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«January 2019»

CAS Guest Lecture Series

21 May 2015

Julian Chehirian (American University in Washington, DC) will give a talk on the topic: "The Body Speaks. Excavating Psychological Crisis in the People's Republic of Bulgaria" on 21 May 2015 (Thursday) at 16:00h at CAS conference hall.


What are human and cultural consequences of a government's standardization or suppression of approaches to mental healthcare? This lecture offers a critical inquiry into the social history of psychiatry and psychotherapy in Bulgaria. In 1950 a meeting of the Soviet Academy of Sciences catalyzed a totalizing transformation of psychiatry in the Eastern Bloc. An aggressively empirical, materialist and bio-physiologically oriented Pavlovian framework was declared at that meeting to be the only scientific approach to the study of psychology and the treatment of mental illness. In Bulgaria the decree was mirrored by a local Pavlovian committee and a re-orienting of national mental healthcare institutions and practices. "Western", bourgeois, psychoanalytic and individual-centric therapeutic methods were suppressed. Theoretical and pedagogical materials were censored. The lecture examines how a Communist-era restructuring of Bulgarian psychopathology affected individuals-in-crisis seeking help and understanding about distressing psychological and bodily experiences. It explores how the suppression of an integrated psychosomatic approach to diagnosis and therapy led to a theoretical and experiential shift in the perceived locus of individual's psychopathological symptoms. Specifically, how from the 1950's and onward the body increasingly became a surface for symptomatic "idioms of distress" for which individuals' means of articulation and psychiatrists' methods of interpretation and diagnosis narrowed.

Julian Chehirian is an interdisciplinary researcher with an interest in anthropologies of consciousness and social histories of science and medicine. His space of work is on intersections between individual embodied experience and abstracted bodies of scientific knowledge about human minds and bodies. He received his interdisciplinary BA in social history, philosophy and art history from American University in Washington, D.C. His past and present work examines philosophical and psychoanalytic concepts of intersubjectivity (psycho-developmental and psycho-social) as they can be applied to the study of social and political dimensions of experience. His project on the social history of psychopathology in Bulgaria have been stimulated by a 10-month period of archival, oral history and ethnographic work in Bulgaria during 2014-15, supported by the Fulbright foundation.


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