Soviet-era psychiatry in new issue of Cahiers du Monde russe

The new issue of Paris-based journal Cahiers du Monde russe includes two articles on psychiatry in the region during the Soviet period:

Sarah Marks ‘From Experimental Psychosis to Resolving Traumatic Pasts: Psychedelic Research in Communist Czechoslovakia, 1954-1974/ De la psychose expérimentale à la guérison des traumatismes du passé  : la recherche psychédélique en Tchécoslovaquie communiste, 1954‑1974’

Drawing on research papers, archives and scientific memoirs, this paper reconstructs the psychedelic research projects developed in Prague between 1954 and1974, situating psychiatric research in Communist Czechoslovakia within the transnational context of Cold War science. It traces attempts to induce experimental psychosis as a means of exploring the aetiology of schizophrenia; as well as the resilience of psychoanalytic theory and practice in Czechoslovakia, illustrated by approaches to psychotherapy using LSD as an accelerant. Time – and the subjective experience thereof – formed a fundamental part of the psychotherapeutic process, and the researchers explicitly utilized hallucinogenic drugs to actively manage patients’ memories of their own past within the controlled environment of the clinic and the therapeutic relationship. The use of pharmacological and psychological techniques to control experiences from the patient’s history for therapeutic purposes fitted into a wider progressive project for the improvement of human subjectivity itself: they appeared to offer a utopian method for revisiting and ultimately curing trauma. Ultimately, psychedelic research resonated with broader interests of socialist modernity, which was concerned with facilitating future human potential, and the use of science and technology to further social progress.

Gregory Dufaud ‘Quel usage des thèses pavloviennes en médecine? Schizophrénie, incertitudes scientifiques et psychiatrie en Union soviétique/ The use of Pavlov’s theories in medicine: schizophrenia, scientific uncertainty and psychiatry in the Soviet Union’

This article deals with psychiatric interpretations and uses of Pavlov’s theories. The author shows that the choice to base psychiatry on Pavlov’s theses was not self‑evident. It was made because it seemed likely to turn psychiatry into a modern specialty on par with other medical specialties or biological disciplines in terms of its truth regime. At stake in the redefinition of psychiatry were recognition and legitimacy concerns related to both the discredit that psychiatry had long suffered and the competition with physiology: as of the late 1920s, physiologists started to question psychiatry’s ability to apprehend mental illness and explain human functioning objectively. As it progresses, this study of the advent of physiological psychiatry shows the interrelation of production of knowledge, institutional reconfigurations and moral values.


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