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Title:The "right to be helped": welfare policies and notions of rights at the margins of Soviet society, 1917-1950
Author(s):Galmarini, Maria
Director of Research:Koenker, Diane P.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Koenker, Diane P.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Steinberg, Mark D.; Randolph, John W.; Burton, Antoinette M.
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Soviet Union
Human Rights
Marginal Social Groups
Single Mothers
Political Prisoners
Abstract:In this dissertation, I trace the course of ethically founded notions of rights in the Soviet experience from 1917 to 1950, focusing on the “right to be helped” as the entitlement to state assistance felt by four marginalized social groups. Through an analysis of the requests for help written by social activists on behalf of disabled children, blind and deaf adults, single mothers, and political prisoners, I examine the multiple and changing ideas that underlie the defense of this right. I reveal that both the Soviet state authorities and these marginalized social groups tended to reject charity as a form of unwanted condescension. In addition, state organs as well as petitioners applied legal notions of rights arbitrarily and situationally. However, political leaders, social activists, and marginalized citizens themselves engaged in dialogues that ultimately produced a strong, ethically grounded consciousness of rights. What I call “the right to be helped” was a framework of concepts, practices, and feelings that set the terms for what marginalized individuals could imagine and argue in relation to state assistance. As such, the right to be helped fundamentally reflected Soviet understandings of disability, generation, gender, labor merits, and human suffering. Composed of five thematically and case-study based chapters, this dissertation begins with an analysis of Soviet welfare policies towards unemployed and uninsured citizens. Then, it moves to the ways in which four communities of activists implemented these policies and advocated on behalf of their constituents. Throughout the chapters, I pay attention to the forces that shaped help from below by examining how single individuals formulated, sustained, and contested narratives of help in their everyday lives. Within this structure, I analyze evidence coming from a vast archival body and including the administrative correspondence of key ministries, the printed reports and handwritten notes of medical professionals, the archival documents and journal articles produced by Soviet relief organizations, individual petitions and complaints, memoirs and other autobiographical materials. My methodology involves textual close-reading and analysis of cultural practices, but also relies on institutional history and biography. I focus my attention on the semantic significance of concepts and chart their changing social constructions over time. However, I also go beyond the level of representation by exploring the socio-economic and political everyday conditions in which marginalized citizens articulated their claims. This dissertation reveals that the state’s criteria for approving requests for help were a blend of merits earned through one’s services to the collective (productive, military, or reproductive) and some sort of personal hardship (disability, loneliness, poverty, old age, or poor health). Disabled children and adults, unmarried mothers, and even political prisoners were entitled to help either by virtue of having given great effort or for having endured huge sacrifices. In either case, the Soviet state conceived their right to be helped as a form of remuneration. For Soviet marginalized individuals, it was a combination of legality, morality, and patronage that defined their right to be helped. Physically, socially, and politically deviant citizens relied on the power of personal patrons, but they also counted on laws and appealed to a shared ethos. While welfare legislation was set in a mesmerizing range of directives and codes, Soviet morality entailed an ensemble of ideas that – when resources were available – could effectively resonate with the targets of petitions for help. These ideas included evaluations of the performance of one’s duties and ideals of humanitarianism vis-à-vis poverty, disease and disability, generation, loneliness, and suffering. In the dialogues between state and non-state actors, all these factors were layered over and filtered through gender and traditional patriarchal visions of the family.
Issue Date:2012-09-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2012 Maria Galmarini
Date Available in IDEALS:2012-09-18
Date Deposited:2012-08

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