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Bakunin and the Psychobiographers: The Anarchist as Mythical and Historical Object

Robert M. Cutler

[In press in Russian translation in Klio (St. Petersburg). See colophon at bottom of page for copyright and reprint information.]

Biographies typically rely more heavily upon personal documents than do other kinds of history, but subtleties in the use of such documents for psychological interpretation have long been recognized as pitfalls for misinterpretation even when contemporaries are the subject of study. Psychobiography is most persuasive and successful when its hypotheses and interpretations weave together the individual with broader social phenomena and unify these two levels of analysis with any necessary intermediate levels. However, in practice psychobiography rarely connects the individual with phenomena of a social-psychological scale. Psychobiography is probably the only field of historical study more problematic than psychohistory in general, principally because questions of interpretation are so much more difficult. Russian revolutionaries and have been one of the groups most fascinating to historians for the application of psychological approaches, and among these revolutionaries Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin stands out as the most captivating and attention-getting personality. A comparison of two late twentieth-century psychobiographies of the nineteenth-century Russian anarchist Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin (Aileen Kelly, Mikhail Bakunin: A Study in the Psychology and Politics of Utopianism [New York: Oxford University Press, 1982]; and Arthur P. Mendel, Michael Bakunin: Roots of Apocalypse [New York: Praeger, 1981]) reveals some key problems of psychohistorical interpretation and also sheds light on important issues in the historiography of the great anarchist. [PDF]
Suggested citation for this webpage:
Robert M. Cutler, "Bakunin and the Psychobiographers: The Anarchist as Mythical and Historical Object," Klio (St. Petersburg), [Abstract of English original of article] in press [in Russian translation], available at <http://www.robertcutler.org/bakunin/ar09klio.htm>, accessed 25 February 2018.

Dr. Robert M. Cutlerwebsiteemail ] was educated at MIT and The University of Michigan, where he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science, and has specialized and consulted in the international affairs of Europe, Russia, and Eurasia since the late 1970s. He has held research and teaching positions at major universities in the United States, Canada, France, Switzerland, and Russia, and contributed to leading policy reviews and academic journals as well as the print and electronic mass media in three languages.

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Text: Copyright © Robert M. Cutler
First Web-published: 16 March 2009
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