Sanitation, Urban Environment and the Politics of Public Health in Late Imperial Moscow

Level: 
Doctoral
Thesis author: 
Anna Mazanik
Status: 
Completed
Year of enrollment: 
2009/2010
Duration of thesis project: 
Sep, 2009 - Jun, 2015
Thesis supervisor: 
Alexei Miller
Full description: 

 

In the last decades of the nineteenth century Moscow's authorities launched an unprecedented campaign of urban sanitation, or “ozdorovleniye”, which relied on the newly established in Russia discipline of hygiene as its scientific basis. The centrality of health and sanitation to the idea of modernity, in combination with the portrayal of Russia as intrinsically “backward”, led Russian educated elites and medical professionals to see their mission as making the country healthier and cleaner to urgently bridge the perceived gap with “advanced” Western societies.
 This dissertation examines the activity of the late-imperial Moscow elites in the sphere of urban sanitation between the mid-1870s and 1905, the time when municipalities, empowered by  the new Municipal Statute, were  - together with zemstvos -  the highest elected political bodies in the Russian Empire.   The main research problems of the dissertation are: which motivations - scientific, ideological, social, or economic - were behind the sanitary reforms, who cared and why they cared and which shape their goals took in practice.
 The dissertation aims to bring the urban dimension to the history of late-imperial Russian medicine and public health and the health dimension to the Russian urban history. Although in nineteenth-century Russia the emerging field of public health became a highly politicized subject and contested arena of policy, scholars have devoted little attention to the local politics of health and the use of medical sciences in urban reforms.  
  In the recent decades the understanding of nineteenth century urban public health reforms as pillars of the emerging welfare state was subject to revision. Under the influence of a Foucauldian approach they were reinterpreted as disciplinary tactics, strategies of  surveillance and mechanisms of creating liberal subjects. In the field of Russian studies, Laura Engelstein argued that Foucauldian explanatory model generally does not apply to the Russian context because of the absence of rule of law. Daniel Beer objected to Engelstein's argument and claimed that not just the radical but also the liberal project of “ozdorovleniye” was by definition coercive and that imperial scientists and Russian liberalism in general were forerunners of the oppressive solutions of the Soviet regime. Beer, however, did not investigate how scientific knowledge and theories translated into public policy in pre-revolutionary Russia - the problem that is tackled in the present dissertation.
 The general approach to the historical sources in the project combines intellectual history of scientific and political debates with the analysis of the actual social policy in the sphere of sanitary regulation. The dissertation  relies primarily on the holdings of the Moscow city archive as its source base and consists of five chapters.   
Chapter 1 explains the organization of public health in post-Reform Russia, its legal and institutional framework, and discusses the discipline of hygiene that provided the scientific grounds for the sanitary reforms.  It argues that in Russia hygiene and bacteriology were not in opposition, but instead hygiene embraced  new bacteriological discoveries and remained the umbrella science for the campaign against disease.
Chapter 2 introduces the social, legal and political context of Moscow, the periodization and the general dynamics of the sanitary reforms and the actors involved. It highlights the major themes in the city discussions on sanitation: 1) Moscow's perceived “backwardness” and the necessity to catch up with the “European standard”; 2) the “public good” seen as the moral obligation of the municipality and the city elites to improve the life of the urban poor through promoting science and public health at the expense of the city; 3) municipalization of all health-related services presented as the best mechanism of overcoming “backwardness” and achieving “public good”. 
 The three remaining chapters are the case-studies of specific sanitary reforms.  Chapter 3 looks at the reform of syphilis prevention, which resulted in the creation of free medical services for those suffering from venereal disease. Chapter 4 explores the construction and operation of the public abattoir that marked a major step in establishing sanitary control over food products. Chapter 5 studies the campaign against river pollution and the appearance of the sewerage system -  a fundamental change in the collection, removal and treatment of urban wastes. 
The dissertation argues that the sanitary undertakings of the municipal project of “ozdorovleniye”  implied both “serving the people” and disciplining them. The service to the urban community and to the ideals of public good was expressed in applying scientific knowledge, technology and the municipal resources to fight disease and provide medical assistance to those in need. The disciplinary mechanisms were introduced through constructing, disseminating and imposing new norms of “healthy”, “hygienic” or “civilized” behavior and training the “uncultured” people to live their life according to the model that the elites had in mind.  Both of these entangled processes were hindered by the social and political realities of the Russian Empire, particularly the remarkable volatility of the urban population, the scarcity of city finances, the limited legal competence of the municipal government and its lack of juridical, administrative and symbolic power over the city population.  The dissertation stresses, however, that it was not only these external factors that limited the implementation of the municipal “public good” goals but that understanding of the “public good” was  in itself very narrow, and the vision of serving urban community had strong disciplinary overtones. Yet, surveillance and disciplining functioned effectively only in respect to selected social groups, while the circle of potential beneficiaries of the newly-created public health structures was much wider.  

In the last decades of the nineteenth century Moscow's authorities launched an unprecedented campaign of urban sanitation, or “ozdorovleniye”, which relied on the newly established in Russia discipline of hygiene as its scientific basis. The centrality of health and sanitation to the idea of modernity, in combination with the portrayal of Russia as intrinsically “backward”, led Russian educated elites and medical professionals to see their mission as making the country healthier and cleaner to urgently bridge the perceived gap with “advanced” Western societies.

 This dissertation examines the activity of the late-imperial Moscow elites in the sphere of urban sanitation between the mid-1870s and 1905, the time when municipalities, empowered by  the new Municipal Statute, were  - together with zemstvos -  the highest elected political bodies in the Russian Empire.   The main research problems of the dissertation are: which motivations - scientific, ideological, social, or economic - were behind the sanitary reforms, who cared and why they cared and which shape their goals took in practice.

 The dissertation aims to bring the urban dimension to the history of late-imperial Russian medicine and public health and the health dimension to the Russian urban history. Although in nineteenth-century Russia the emerging field of public health became a highly politicized subject and contested arena of policy, scholars have devoted little attention to the local politics of health and the use of medical sciences in urban reforms.  

  In the recent decades the understanding of nineteenth century urban public health reforms as pillars of the emerging welfare state was subject to revision. Under the influence of a Foucauldian approach they were reinterpreted as disciplinary tactics, strategies of  surveillance and mechanisms of creating liberal subjects. In the field of Russian studies, Laura Engelstein argued that Foucauldian explanatory model generally does not apply to the Russian context because of the absence of rule of law. Daniel Beer objected to Engelstein's argument and claimed that not just the radical but also the liberal project of “ozdorovleniye” was by definition coercive and that imperial scientists and Russian liberalism in general were forerunners of the oppressive solutions of the Soviet regime. Beer, however, did not investigate how scientific knowledge and theories translated into public policy in pre-revolutionary Russia - the problem that is tackled in the present dissertation.

 The general approach to the historical sources in the project combines intellectual history of scientific and political debates with the analysis of the actual social policy in the sphere of sanitary regulation. The dissertation  relies primarily on the holdings of the Moscow city archive as its source base and consists of five chapters.   

Chapter 1 explains the organization of public health in post-Reform Russia, its legal and institutional framework, and discusses the discipline of hygiene that provided the scientific grounds for the sanitary reforms.  It argues that in Russia hygiene and bacteriology were not in opposition, but instead hygiene embraced  new bacteriological discoveries and remained the umbrella science for the campaign against disease.

Chapter 2 introduces the social, legal and political context of Moscow, the periodization and the general dynamics of the sanitary reforms and the actors involved. It highlights the major themes in the city discussions on sanitation: 1) Moscow's perceived “backwardness” and the necessity to catch up with the “European standard”; 2) the “public good” seen as the moral obligation of the municipality and the city elites to improve the life of the urban poor through promoting science and public health at the expense of the city; 3) municipalization of all health-related services presented as the best mechanism of overcoming “backwardness” and achieving “public good”. 

 The three remaining chapters are the case-studies of specific sanitary reforms.  Chapter 3 looks at the reform of syphilis prevention, which resulted in the creation of free medical services for those suffering from venereal disease. Chapter 4 explores the construction and operation of the public abattoir that marked a major step in establishing sanitary control over food products. Chapter 5 studies the campaign against river pollution and the appearance of the sewerage system -  a fundamental change in the collection, removal and treatment of urban wastes. 

The dissertation argues that the sanitary undertakings of the municipal project of “ozdorovleniye”  implied both “serving the people” and disciplining them. The service to the urban community and to the ideals of public good was expressed in applying scientific knowledge, technology and the municipal resources to fight disease and provide medical assistance to those in need. The disciplinary mechanisms were introduced through constructing, disseminating and imposing new norms of “healthy”, “hygienic” or “civilized” behavior and training the “uncultured” people to live their life according to the model that the elites had in mind.  Both of these entangled processes were hindered by the social and political realities of the Russian Empire, particularly the remarkable volatility of the urban population, the scarcity of city finances, the limited legal competence of the municipal government and its lack of juridical, administrative and symbolic power over the city population.  The dissertation stresses, however, that it was not only these external factors that limited the implementation of the municipal “public good” goals but that understanding of the “public good” was  in itself very narrow, and the vision of serving urban community had strong disciplinary overtones. Yet, surveillance and disciplining functioned effectively only in respect to selected social groups, while the circle of potential beneficiaries of the newly-created public health structures was much wider.