From All Sides: Interdisciplinary Knowledge, Scientific Collaboration, and the Soviet Criminological Laboratories of the 1920s
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Pinnow, Kenneth M.
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The erosion of boundaries was a common motif in descriptions of Soviet life during the 1920s. It provided a powerful way of signifying the different rules in operation after the Bolshevik Revolution. Soviet criminal science was a microcosm of this larger change in thought and practice. Mikhail Nikolaevich Gernet, the jurist and criminologist, was particularly fond of using the imagery of prerevolutionary boundaries and their post-revolutionary destruction to describe developments in his field. Under the autocracy, he claimed, scientists were kept away from criminals and their site of containment—the prison. It was, Gernet noted with a degree of dark humor, rather easy to gain entry to a Tsarist prison cell as a political activist, but not as a researcher, who was met at the prison door with the sign: “Entrance to outsiders is strictly prohibited.” In sharp contrast, Soviet scientists were invited into the prisons and given direct access to the inmates. Gernet wrote: “The possibility for us to go right up to living criminals first appeared under Soviet power; until then, we only saw them in the courtroom and behind prison bars, and were not given the opportunity to get near them.”