Please join us for an event in our Work of Care in Russia speaker series, a talk by Tatiana Chudakova, author of Mixing Medicines: Ecologies of Care in Buddhist Siberia (Fordham University Press, 2021). Moderated by Svetlana Borodina (Harriman Institute).
After the collapse of state socialism, Russia’s healthcare system, much like the rest of the country’s economic and social sphere, underwent massive restructuring, while the public saw the rise to prominence of a variety of nonbiomedical therapies. Formulated as a possible aid to a beleaguered healthcare infrastructure, or as questionable care of last resort, “traditional medicine” in post-socialist Russia was tasked with redressing—and often blamed for—the fraught state of the body politic, while biomedicine itself became increasingly perceived as therapeutically insufficient. The popularization of ethnically and culturally marked forms of care in Russia presents a peculiar paradox in a political context often characterized by a return to robustly homogenizing state policies. In a context where displays of cultural, religious, and ethnic difference are tightly woven with anxieties about Russia’s status as a modern state, the rise of a therapeutic sphere that tended towards multiplicity, fragmentation, bricolage, and a certain ontological agnosticism in the treatment of bodies and subjects appears, at the very least, counterintuitive. Focusing on the therapeutic life at the peripheries of the state, in the Siberian region of Buryatia that unexpectedly finds itself at the forefront of projects of medical integration via a local tradition of “Tibetan Medicine,” this talk explores how categories of official and unofficial medicine are co-constituted, and with what effects on conceptualizations of medical legitimacy, as well as on concrete ways of caring and curing.
Tatiana Chudakova is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Tufts University. Her first book project focused on how postsocialist economies of health are shaped through the cultural politics of indigenous knowledge, the remaking of ethnoecologies, and the commodification of ethnic identities. Chudakova combines these theoretical concerns with an interest in the afterlives of Soviet scientific and state-building projects in Russia and Inner Asia. Her new book, Mixing Medicines: Ecologies of Care in Buddhist Siberia, follows Russia’s official medical sector’s attempts to reinvent itself through state-led initiatives of “medical integration” that aim to recuperate indigenous therapeutic traditions associated with the state’s ethnic and religious minorities.
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.