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Socialist Bodies: Dreams and Realities of the Physical in Soviet Russia (HI3J7)

This 30 CATS undergraduate final-year Advanced Option explores the history of the body in Soviet Russia from revolution to the collapse of the USSR, in light of revolutionary claims that socialism would bring about ‘a higher social-biologic type, or if you please, a superman’. We will consider the utopian visions of the ideal socialist body, as they were disseminated in propaganda, literature and art. We will trace the means by which the Soviet state sought to bring these visions to life – through healthcare, education and physical culture – and how Soviet citizens responded to the new social, emotional and sensory regimes of the body. Yet we will also consider how ideological understandings of the ideal socialist body intersected with the messy realities of the physical in Soviet Russia, and consider the ways in which questions of sexuality, degeneration, disability and disease were reconciled with the dreams of a revolutionary utopia.

Seminars will draw on a range of sources, including programmatic texts by key theorists of the revolutionary body, films, literature and the visual arts, works of popular science and personal memoirs. The history of the Soviet body is a fast-growing field in the humanities; this module will allow students to engage and be part of this developing field, and to contribute to our understanding of Soviet history as an embodied experience.