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Durham University

School of Modern Languages and Cultures: Russian Studies

Staff in the Department of Russian

Publication details for Professor Andy Byford

2016 'Imperial Normativities and the Sciences of the Child: The Politics of Development in the USSR, 1920s-1930s', Ab Imperio 2, pp. 71-124

Author(s) from Durham


Between the mid-1920s and the mid-1930s, Soviet researchers in child
biopsychosocial development became especially interested in the question of ethnoracial differences in the Soviet child population. During the First Five-Year Plan a specialist subarea of research briefly flourished within Soviet pedology. Dubbed the “pedology of national minorities,” it was fostered in concert with the broader efforts of the Soviet state to incorporate “backward” populations living in more peripheral parts of the Union into the normatively framed Soviet body politic as part of accelerated economic, social, and
cultural “development.” Focusing on examples of psychometric research
done on Uzbek children in Tashkent, Tatar children in Moscow, and more
remote ethnic groups in Siberia, this article analyzes how the early-Soviet
“pedology of national minorities” became embroiled in a complicated knot
of contradictions in its attempt to account for and negotiate the ambiguous
relationship between, on the one hand, normative deviations in the Soviet
child population (a population that was expected to be unified into a single
body politic, especially through the expansion and standardization of the
Soviet education system) and, on the other, ethnoracial differences within
this population in the distinctive context of early Soviet efforts to manage the Union’s federative structure along ethnonational lines through the Soviet state’s nationalities policy. The article argues that this contradiction between “deviation” and “difference” reflected one of the central dilemmas of Soviet modernity as a sociopolitical experiment – namely, how to adapt universalizing thinking and utopian aspirations to an “imperial” reality marked by nonsystemic diversity.