Medicine, Law, and the State in Imperial Russia

$111.00 / €95.00 / £90.00
Publication date: 
412 pages

Examines the theoretical and practical outlook of forensic physicians in Imperial Russia, from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, arguing that the interaction between state and these professionals shaped processes of reform in contemporary Russia. It demonstrates the ways in which the professional evolution of forensic psychiatry in Russia took a different turn from Western models, and how the process of professionalization in late imperial Russia became associated with liberal legal reform and led to the transformation of the autocratic state system.

Demonstrates the processes by which legal, social, and institutional authority was invested in disciplinary, scientific knowledge, and how these processes were linked to the shaping of a particular vision of legality tailored to Russia’s social and political conditions. Identifying the ways in which social actors merged legal reform efforts with their professional objectives, it argues that this interrelationship was productive of a particular occupational perspective and course of reform, rather than an underdeveloped shadow of developments in Western, liberal states.

List of Illustrations


Chapter 1 Procedural Immunity: Medical Knowledge in the Age of Legal Certainty

Chapter 2 On the Cusp of Reform: Making the Expert Scientific

Chapter 3 Legal Mechanics: Carving Out a New Identity

Chapter 4 Criminal Procedure in Social Context

Chapter 5 Reform and the Role of Medical Expertise



"Der „Verbrecher“ am Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts war ein ganz anderer als noch 50 Jahre zuvor. War ein Mörder beispielsweise kriminell oder nicht eher krank? Diese Frage wurde im Verlaufe des 19. Jahrhunderts in den russischen Gerichten – ebenso wie in denen des westlichen Europas – oft verhandelt. Den Schuldspruch fällten die Geschworenen, das Urteil der Richter; doch die eigentliche Instanz, die über die Schuldfähigkeit des Delinquenten entschied, waren Mediziner. Von Medizinern im und vor Gericht handelt das Buch Elisa M. Beckers. Sie spannt den Bogen weit: Chronologisch von den Militärstatuten Peters des Großen aus dem Jahre 1716, in denen erstmals die Rolle der Mediziner rechtlich geregelt wurde, bis zum Auftauchen der Psychiatrie am Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts. Sie analysiert Rolle und Funktion der Medizin und untersucht die Reichweite medizinischer Gutachten vor Gericht. Im Rahmen der Rechtsreform der 1860er-Jahre kam es zwischen Juristen und Medizinern zu einer... more
"Becker contributes to a growing body of scholarship on civil society and professionalization in Imperial Russia, arguing that rather than distancing themselves from the system, specialists engaged with, participated in, and supported the state’s reform efforts. In contrast to much of the literature on civil society and the intelligentsia in Imperial Russia that has focused on spaces of independence apart from the autocracy, Becker emphasizes the importance of the professionals’ relationship with the state. She argues that medical-legal professionals supported the state and its reform efforts, seeing their relationship with the state as essential for the development of their professional identity. Becker argues, forensic experts challenged the traditional hierarchies for conferring social status and authority, both undermining the autocratic system and creating the foundations for an independent medical profession. Additionally, Becker does a fine job of situating the... more
"This well-researched study provides extensive evidence of the intertwining of the medical and legal fields with political, social, and cultural developments in imperial Russia. It is an excellent work and valuable addition to the field."
"Becker achieves many things in her fine monograph, but the most significant is to illuminate the neglected but vital subject of Russian doctors as state officials. Very broadly, she shows Russian doctors as they actually were rather than how some of them wished to be. Becker's focus, that of forensic medicine, is also innovative because she chooses to study a body of expertise that bridges the disciplines of medicine and law. Especially in its illumination of the state-service role of physicians, this book should reorient the history of Russian medicine before 1917. It is a tour-de-force, essential reading for anyone studying Soviet as well as pre-Revolutionary professions"
"Becker has captured an essential aspect of Russian imperial culture, which retains its force today in the post-Soviet Russian Federation: the state was the ultimate source of status and identity for the vast majority of Russian subjects, even those who entered the so-called free professions... Becker's citations demonstrate her grasp of the comparative literature and the published primary and secondary sources... The illustrations are well chosen and illuminating. Becker's writing is clear, if somewhat repetitive, making the study accessible to a broad readership."
"Die Historikerin Elisa Becker befasst sich mit einem bisher wenig beachteten Thema des Medizingeschichte an der Grenze zur Rechtsgeschichte: der Interaktion zweier Professionen, der des Mediziners und des Juristen, bei den Entwicklung des forensischen Psychiatrie als Disziplin. Die Arbeit verbindet überzeugend die notwendige faktographische Ebene mit Diskursen. Becker argumentiert überzeugend und auf solider Quellenbasis. Im Ergebnis liegt eine gut lesbare Monographie vor, deren materieller Ertrag nicht gering zu veranschlagen ist. Osteuropahistorikern des späten Zarenreiches kann sie als Studie zu einer longue durée von Professionalisierung und, breiter noch, Modernisierung dienen, die geeignet ist, den Zäsur-Charakter der 1860er Jahre zu relativieren."
"L’ouvrage restitue une recherche minutieuse sur les évolutions des procédures pénales dans la Russie impériale et de la fonction du médecin légiste dans celle-ci. Il donne à voir son rôle central dans la collecte des preuves dès le début du XIXe siècle et l’évolution progressive de sa fonction vers celle d’expert indépendant. L’auteur a repris des affaires célèbres comme le cas Karakazov, auteur de la tentative d’assassinat de l’Empereur Alexandre II, ou le cas Protopopov, petit fonctionnaire qui agressa physiquement son supérieur après la promotion d’un de ses collègues et défraya la chronique. Grace aux archives des administrations judiciaires et médicales, l’auteur illustre l’évolution de la profession d’expert médical à mesure des tentatives de transformation de l’institution judiciaire au tournant des années 1860. Elisa M. Becker montre que, dans le contexte russe, autocratie et corps médical ont fait bon ménage. La vérité du l’une a servi les intérêts de l’autre. L’... more
"Elisa Becker takes a broad perspective. Instead of looking for new Western-style patterns in post-emancipation Russia (like 'free' professions), she emphasizes the persistence of traditions dating back to the time of Tzar Peter I. This perspective makes sense for her field of research - jurists, and especially physicians. Becker has organized her book into chronological chapters that go well beyond a simple comparison of the pre-reform and post-reform contribution of physicians to forensic medicine, adding a detailed reading of the new judicial laws in between. The reforms are not presented as a cataclysm, but as a challenge the medical personnel mastered. Many exciting points she makes in passing - like the specific Russian culture of objectivity - will excite specialists of the history of medicine."
"This impressive book opens new paths of consideration for our understanding of the evolution of Russia’s professions. Elisa Becker approaches her story from a very rewarding and challenging angle: examining the development of medical disciplinary authority in autocratic Russia across the entire imperial period, she focuses on an occupational group that by its very definition — given in Peter the Great’s Military Statute from 1716, which defined the state physician as forensic physician — assumed a pivotal position at the intersection of autocratic policies, and both the legal and medical professions. Becker takes the challenge to bridge the gap between heretofore isolated histories of either Russian medicine or Russian law in order to scrutinize the mechanics by which the emergence of the two closely intertwined professions was inherently linked to the transformation in legal structures in the reform and post-reform period. Ultimately, the book departs from many common... more
"This study is an important contribution to the history of Russian professions, poviding a close examination of evolving boundary interactions between doctors and jurists, as well as a careful analysis of the regulation of professional work, status and identity within the structures of the Russian autocratic state. Becker is especially persuasive in tracing significant continuities between the pre- and post-reform era, which she presents as the layering of new professional prinicipies onto old pocedural rules, producing new hybrid forms of professional self-definition. Becker's work, as a rare systematic exploration of specifially inter-professional relations in Russia, should be applauded as a considerable achievement that will no-doubt provide further inspiration to all those working in this field"