9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS01 Sociology and Disability

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Categorising and Imagining Disability Building II, C3.01

Disability imagined: heroes and spongers in Soviet visual policy

The different forms of visual arts, including propaganda contributed into political discourse of socialist society using old and new imaginary for classifying Soviet citizens in different historical periods. Posters and propaganda films provided an effective vehicle for conveying Bolshevik interpretation of citizenship through the issues of ability, gender and age. The Soviet strategies of modernization included the taylorization of disability rooted in scientific management approach in industry as the pre-revolutionary film clearly demonstrates. The early Soviet propaganda film is structured along such important dichotomies as capitalism vs. socialism, experts vs. the disabled, disability vs. shock work, workers vs. spongers, backward vs. technically advanced, - all that along with the notions of pure collective political identity depict social context of industrialization, collectivization, campaign against wage-leveling, etc. The most persistent approach of Soviet disability iconography was "who does not work does not eat", which resulted in legitimacy of differential social inclusion. Mental impairment, women, children and elderly were excluded from the war and labour heroics of Soviet disability discourse. State control and isolating forms of care provision increased, so that by the 1960s there was little chance that a disabled person could have economic independence, and a general suspicion of the disabled as an irresponsible sponger is seen in posters and movies along with traditional connotations of victimization, pity, and heroism. While the State continued to present itself as a rich and responsible provider throughout the "Zastoi" (stagnation) years, a sense of rebellion and liberation was revealing itself in underground literature, until the idea of "rights" reached the light in the years of post-Soviet freedom. Disability at large appears as an iconic sign, a metaphor conveying meanings of misery and fear derived from religious and folk traditions. New connotations have been attached to and detached from disability in Soviet and post-Soviet times in a long process of shaping value system of socialism and then re-drawing the imaginary map according to landmarks of the new bureaucracy, human rights movement and the market.