Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Lost to the State

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

Elena Khlinovskaya Rockhill
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Lost to the State
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-863-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. x-xi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. Notes on Transliteration
    (pp. xv-xv)
  6. List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-44)

    This book is based on the ethnographic study of ‘social orphanhood’ (sotsial’noe sirotstvo) in post-Soviet Russia.¹ ‘Social orphans’ is an idiom describing children (individuals up to 18 years of age) who have at least one living parent, and often members of their extended family, but who were left without parental care. This term lacks a clear definition. Official discourse distinguishes between biological orphans and ‘children left without parental care’ (deti,ostavshiyesya bez popecheniya roditelei). In public discourse the term ‘social orphans’ is often conflated with ‘children left without parental care’, but both are used to describe such categories of children...


    • Chapter 1 A Brief History of Family Policy in Russia
      (pp. 47-58)

      To contextualize my ethnographic data, I shall briefly introduce the main stages in the development of family policy in Soviet and post-Soviet times. The purpose of this overview is to illustrate the point that the power struggle between the state and the family we are witnessing today is a product of historical developments. Under socialism, as a direct result of state policies, an inextricable link between the state and the family had been established. The attempts to radically restructure society affected not only the state, gender and family construction, but inevitably changed the view on the child. Next I shall...

    • Chapter 2 The State as a Co-Parent
      (pp. 59-86)

      The Magadan Region belongs to the Far East Federal District of the Russian Federation and is located in north east Siberia, positioned between Chukotka to the north and the Khabarovsk region to the south. Currently its territory covers 462,500, with the population in 2000 reaching 202,000 inhabitants who lived in eight separate districts each with its own district administrative structure that answers to the regional administration. Magadan, a compact city built on a hill overlooking two bays, is the administrative centre of the region, the main seaport on the Sea of Okhotsk, and a home for 103,200 people. A...

    • Chapter 3 State and Family: Tilting the Balance of Power
      (pp. 87-102)

      So far I have described the practice of institutional placements where parents and the state served as partners in childcare, where the state lent a ‘helping hand’ to parents in difficult situations. The invisible power relationship was balanced because the parents adhered successfully to all requirements. The authorities see a departure from this ‘ideal’ type of state-parent cooperation as a deviation in need of correction. This can result in not only placements, but also the retention of the child in an institution by state agents, against the wishes of the parent(s) and often the children. There are many instances when...

    • Chapter 4 Parents Overwhelmed by the State
      (pp. 103-134)

      So far we have examined cases ranging from those where children were returned to their parents (Grigoriy) to those where a child was returned to the mother but was then readmitted to the Baby Home; the mother did not formally object to the court terminating her parental rights (Natalia). We also saw the desperation of one mother, Tamara, a ‘bad’ mother and a former institutional inmate with a history of mental illness. Her attempts at securing state assistance without being punished for her inability to provide for her children proved futile. Next we shall examine a court case where the...

    • Chapter 5 Norms and Deviance
      (pp. 135-174)

      The authorities maintain that it is in the best interests of the child to live in a family that is able to provide suitable ‘social-living conditions of upbringing’. The court hearing allows us to identify the major requirements of the state, these being the stipulations under which the state will return the child back to the parents. Underlying these requirements are the safety and wellbeing of the child. The ubiquitous use of the concept of ‘conditions’ by most state agencies and the importance assigned to it implies the crucial role of the environment in which the child grows up. Children...


    • Chapter 6 The State as a Sole Parent
      (pp. 177-210)

      To study social orphans is to study a separate self-contained world. For those who grew up in institutions from birth and did not manage to find their relatives, the experiences of ‘home’, ‘family’ and especially ‘parent’ are markedly different from those children who grew up in their birth families.

      A detailed ethnographic study of one institution, let alone three, would entail a separate project. Not being able to describe even a fraction of my observations, I tried to understand an institution as a model of a parent-child relationship, since the purpose of many of them is exactly that. Most children’s...

    • Chapter 7 The World of Social Orphans
      (pp. 211-254)

      Having observed and described some structural elements of the institutional system and the way various state agents make sense of it, in this chapter I will try to discover how the children actually experienced it. We shall learn not only to what extent the belief of the state agents in the ability of the state to serve as a parent is justified, but also what the ramifications of this particular view are for the children. What does it mean for them to have the state as a parent and what do such notions as ‘family’, ‘home’, ‘parent’ (which many of...


    • Chapter 8 The Continuing Soviet Legacy: Paradoxes of Change and Continuity
      (pp. 257-290)

      This study was challenging in that it took place simultaneously in two time periods, the present post-Soviet and past Soviet, with a time break in 1991 denoting time ‘before’ and ‘after’. Analysing present day-to-day activities constantly brought me back to the Soviet past via the memories of former residents, references made by state employees, and the analysis of official and historical documents. I had to unfold the intricate combination of practices and views that people remembered as existing ‘before’, and which continued into post-Soviet times, from those they considered to have arisen only in post-Soviet times. Next I shall reflect...

    • Chapter 9 The Post-Soviet Case in a Wider Context
      (pp. 291-312)

      In this part I would like to place the post-Soviet case in a wider context. The question to ask is whether these practices and attitudes, which were developed within a particular socio-political framework, are peculiar to (post-) Soviet society and are therefore different from those found in liberal democracies of Western Europe and the USA. Child welfare practices necessarily involve critiques of anthropology of parenting, a multifaceted area embodying kinship, family policy and politics, concepts of childhood, gender relations, issues of normativity and class, among other factors. An analysis of the literature on parenting in many European countries and the...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 313-324)

    In this book I try to find an answer to the question of why are there so many children without parental care in post-Soviet Russia. I suggest that focusing on actual or imagined breakdowns in the family via welfare mechanisms is a way of understanding childhood, family, individuals and their relationships to the state, as well as what constitutes normality and deviance and who gets to classify families and individuals as such.

    A timeline is important here. The infrastructure and practices of the child welfare system had been set up in Soviet times and were based on Soviet ideology, attitudes...

    (pp. 325-326)

    It has been ten years since I conducted my main fieldwork. Much has changed since then. The Guardianship Department has been completely overhauled; it moved to a new location and employs nine people, all new. I was told that the way they work withneblagopoluchniyeparents is very different now. From the old GD, Ekaterina retired shortly after my fieldwork and moved to thematerik, or western part of Russia, to join her family. Larisa still works for themeria, but in another department. Because of her lengthy experience, she is still being consulted on the matters related to her...

  13. Appendix 1. List of Documents Supplied to the Court by the Guardianship Department and the Baby Home in Maria’s Case
    (pp. 327-330)
  14. Appendix 2. Reminiscences of Two ‘Bad’ Childhoods
    (pp. 331-338)
  15. References
    (pp. 339-370)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 371-372)
  17. Index
    (pp. 373-384)