of institutionalized care for disabled people in contemporary Russia, the labors of traditional Buryat healers, the mental health care industry, and the addiction treatment sector of Russian health care.

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