Hygiene propaganda and theatrical Biopolitics in the Soviet Union in the 1920's- 40's. The Moscow Theatre of the Sanitary Culture as a factory of the new man

This research project explores the role and impact of the official Soviet hygiene propaganda during the first three decades after the October Revolution, taking as an example the theatrical performances of health and disease. The political goal was to create a 'new man', as it was stated on the banners of the Bolshevik disciplinary power. The 'new man' required a complete physical and mental revival and thus a hygienic 'optimization' of the masses.  For that purpose, starting in the 1920's the theatrical performances were demonstrated in open-air theatres and clubhouses for workers and farmers. Even in the kolkhoz fields agitprop-revues, agit-trials, living newspapers and didactic plays were performed. Many of them addressed the prevailing problems of social health. The People’s Commissariat for Health Care organized most performances. Since 1925, the theatrical hygiene propaganda was centrally managed by the newly founded Moscow Theatre of the Sanitary Culture (TSC, 1925-1947).

The political importance of the popularization of healthcare knowledge has often been addressed in the historiography of the Soviet Union. However, the most advanced communicative means of 'sanitary alphabetization' at that time - the theatrical performances - have not been studied yet, although exactly that medium was in focus of the early Soviet hygienization. The Theatre as an art form, which uses the body as a means of communication, seemed to have been predestined to communicate the body knowledge. This project, which is located at the interface between the history of medicine and the historiography of the theatre, aims to close this research gap. Using archival materials of the TSC, the project will examine the possibilities and the limitations of theatrical medicalization and biopolitics in the political and cultural context of the early Soviet Union, taking into account steadily changing currents in the policies on theatre and concepts of social medicine.

Project lead: PD Dr. Igor J. Polianski
Project researcher: Dr. Oxana Kosenko
Funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)