Therapy is not simply a domain or form of medical practice, but also a metaphor for and a performance of medicine, of its functions and status, of its distinctive mode of action upon the world. This article examines medical treatment or therapy (in Russian lechenie), as concept and practice, in what came to be known in Russia as defectology (defektologiia) - the discipline and occupation concerned with the study and care of children with developmental pathologies, disabilities and special needs. Defectology formed an impure, occupationally ambiguous, therapeutic field, which emerged between different types of expertise in the niche populated by children considered 'difficult to cure', 'difficult to teach', and 'difficult to discipline'. The article follows the multiple genealogy of defectological therapeutics in the medical, pedagogical and juridical domains, across the late tsarist and early Soviet eras. It argues that the distinctiveness of defectological therapeutics emerged from the tensions between its biomedical, sociopedagogical and moral-juridical framings, resulting in ambiguous hybrid forms, in which medical treatment strategically interlaced with education or upbringing, on the one hand, and moral correction, on the other.
In the early 20(th) century the child population became a major focus of scientific, professional and public interest. This led to the crystallization of a dynamic field of child science, encompassing developmental and educational psychology, child psychiatry and special education, school hygiene and mental testing, juvenile criminology and the anthropology of childhood. This article discusses the role played in child science by the eminent Russian neurologist and psychiatrist Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev. The latter's name is associated with a distinctive program for transforming the human sciences in general and psychology in particular that he in the 1900s labelled "objective psychology" and from the 1910s renamed "reflexology." The article examines the equivocal place that Bekhterev's "objective psychology" and "reflexology" occupied in Russian/Soviet child science in the first three decades of the 20(th) century. While Bekhterev's prominence in this field is beyond doubt, analysis shows that "objective psychology" and "reflexology" had much less success in mobilizing support within it than certain other movements in this arena (for example, "experimental pedagogy" in the pre-revolutionary era); it also found it difficult to compete with the variety of rival programs that arose within Soviet "pedology" during the 1920s. However, this article also demonstrates that the study of child development played a pivotal role in Bekhterev's program for the transformation of the human sciences: it was especially important to his efforts to ground in empirical phenomena and in concrete research practices a new ontology of the psychological, which, the article argues, underpinned "objective psychology"/"reflexology" as a transformative scientific movement.