Repository logo

Lost to the state: family discontinuity, social orphanhood, and residential care in the Russian Far East



Change log


Rockhill, Elena Khlinovskaya 


My thesis examines the phenomenon of 'social orphanhood' today and is based on twelve months' fieldwork in the cities of Magadan and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russian Far East. 'Social orphans' are children without parental care. By 2003 the number of these children has reached 776,000 and is increasing by about 100,000 a year, raising serious concerns over the viability of the post-Soviet family. One-third of social orphans are brought up in state residential care institutions despite having parents or close relatives. Starting from an examination of Soviet concepts of the child and of the structure and functions of residential care institutions, I explore tensions in the balance of power between parents and the State, whereby parents have been judged as good or bad, and state resources have been directed towards separating a child from a family in difficulty, rather than towards supporting the family as a whole. Building on interviews and transcripts of court hearings in which parents are deprived of parental rights, and using concepts of power, agency and voice, I analyse key terms and values (such as normal and deviant) in the discourse surrounding the process of separation. Later chapters explore the world of the child once separated from the family, as their "Rake's Progress" through successive institutions leads them into an irreversible institutional culture and onwards into a world of alienation from society and often to prison. In analysing informants' narratives I focus in particular on their experiences of intellectual and emotional deprivation, making reference to theories from child psychology. Finally I consider the striking paradox that the individualistic post-Soviet society of today seems to be continuing and even increasing the role of Soviet-style institutional structures based on classic Soviet values. By relating the earlier discussion of deviance to theories of witchcraft accusations and show trials I show how the current system of separating children from their families is sustained by a distinctive modern, post-Soviet discourse of accusation and blame. This research unites concerns from anthropology and social work, and is aimed at decision-makers, practitioners and policy-makers as well as at scholars. Having listened helplessly to so many private narratives and one-sided dialogues in the courtroom, I also hope to give voice to those parents and children whose experiences are otherwise muted.




Vitebsky, Piers



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Digitisation of this thesis was sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.