Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Comparative and International Education

First Adviser

Silova, Iveta


Orphans in Russia have been widely discussed as one of the most marginalized groups. However, the mass media as well as academic literature have presented largely generalized accounts of orphans’ lives and there has been no clear understanding about how these children experienced transition from their childhood to adulthood. The statistics on orphanage graduates show that the majority of them become alcohol or drug addicts, end up in jail, or commit suicide. Not only there is no clear answer as to why it is happening, but also the role of education in shaping orphans’ life trajectories has never been previously examined. To address this gap, the study utilized narrative inquiry research method to highlight stories of six orphanage graduates from Moscow, Moscow region, Saint Petersburg, Tomsk, and Krasnoyarsk, who left their respective orphanages 2 to 17 years ago. A close involvement of participants throughout the study provided a unique opportunity for the readers to immerse into the midst of orphans’ life stories, as well as to better understand, sense, and reflect on orphans’ experiences of their transition from childhood to adulthood. The study broke through the secrecy of the closed nature of orphanages and examined various processes and factors that shaped orphans’ lives and educational experiences, including a rigid and controlled environment, hidden curriculum penetrated with physical and psychological violence, as well as subject vs. object model of relationships between children and adults. Importantly, two theoretical concepts - an imagined family capital and pedagogy of violence - were introduced to explain some of the central parts of orphans’ experiences. Overall, the narratives revealed that across the contexts, children developed and learned to navigate their own children’s cultures, broadly described as dedovshina (hazing, bullying of younger children). Academically, the participants were subjected to various educational experiences ranging from no education at all to correctional programs with simplified tasks and curriculum and general public school curriculum. Each of these educational programs had important implications for the children’s lives and their adult futures. Furthermore, the study revealed the struggles of subversive caregivers and teachers who attempted to challenge the status quo within the system of orphan care by adopting more humane and kind approaches to working with children. Compared to a common depiction of orphans as passive victims of the system, the study described the many ways in which children demonstrated their active resilience and agency. Finally, the research examined orphans’ transition period from childhood to adulthood and discussed various strategies used by orphans to develop and shape their adult life trajectories.