Soviet psychiatry and the origins of the sluggish schizophrenia concept, 1912–1936

History of the Human Sciences 31 (2):88-105 (2018)
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This article seeks to understand the origins of the Soviet concept of ‘sluggish schizophrenia’, a diagnostic category that was used to imprison political dissidents in the post-WWII era. It focuses on the 1920s and 1930s, a period when Soviet psychiatrists attempted to find ways to diagnose schizophrenia at its earliest stages. The new Soviet state supported these efforts, funding new institutions where clinicians encountered types of patients they had not previously studied. Conceptual disagreements arose about what symptoms could be used to diagnose schizophrenia, and how it could be differentiated from other ‘borderline’ mental disorders such as neurosis and psychopathy. Several research groups used their findings to propose new clinical concepts, including ‘mild schizophrenia’ and sluggish schizophrenia. By the early 1930s Soviet psychiatrists no longer shared a basic consensus about schizophrenia. At the same time, the priorities of the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin ceased to support preventative psychiatry. The result was a 1936 ‘discussion’ at which the concept of mild schizophrenia was criticized and sluggish schizophrenia was held up as a model for how the discipline should develop in the future.



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