Author Archives: Svetlana Borodina

Svetlana Borodina is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Rice. Her work focuses on cultures of dis/ability and inclusion in contemporary Russia.
A black and white frame of a teacher holding guiding a child's hands as the child opens a russian doll. The teacher is sitting to the left from the child and is wearing a white medical coat.

Elements of disability inclusion in Soviet disability pedagogy

For someone interested in the genealogy of disability inclusion in Russia, Soviet disability pedagogy, known at the time under the name of defektologia, may seem to be a somewhat unexpected place to turn to. On the one hand, the Soviet system of korrektsionnoye [corrective] education for children with disabilities embodied isolationism and paternalism, the features which characterized Soviet disability governance more broadly (Shek 2005): schools for students with disabilities were built at a significant distance from the heart of urban life; they functioned predominantly as boarding schools, de facto exerting control over children’s mobility and public appearance; they often had little contact or interaction with mainstream schools and communities. On the other hand, Soviet disability pedagogy also produced moments when disability exclusion, otherwise naturalized across various domains of life, had been problematized and questioned. To them, I turn in this post. (read more...)

Does ‘Going Sighted’ Make Life Better? Undoing the Desire to Cure Blindness in Russia

In 2017, two Russian deafblind patients—Grigoriy Ulianov and Antonina Zakharchenko—received retinal implants, or so-called “bionic eyes.” Both patients were selected from a pool of applicants, having met the criteria of acquired blindness through retinitis pigmentosa and a capacity to perceive light but not contours of objects. Immediately after, the country’s major media outlets burst with numerous media reports. The titles ranged from the celebratory, such as Breakthrough in Russian Medicine: First Patient Got Bionic Eyes; Magician? Just a Doctor; The Miracle of the Bionic Eye; to the more restrained, with Second Russian Patient Will Receive a Cybereye This Fall; I See But Not Like You Do: On How The First Russian Patient with the Bionic Eye Lives. The overall tone of the reports was marked by magic, wonder, gratitude for the doctors, and profound satisfaction with the procedures. They were mostly celebratory and hopeful about the new possibility of converting up to (approximately) 50,000 blind Russian individuals to sight. In the context of a new federal policy orientation aimed at making Russia inclusive of different abilities, these reports emerged as a token of a hopeful future, in which problems with the well-being of blind individuals would be solved not through systemic measures, but instead, through eradicating blindness. I follow Alison Kafer (2013) in understanding this fantasy of desired technological enhancement as part of the normative curative public imagination. (read more...)