Shock Therapy

Psychology, Precarity, and Well-Being in Postsocialist Russia

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 32 illustrations Published: May 2018

Author: Tomas Matza

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, European Studies > Eastern Europe and Russia

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia witnessed a dramatic increase in psychotherapeutic options, which promoted social connection while advancing new forms of capitalist subjectivity amid often-wrenching social and economic transformations. In Shock Therapy Tomas Matza provides an ethnography of post-Soviet Saint Petersburg, following psychotherapists, psychologists, and their clients as they navigate the challenges of post-Soviet life. Juxtaposing personal growth and success seminars for elites with crisis counseling and remedial interventions for those on public assistance, Matza shows how profound inequalities are emerging in contemporary Russia in increasingly intimate ways as matters of selfhood. Extending anthropologies of neoliberalism and care in new directions, Matza offers a profound meditation on the interplay between ethics, therapy, and biopolitics, as well as a sensitive portrait of everyday caring practices in the face of the confounding promise of postsocialist democracy.


"Shock Therapy dissembles the many layers of psychotherapists’ personalities and practice with rigour, making poignant and nuanced observations about the state of contemporary Russia. . . . The role reversal of putting psychotherapists on the couch means that Matza is not only able to probe deep into the phenomena of psychotherapy, but also give a human face to the flux of post-socialist Russia." — Michael Warren, LSE Review of Books

"Tomas Antero Matza's focus on 'the incommensurability of care and biopolitics' reveals much about Russia in the 21st century. . . . Shock Therapy contains much information about an aspect of post-communist Russia that is seldom seriously examined or analyzed. . . .  Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, and professionals." — T. R. Weeks, Choice

"Shock Therapy provides a beautifully written, rich, and nuanced ethnographic account of psychotherapeutic care in Putin’s Russia. . . . Matza's contributions make the book well worth reading not only for area specialists, but for anyone interested in analyzing expertise in a world in flux." — Anna Geltzer, Russian Review

"Tomas Matza's Shock Therapy is an insightful, careful, and methodologically pristine engagement with mental health services in a rapidly changing society. It is essential reading for scholars working in clinical spaces where practitioners intervene on human behavior, desire, agency and will, interpretation of experience, or any other aspect of the individual’s inscrutable mental interior." — Jennifer J. Carroll, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"Eschewing an easy strawman of neoliberalism, Matza explores a perpetually unfinalized postsocialism that emerges intersubjectively, even as it is overdetermined by institutional pathways and practices. In this sense, Matza’s text is exemplary of the ways that postsocialist anthropology has defined an analytics of uncertainty." — Ben Krupp and Jessica Greenberg, Somatosphere

"By placing his analytical emphasis on commensurability and incommensurability, Matza offers readers some fascinating paths out of his own ethnographic locations and into other domains of post-Soviet life, where questions of what lines up with what, and what can be transformed into what, have been so often at stake."
  — Douglas Rogers, Somatosphere

"Shock Therapy is a remarkable ethnography that effectively weaves together new psychological practices, concerns about well-being, shifting modes of power, and the remaking of the self and sociality in postsocialist Russia at a time marked by profound changes, precarity, and social anxiety. Beautifully crafted and written, it brings the readers into vivid and intimate ethnographic settings while offering numerous careful yet provocative insights into the therapeutic turn and its broader sociopolitical ramifications within a transforming society."
  — Li Zhang, Somatosphere

"Matza conducts a scrupulous and highly-theorized analysis of the emergence of psychological therapeutics as they affect Russian children, parents, wider society, and very specifically mental health professionals." — Dominic Martin, Slavic Review

"Tomas Matza’s first monograph is an impressive close-up portrayal of psychotherapeutic networks and institutions that took shape after the collapse of the Soviet Union in St. Petersburg, Russia. . . . Perhaps, like no other study of postsocialist Russia, the book actively and persistently situates its ethnography within the debates that are taking place in American anthropology and critical theory. With a theoretical virtuosity that would be hard to match, Matza could turn almost any ethnographic encounter or a concept into a gateway to the history of Western social thought." — Serguei Alex. Oushakine, Anthropological Quarterly

"Beyond readers interested in psy-ences in the post-Socialist world for whom Shock Therapy should become a central reference, this book’s theoretical insights and ethnographic attention will be highly informative to all those interested in the practice of psychotherapy as well as to all interested in neoliberalism and governmentality. Thanks to the clarity of its style and its ability to be rigorous without being obscure and because, through psychotherapy, the book gives an account of how people have been ethically and politically engaged in the post-Soviet world, I would also recommend this book to all who are interested in post-Soviet Russia." — Grégoire Hervouet-Zeiber, Anthropology of East Europe Review

"Shock Therapy cogently connects psychotherapy to life in Russia over the last three decades. Matza provides a closing update based on a 2012 visit and suggests that Putin’s third term indicates a continuing role for institutional psychotherapeutic care." — J.S. McCartney, International Social Science Review

"A masterful ethnography of the psychotherapeutic turn in post-Soviet Russia. . . . Shock Therapy makes a major contribution to the anthropology of care, the anthropology of the psy-ences, and the literature on the Post-Soviet transition." — Dörte Bemme, Anthropological Forum

"Matza's contribution to the analysis of post-Soviet studies, neoliberalism, biopolitics, ethics, care work, mental health, and more is simply immense. Rest assured that his goal that this book not be 'another story of capitalist individualism spread through a psychotherapeutic medium' has been realized." — Shelley Yankovskyy, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“A compelling ethnographic inquiry into psychotherapies that arose in Russia in the immediate post-Soviet moment, Shock Therapy examines forms of ‘self­-work’ that Russians employ to reckon with their futures in increasingly precarious times. Tomas Matza is especially attentive to the class differences and dynamics that psychological expertise reproduces and exacerbates, despite the progressive orientation of many of the experts. This central conundrum informs Matza’s reflections on the specific contexts, from public clinics for ‘problem children’ to radio talk shows, in which psychotherapy circulates in Russia today.” — Elizabeth Anne Davis, author of Bad Souls: Madness and Responsibility in Modern Greece

“In Shock Therapy Tomas Matza offers an extensive, richly elaborated, and wonderfully nuanced history of psychotherapy as a profession while carefully attending to the ways new notions of selfhood became incorporated into an array of psychotherapeutic approaches as market economics burst into Russia. Immensely important and ethnographically, historically, and theoretically innovative, Shock Therapy intervenes in key anthropological debates about affect, biopolitics, care, and neoliberalism.” — Michele Rivkin-Fish, author of Women’s Health in Post-Soviet Russia: The Politics of Intervention


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Tomas Matza is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Prelude: Bury That Part of Oneself  xvii
Introduction: An Yet . . .  1
Part I. Biopoliticus Interruptus  31
Interlude: Russian Shoes  33
1. "Tears of Bitterness and Joy": The Haunting Subject in Soviet Biopolitics  37
Part II. (In)Commensurability  67
Interlude: Family Problems  69
2. "Wait, and the Train Will Have Left": The Success Complex and Psychological Difference  71
3. "Now, Finally, We are Starting to Relax": On Civilizing Missions and Democratic Desire  104
4. "What Do We Have the Right to Do?": Tactical Guidance at a Social Margin  133
Part III. In Search of a Politics  165
Interlude: Public Spaces  167
5. "I Can Feel His Tears": Psychosociality under Putin  171
6. "Hello, Lena, You Are on the Air": Talk-Show Selves and the Dream of Public Intimacy  197
Postlude: Subjects of Freedom  225
Conclusion: And Yet . . . So What?  227
Notes  243
References  275
Index  295
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7076-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7061-1
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