Historians of science are often сoncerned about international relations in science and research, presumably because if something can be called scientific it must be international, indeed universal. For example, for studies of the early history of psychology it is important to understand how students and researchers from the USA and the Russian Empire studied psychology and psychiatry in Germany and France during the late nineteenth century. It is also interesting to see how later developments in psychology in North America were received back in Europe. North American psychology clearly dominated mainstream Western psychology after World War II, though historians of psychology are beginning to recognize that this sweeping generalization deserves some revision as we explore other influences.
The problem of the isolation of Soviet psychology presents important historical issues, and the periodization of the history of psychology in Russia is currently enjoying considerable discussion. There are also interesting disagreements about the relative influences of main figures such as L.S. Vygotksy, A.N. Leontiev, and S.L. Rubinstein. For purposes of this presentation, we can refer to the following phases of Western knowledge about Russian/Soviet work in psychology: 1) international influence and reputation of I.M. Sechenov, V.M. Bekhterev, and I.P. Pavlov; 2) Western interest in Pavlov and Vygotsky during the period of isolation, 1936-1962; and 3) developments and contacts during the “thaw” of the Cold War isolation, 1962-91. Current historical discussions are mostly concerned with details and interpretations of the second two phases, and they have generated many important questions. Here are a few of them. How influential were the ideas of Vygotsky in the Soviet Union, especially from 1936 to 1955? What were the relative influences of Rubinstein and Leontiev in making “activity” a key concept in Soviet psychology? How did the relationships between the psychologists in Moscow and Leningrad develop and change during the Soviet period?
Historical accounts of the development of Soviet psychology during the period of isolation could help us understand, for example, why the work and influence of B.G. Ananiev, which was so important in Soviet Union, remains almost totally unknown in the West, even today. This is something of a mystery, especially since Ananiev’s early career was associated with the famous school of Bekhterev, and later his student B.F. Lomov went to Moscow to become the founding director of the Institute of Psychology of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in 1971. How can Western readers of history of psychology best understand this mediating figure, or is this even a good way to understand Ananiev’s contributions? Using a survey of writings in English (including translations from the Russian) this presentation will explore this mystery and develop some further considerations for the periodization of this history. “Post-Soviet perspectives on Russian psychology” (Koltsova V.A. et al., 1996) provides a starting point for this analysis; a quite recent discussion can be found in “Russian psychology in the context of international science” (Mironenko I.A., 2015).