The Psy-ences and Mental Health in East Central Europe & Eurasia (CfP, Conference, Chicago, April 26–27 2013)


From the New Socialist Person to Global Mental Health: the Psy-ences and Mental Health in East Central Europe and Eurasia

University of Chicago, Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies (CEERES)

Over the last three decades, the professions and disciplines concerned with the human mind, brain and behavior (“the psy-ences”) have undergone significant changes in the countries of East Central Europe and Eurasia. These transformations have articulated with global trends in mental health, but are also specific to the political economic collapse of the U.S.S.R. and other socialist states in 1989/91. This conference explores these two aspects of the psy-ences together.

As many researchers have pointed out, the shifts in disciplinary objects of knowledge and intervention – namely, mental illness and addictions –can be linked to the repeated social disruptions individuals, families and populations in all of these countries have experienced. While the most recent disruptions have emerged from the economic contraction and related austerity measures, the social upheaval, economic depression, abrupt cultural change, and in some cases, violent conflict, of the immediate post-socialist period are not necessarily distant memories for many living in the region.

The psy-ences in East Central Europe and Eurasia also have a long history as key sites for the articulation, enactment and contestation of claims about self, authority, normativity and belonging. Throughout much of the state-socialist period these professions were closely linked to the party-state’s broader project of producing the “new socialist person.”  Today, these professions bear a more complex relationship to the state as they manage transformations ranging from psychiatric reform and attempts to introduce principles of “global mental health” and harm reduction to the region, to the growing influence of biopsychiatry and pharmaceutical companies in determining definitions of health, to the rising popularity of psychological expertise in the development of human capital. Many of these changes have taken place in the domains of the market and civil society, where relatively novel interventions, ranging from psychotherapy to self-help programs to psychopharmaceuticals, all shape how people conceptualize not only mental pathology, but also personhood more generally.

This conference will focus on the psy-ences and their shifting objects of knowledge and intervention in the countries of East Central Europe and Eurasia.  Specifically, this forum will examine several key issues:

  1. psychiatry, psychology, psychopharmacology and addiction medicine as social institutions and fields of expertise in the region – from the state socialist period to the present day;
  2. discourses of mental health, madness, addiction, trauma, psychiatry and psychology among patients, laypeople, and expert publics;
  3. the forms of subjectivity, sociality and citizenship engendered by institutional changes in mental health care and social service provision, and the experience of patients, family members and caregivers navigating these systems;
  4. the multiple relationships and looping effects between these domains.

We invite papers by researchers in the social sciences, humanities and health sciences which address these issues in the countries of East Central Europe and Eurasia, including the Baltic States, Balkans, Caucasus, and Central Asia.

The conference will be held on April 26 and 27, 2013 at the University of Chicago. Please send a title and brief (max 300 word) abstract here by November 15, 2012. If you have questions, please contact Eugene Raikhel.  Selected participants will be notified in January 2013.


About Centre for Medical Humanities

Centre for Medical Humanities
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