Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Care in the Gap

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Please join us for the fourth event of our Work of Care in Russia speaker series, a presentation by Tomas Matza (University of Pittsburgh).

Those who do the work of care are often caught in a double bind. Caring for someone else, and any potential to provide comfort, often depends on institutions entangled in symbolic and material violence. Consider the many possible (often inadvertent) side effects of care work: reproducing gendered labor formations (CITEs); circulating racist ideologies through diagnosis, becoming complicit in hemispheric security schemes, promoting ableism, amplifying anti-political neoliberal empowerment regimes, fostering dispossession. In this talk, Tomas Matza will explore the idea that when caregivers confront this double bind and find ways to care otherwise, they constitute a form of care in the gap. “Gap,” here, draws from Anna Tsing’s idea that the limits of hegemony can be found in the disjuncture between what is articulated as overwhelmingly universal and what emerges through more ordinary social practice. Care in the gap both creates and operates in a breathing space between institutional norms and projects of care or, in more technical terms, between biopolitics and ethics. How do practitioners create and operate within that gap? What implications do their practices have for care’s life-sustaining potentials in the face of harm? And, finally, what kinds of political language are available to make sense of this work?


Tomas Matza is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh. His first book, Shock Therapy: Psychology, Precarity, and Well-Being in Postsocialist Russia (2018), draws on fieldwork in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he explored the psychotherapy boom that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. This involved ethnographic research in psychological assistance organizations for children and adults, media analysis, and extensive interviews. The book examines how new ideas and practices of selfhood, and what he calls “precarious care,” have emerged alongside Russia’s political and economic transformations following the collapse of the USSR. Shock Therapy describes the various political afterlives of psychotherapeutic care, which is now practiced as: a marketable commodity, a technique of biopolitical management, and a means to personal healing. These transformations in the nature of care have, in turn, turned the “self” into a site of political and economic production, providing practitioners with new forms of geographic and class mobility, but also creating new means of social differentiation among clients.


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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