Kevin M.F. Platt. No Pain, no Gain: Trauma and Discipline in the Russian School

The topic of the 2013 Bathhouse Readings directs scholarly attention to the problem of «unofficial», «private» or «colloquial» memorialization of collective trauma. In my view, however, such a formulation necessarily turns our attention towards the mutual interrelationship of personal experience and social or official experience: according to Jeffrey Alexander, editor of the influential collection Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, there in fact is no individual «cultural trauma» that is not first constructed by social processes. In his words: «Trauma is not something naturally existing; it is something constructed by society»[1]. In light of such a theoretical position, I propose that we understand personal or «unofficial» response to historical trauma as a confrontation of the individual with socially constructed matrices of collective experience. In my previously works, I have posited that one of the specificities of the phenomenon of collective trauma in the Soviet Union and in post-Soviet Russia is its function as an element in a system of social-behavioral discipline, by which the subject is called to become a member of society by «taming» one’s knowledge and personal experience of historical events as well as one’s affective relationship to them. In my presentation, I will investigate one of the most important scenes of the confrontation of the individual with disciplinary mechanisms based on social construction of collective trauma—the Russian schoolroom. On the basis of my analysis not only of textbooks, but also of lesson plans for elementary instruction in history, I will shed light on the complex processes of domination and resistance, cooptation and adaptation that figure in this meeting of the individual with society.



[1] Jeffrey C. Alexander, "Toward a Theory of Cultural Trauma," in: Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, ed. by Jeffrey C. Alexander (Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 1-30, cit. on 1.