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Lost to the State: Family Discontinuity, Social Orphanhood and Residential Care in the Russian Far East

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Lost to the State

Family Discontinuity, Social Orphanhood and Residential Care in the Russian Far East

Elena Khlinovskaya Rockhill

336 pages, 20 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-738-9 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (December 2010)

eISBN 978-1-84545-863-8 eBook

Hb   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


Reflecting long-standing anthropological and sociological interests in bureaucracy and institutions, as well as in kinship and the family, this book provides a wealth of ethnographic data about vulnerable children in the new Russia, their relationships to their parents, the state, and each other….It is difficult to do justice to this complex book in a short space. As a study of children in institutions, it is revealing and, thanks to the outstanding writing, often very moving…This is a profound study of kinship and its consequences which deserves a very wide readership.  ·  JRAI

This study is extremely well done; a fluently written, scholarly account and analysis that provides a necessary addition to the “post-Soviet” literature, which has few such sharp analyses of the family, not least because the author takes on relevant debates and histories that both add considerable depth to this discussion and widen the applicability of the primary focus. Thus, we are given a marvellously careful and detailed insight into the workings of a provincial bureaucracy still shaped by the mores and customs of a Soviet bureaucracy but now faced with the sharply different context of the post-Soviet world.  ·  Catherine Alexander, Goldsmiths College, London


Childhood held a special place in Soviet society: seen as the key to a better future, children were imagined as the only privileged class. Therefore, the rapid emergence in post-Soviet Russia of the vast numbers of vulnerable ‘social orphans’, or children who have living relatives but grow up in residential care institutions, caught the public by surprise, leading to discussions of the role and place of childhood in the new society. Based on an in-depth study the author explores dissonance between new post-Soviet forms of family and economy, and lingering Soviet attitudes, revealing social orphans as an embodiment of a long-standing power struggle between the state and the family. The author uncovers parallels between (post-) Soviet and Western practices in child welfare and attitudes towards ‘bad’ mothers, and proposes a new way of interpreting kinship where the state is an integral member.

Elena Khlinovskaya Rockhill was born in Russia and first trained as a Biologist. In 2004 she received her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from Darwin College, Cambridge University. From 2004–2007 she worked as a Research Associate at the Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge University. She was a 2007 Wenner-Gren Hunt Postdoctoral Fellow, and a PI for an ESF-funded international project ‘Moved by the State: Perspectives on Relocation and Resettlement in the Circumpolar North’ at the University of Alberta, Canada (2007–2010).

Subject: General Anthropology
Area: Central/Eastern Europe


List of Figures and Tables
Notes on Transliteration
List of Acronyms and Abbreviations


  • The Scope of the Problem What is this Study About?
  • Time Line: Soviet and Post-Soviet Notes on Methodology
  • Theoretical and Conceptual Framework


Chapter 1. A Brief History of Family Policy in Russia

  • Pre-Revolutionary Shelters and the Concept of the Child
  • The Soviet Period: Family Discontinuity and Children-out-of-Family

Chapter 2. The State as a Co-Parent

  • Fieldsite: Magadan
  • The Child Welfare Network
  • Residential Care Institutions and their Functions
  • Categories of the Family
  • The Benevolent State and ‘Good’ Parents: Voluntary Placements and Cooperation

Chapter 3. State and Family: Tilting the Balance of Power

  • Neblagopoluchnye Parents: Tension between the State and the Family
  • ‘Inadequate Fulfilment of Parental Duties’
  • Working with the Neblagopoluchnaya Family

Chapter 4. Parents Overwhelmed by the State

  • ‘Child Appropriation’: The Case Study of Maria
  • Court Hearings
  • Deprivation of Voice and Disempowerment of the Parent

Chapter 5. Norms and Deviance

  • The ‘Best Interests of the Child’: Moral Judgement of the Parent
  • The Child’s Biological Family: The Severance of Ties and ‘Symbolic Death’ of Parents
  • The Construction of Family by the State: A Society of Virtual Kin


Chapter 6. The State as a Sole Parent

  • The Rake’s Progress: The Child’s Journey through Residential Homes
  • The Cosmology of Institutions

Chapter 7. The World of Social Orphans

  • Experiencing Institutions: Narratives of Former Inmates
  • Misha’s Signposts of Institutional Life
  • Unpacking Parent-Child Obligations: Dispersed Responsibility and Accountability
  • Two Worlds: Orphans and the Wider Society


Chapter 8. The Continuing Soviet Legacy: Paradoxes of Change and Continuity

  • Childhood and Family Today: The Shifting Domains of Public and Private Continuity of Practices and Attitudes
  • ‘Moral Panic’: Current Descendants of Witchcraft
  • Accusations and Show Trials
  • Self-Perpetuation of the System
  • Alternative Approaches

Chapter 9. The Post-Soviet Case in a Wider Context


  • Modes of relatedness
  • Power Asymmetry

Appendix I: List of Documents Supplied to the Court by the Guardianship Department and the Baby Home in Maria’s Case
Appendix II: Reminiscences of Two ‘Bad’ Childhoods


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