Inside the Psychiatric Word: Diagnosis and Self-Definition in the Late Soviet Period

SLAVIC REVIEW 73.3 (2014): 536-584

Abstract: The punitive psychiatric hospitalization of Soviet dissidents and nonconformists spurred the writing and circulation of memoirs of detention, transcripts of conversations with psychiatrists, copies of psychiatric files, handbooks on legal and medical aspects of psychiatric examination, works of fiction, poems, and other related documents. Rebecca Reich draws on this major body of texts to determine how politically unorthodox citizens engaged with psychiatry in life and on the page. Close reading of texts by Vladimir Bukovskii, Semen Gluzman, Aleksandr Vol′pin, and others suggests that unsanctioned accounts of hospitalization did more than expose the abuse of psychiatry; they challenged Soviet psychiatric discourse and promoted inakomyslie, “thinking differently,” as the psychological norm. By depathologizing themselves and pathologizing the state during encounters with psychiatrists and in samizdat, dissidents and nonconformists engaged in self-definition and asserted their own diagnostic authority.