Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Caregivers and Their Charges in the Soviet Union: The Case of the Striving Disabled

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Please join us for the inaugural event of our Work of Care in Russia speaker series, a presentation by Maria Cristina Galmarini (College of William & Mary), with a discussion moderated by Svetlana Borodina, (Harriman Institute).

The Soviet system of care and social protection involved both the distribution of monetary help through the Pensioning Department of the Commissariat (later Ministry) of Social Assistance and the implementation of social policies in such diverse fields as education, health care, family life, housing, and employment. In this talk, Maria Galmarini-Kabala will introduce four specific service agencies: the Medico-Pedagogical Station, the Mother and Infant Department, and the Societies of the Blind and the Deaf. After having clarified their institutional standing within the system of Soviet welfare in the post-revolutionary and Stalinist period, she will analyze how the people working in these organizations constructed their charges and how their constructions compared with Soviet bureaucrats’ vision of “the pensioner.” The figure of the “striving disabled,” which took shape precisely at this time, was of particular significance in informing future understandings of care work, activism, and proper disabled subjectivity.


Maria Cristina Galmarini is Associate Professor of History and Global Studies and Interim Director of the European Studies Program at the College of William & Mary. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. Her teaching interests include Russian and post-Sovet History, Stalinism, human rights, and cultural history of the Cold War. She specializes in Soviet and modern European history, with a particular focus on the history of disability and social rights. Her monograph, The Right to Be Helped: Entitlement, Deviance, and the Soviet Moral Order, was published in 2016 by Northern Illinois University Press. It explores the sense of entitlement to social rights among marginalized groups in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1950.


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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