The Many Faces of Late Socialism. The Individual in the ‘Eastern Bloc’, 1953 – 1988
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Workshop-program of the second workshop in June 2017.
Funding: UoC Advanced Postdoc Grant (09/2015-03/2017)
How did individuals, who grew up under state socialism, experience and, in turn, influence what we now call Late Socialism? Traditionally, individuals figured prominently in narratives about state socialism’s repressive character. While persecuted dissidents represented the ideal of the unfaltering, independent mind (Žižek 1999) at the time, people like Jan Palach burning himself in protest against Soviet intervention 1969 or the almost 10 million individuals joining Solidarność in 1981 are also firmly integrated into today’s narrative of Central Eastern Europe’s inevitable return to the fold of the free world (Stobiecki 2011; Falk 2002). However, despite people participating in events that challenged socialist state power such as uprisings or periodic ethnic tensions, the different versions of state socialism in the ‘Eastern Bloc’ remained considerably stable between 1953 and 1988 (Kolář 2011) – to then disintegrate to the great surprise of both experts and those involved (Beissinger 2002; Yurchak 2005).
The project wants to take another look at the individual under Late Socialism while addressing the increasing social heterogeneity in the late 20th century, issues of experience, support, interpretation and rejection of socialism as well as the ideals, discourses and practices regarding the ‘individual’ across the region. If one sees socialist power not only as a form of repression and individuals as its helpless or resisting subjects, but also as a productive, empowering force that allowed people to participate, to reinterpret and thus to have an impact on the overall system (Foucault 1982, 2002; Bhabha 2000), then analysis of individuals’ views, social backgrounds, everyday practices and self-understandings might provide a better understanding of the stabilizing and disruptive forces at work during Late Socialism.
This project’s focus on the individual aims at a close-up comparative analysis of the socialist experience across established social, cultural and national divisions, but also across the boundaries of disciplines and established master narratives. A closer look, for example, at the men and women who joined Solidarność, but also at some of the 30 million Poles who didn’t, at the party bureaucrat as much as the dissident, at the elderly worker and the young scholar or at individuals with German, Tatar, Jewish and ‘mixed’ roots might also help to determine the commonalities between the different versions of Late Socialism besides the differences between Central Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, which are usually treated as distinct, unrelated entities (Verdery 1999).
The project contains two strands of investigation:
- a case study on socialist Czechoslovakia (Sebastian Lambertz) and comparative inquiries into concepts of the ‘individual’ in the larger East European region and the ‘West’ (Maike Lehmann)
- international interdisciplinary workshops, bringing together experts working on the Soviet Union, Central and South Eastern Europe. (Call for paper for project workshop in May 2016)