“Completely Useless“

Exiling the Disabled to Tsarist Siberia

in Sibirica
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The ostracizing of mentally and physically disabled individuals is a cross-cultural phenomenon that amounts to what Henri-Jacques Stiker calls a “murderous system,“ which does not kill such individuals outright, but instead indirectly. This as well as Foucault's notions about the construction of madness and deviancy serve as a departure point for understanding tsarist Russia's murderous system of deporting the disabled to Siberia. This article charts this system's operation over the longue durée, from the midsixteenth to the late nineteenth century; describes the motivations and factors conditioning those powerbrokers who exiled the disabled; and provides data on the number of disabled exiles and describes conditions they faced. I argue that the state's exploitation of the peasantry, the peasantry's inculcation of commodifying economic imperatives, and the availability of Siberia's expanses combined to make Russia's a uniquely murderous system that lasted for centuries.

Sibirica

Interdisciplinary Journal of Siberian Studies