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The University of Southampton
Southampton Ethics Centre

Mental Health under Communism: Transnational Connections across the Iron Curtain and within the Eastern Bloc Seminar

16:00 - 17:00
20 February 2019
Building 65 Room 1177, Avenue Campus, University of Southampton SO17IBF

Event details

Part of the Transnational Studies 2018/19 programme in collaboration with the Centre for Medical and Health Humanities.


Historians have traditionally assumed that the psy-disciplines behind the Iron Curtain, when they were not being abused for political purposes, were dominated by a topdown ‘Pavlovization’, whereby Moscow bound scientists within the restrictive orthodoxy of theories derived from the celebrated Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. In this paper I demonstrate that researchers were far from isolated from international developments –
whether in the broader Soviet sphere, China, or the ‘West’ – and appropriated a broad range of theoretical models, including some which the Party had officially banned. Antipsychotic drugs were adopted from the West and mass-produced by state-owned firms. Psychoanalysis survived underground, coming into plain sight as theories of the unconscious influenced the world’s longest-running, state-sponsored LSD psychotherapy
project in Prague between 1954 and1974. New models of mind from cybernetics, human ecology and infant attachment theory re-shaped research, treatment and even state-level policy. By tracing these transnational connections this paper challenges narratives
of overwhelming state control. It traces the strategies that individuals used to further their professional and personal interests, both underground and in plain sight, and the examples of psychiatrists who engaged – whether explicitly or reluctantly – in the project of building socialism as a result.

Speaker information

Dr Sarah Marks , Birkbeck, University of London. History/Hidden Persuaders project

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