Models of Selfhood and Subjectivity: The Soviet Case in Historical Perspective

  • Choi Chatterjee
  • Karen Petrone
Part of the Mass Dictatorship in the Twentieth Century book series (MASSD)


Our aim in this chapter is to interrogate the notion of the modern self as a historical category and examine how certain historians working within the American tradition of historiography on the Soviet Union have used it as an entry point to reach a deeper understanding of that society and culture.1 Within the Western philosophical tradition, the concept of the self has a weighty history, and from the age of classical antiquity to present-day postmodernism, philosophers have debated the nature, the form, the structure, and indeed the very existence of the self, which has been used interchangeably with the terms subject, person, and identity. We start with Jerrold Seigel’s overtly Freudian model of the modern self, with its three interconnected layers: first, a biological creature marked by material and bodily needs; second, a self that is deeply implicated in the social discourses and cultural codes of its origin; third, a reflexive self that possesses self-awareness.2 Seigel’s model is useful in reminding us that, although we can privilege one level of selfhood for purposes of analysis, it is unwise to ignore the other layers as sources of affirmation and meaning. Historians have used notions of class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and nationality, to name just a few categories, to employ both the production and the location of the self as an entry point into history. Rare, however, is the historian who has simultaneously considered all levels of the self.


Welfare State Normative Discourse Soviet State Cultural Code Modern Subject 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Choi Chatterjee and Karen Petrone 2013

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  • Choi Chatterjee
  • Karen Petrone

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