Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize

2009 Citation Recipient

Mie Nakachi

The Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize, established in 2006 and sponsored by the KAT Charitable Foundation, is awarded annually (if there is a distinguished submission) for an outstanding English-language doctoral dissertation in Soviet or Post-Soviet politics and history in the tradition practiced by Robert C. Tucker and Stephen F. Cohen. The dissertation must be defended at an American or Canadian university and completed during the calendar year prior to the award.

Winner: Mie Nakachi, University of Chicago
Title: “Replacing the Dead: The Politics of Reproduction in the Postwar Soviet Union, 1944-1955”

This is a brilliant dissertation with enormous implications for how we understand the effects of the Great Patriotic War on post-war Soviet society and especially gender relations, the continuities and discontinuities between the Stalin and Khrushchev eras, the relationship of professionals to those in positions of political power, and the capacity of ordinary people to maneuver within and even to effect change to officially imposed strictures. It is about the “politics of reproduction” in the sense that  power relations between state institutions and individuals as mediated by medical, demographic, and child welfare professionals had huge implications for whether and in what circumstances people procreated and raised progeny. The dissertation is expertly conceived, methodologically sophisticated, exhaustively researched, and written with admirable clarity. It analyzes the thinking behind population policies, the impact of the social catastrophes of the Stalin Revolution and the Great Patriotic War on fertility rates, marriage and divorce practices and policies, child welfare provision, and a host of other dimensions of reproduction politics.

The argument begins with the Marxist intellectual inheritance and political origins of Soviet pronatalism before the war, the war-time demographic catastrophe, and the “solution” to the crisis proffered by Khrushchev in his family law draft of 1944. It then proceeds to analyze the enactment and results of this law with all of its intended and unintended effects, and concludes with an analysis of the legalization of abortion in 1955. At its core, the work offers a highly sensitive portrait of gender politics following World War Two, one that carefully illuminates how the party- state’s particular pronatalism – from the ban on abortion to limiting contraception and reviving the concept of legitimacy – wreaked havoc on women’s reproductive health, on the relationship between women and the medical profession, and on the family structure. It thus underscores the failure of the state’s pronatalist policy to achieve its twin goals of encouraging births and providing sufficient material support to mothers and children.

Attentive to the multiplicity of issues associated with “replacing the dead,” Mie Nakachi’s dissertation displays a deep empathy for its subjects, exemplifies in every respect the best tradition of historical scholarship as practiced by Robert C. Tucker and Stephen F. Cohen, and promises to become a highly influential book on the politics of gender and of reproduction.