Ethnographic Perspectives on Emotion in a Russian Orphanage

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Abstract

The latter half of the twentieth century saw the West largely pursuing policies of deinstitutionalisation in orphan care, with orphanages seen as spaces of extreme emotional deprivation capable of causing considerable harm to their inhabitants. Yet, large-scale institutionalisation of orphaned children persists in many countries across the globe. The Russian Federation is one such country that retains a large system of institutional care for orphaned children, and is the focus of this article. In considering the role of emotion in Russian orphan care it makes two contributions; first, it provides an overview of how the macro-institutional landscape of orphan care has been (de)constructed in the West and Russia through psychological theories of emotional attachment. Second, drawing upon the author’s ethnographic work in a Russian orphanage for children with intellectual disabilities, it examines the importance of emotion in the lives of three groups (staff, volunteers, orphans), and how inter-personal relationships impact upon resident orphaned children. Through a consideration of the orphanage as a hybrid space, comprising a domestic and a work environment, this article builds upon existing work in social studies of childhood on the role of interpersonal emotions, such as fear in public spaces, and offers insights into the impact of such emotions on the lives of vulnerable children. This article reveals the ways emotional conflicts between staff and volunteers impact significantly upon the provision and quality of care for the resident children within this institution. Such ethnographic perspectives provide nuance to the literature on orphanages, which at present remains largely quantitative and bio-psychological and, thus, lacks an understanding of the everyday of such spaces. Finally, these contributions provide a window into the institutional worlds that the Russian government now seeks to adapt with recent changes in state social policy, and illustrates the challenges ahead in implementing these changes.
Translated title of the contributionEthnographic Perspectives on Emotion in a Russian Orphanage
Original languageRussian
Pages (from-to)407-420
Number of pages14
JournalThe Journal of Social Policy Studies/Zhurnal Issledovaniy Sotsial'noy Politiki
Volume15
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017

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