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Durham University

Russian Child Science, 1881-1936

 Russian Child Science, 1881-1936

Science of the Child in Late Imperial and Early Soviet Russia (1881-1936)

At the turn of the twentieth century 'child study' crystallised into a loosely organised field of research, claiming child development as a territory of specialist investigation. The term commonly used for it at the time was 'paedology'. This was a multidisciplinary network that included developmental and educational psychology, child psychiatry, juvenile criminology, the anthropology of childhood, etc.

Russia was among the first countries to start developing paedology, with a number of its psychologists, educators, physicians and psychiatrists enthusiastically embracing the pioneering work done in the area of child development in the West in the 1880s-90s. From 1900 Russian 'child study' grew independently, creating a fast-expanding network of laboratories, training courses, conferences and institutes. This was also a volatile arena of inter-professional politics that involved strategic collaborations as well as jurisdictional conflicts between teachers, psychologists, doctors and jurists around children as objects of enquiry and expertise.

After the collapse of tsarism in 1917, state interests and ideological concerns emerged as decisive factors on which the fate of 'child study' in Russia depended. In the 1920s paedology was strongly supported by leading Bolsheviks, who promoted it in the context of their utopian social engineering programmes, specifically as a science responsible for the forging of 'the new Soviet person'. In this period Soviet paedology produced such major theorists of developmental psychology and education as Lev Vygotsky, whose influence can be felt internationally to this day.

However, in the early 1930s higher levels of institutionalisation exposed paedology to stringent ideological scrutiny, embroiling it in factional struggles during a crucial stage of the Stalinist takeover. Mounting criticism of paedology led to the notorious 1936 Party Decree on Paedological Distortions in the System of Narkompros (the People's Commissariat of Education), which denounced the discipline as a reactionary pseudoscience, expunging it from the institutional map of Soviet research and education.

This research will result in the first comprehensive history of the rise and fall of Russian 'child study' between the 1880s and the 1930s, placing it in the wider context of the history of the human sciences and professions internationally.

A visual presentation of the research (in the form of a Prezi) is available here.

A web booklet with core information (in pdf format) is available for download here.

A preliminary report (12,000 words; in pdf format), dated November 2012 is available for download here.



This research has been made possible through the funds of the AHRC and British Academy

Contact Details

Professor Andy Byford
MLAC, Durham University
New Elvet, Elvet Riverside
Durham DH1 3JT
Tel: +44 (0) 191 33 43432
Fax. +44 (0)191 33 43421