EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P031)
Postsocialism and anthropology: theoretical legacies and European futures
Location U6-3
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Anselma Gallinat (Newcastle University) email
  • Haldis Haukanes (University of Bergen) email
  • Frances Pine (Goldsmiths College, University of London) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Frances Pine

Short Abstract

The panel seeks to explore the contributions which the anthropologies of postsocialism have made to social and cultural theory, the implications of these contributions to European future/s and the question of the theoretical utility of the concept of 'postsocialism' twenty-five years on.

Long Abstract

The end of the Cold War and the fall of the socialist states not only intensified anthropological research in the region but also offered the opportunity to explore accelerated change as it took place. The number of volumes on 'postsocialism' which appeared from the early 1990s testifies to the amount of work that was taking place and to the sense of an opportunity to develop anthropological theory. Yet, questions still remain about the contributions made by anthropological work in the last two decades, as much of the research has focused on ethnographic detail and the individual rather than on explorations of wider social and cultural phenomena. Twenty-five years 'after socialism', it seems apt to take stock and to consider wider lessons - about the dynamics of fundamental regime-change, 'accelerated history', the rapid development of free-market democracies, the articulation (or disarticulation) of the formerly socialist economies with global capitalism - to be learned from the rich ethnographic work conducted in the region. The question of what the theoretical legacies of this work may be is intimately tied to the question of 'what next' for the former socialist bloc and more widely for Europe and, indeed, whether the concept of 'postsocialism' still has validity.

Papers are invited which consider the contributions which the anthropologies of postsocialism have made to social and cultural theory, explore the implications of these contributions to European future/s and the question of the theoretical utility of the concept of 'postsocialism' a quarter of a century on.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

What was postsocialism? At least for anthropology

Author: Michal Buchowski (Adam Mickiewicz University)  email

Short Abstract

Postsocialist transformation marked an epical shift in the political history. It created a unique opportunity for studies of industrialised societies. Anthropologists have delivered a rich corpus of ethnographic material. Has this knowledge been converted into theoretical capital of anthropology?

Long Abstract

Placed in the wider perspective, postsocialism appears as a correlate of international power relations and economic dependencies. It was an attempt at modernisation legitimised by highly 'rationalised' neoliberal principles. Anthropologists helped, inter alia, (1) to undermine the hegemonic images of the postcommunist change as a 'god given' unilinear transition and historical necessity; (2) to perceive it not in the ideological perspective of progress, but as a troubled social change of peripheral economies in a globalised world; (3) to understand how several symbolic and cultural aspects of the 'actually existing postsocialism' functioned as continuous or disruptive in relation to the past - primarily as a result of social practices in which actors reinterpreted imported meanings according to their own symbolic competence; (4) to see both the 'universal' and 'particular' features of the social formation called postsocialism, and to place them in a historical and sociological perspective; (5) and to make a global comparison by highlighting the analogies between postsocialism and postcolonialism. However, even if some of these contributions have been integrated into general anthropological learning, their impact on the discipline remains limited. I will try to answer the question, why the dutiful studies on the epical social, economic and political shifts have not translated into equally forceful and influential anthropological theories?

(Post) Socialism: historical paths, socialism after socialism and future anthropology

Author: Tatjana Thelen (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

Post-socialism can be approached not only as a historical phase, but also as lived realities and subjectivities as well as a theoretical challenge. In order to do so the regional boundedness of the concept should be overcome and a (re)turn to studying socialisms in the past and present is required.

Long Abstract

The trajectories of socialist and anthropological theories are inextricably linked. Historical materialism and social equality took inspiration from anthropological findings. In turn, the idea of social equality influenced anthropological research. However, focusing on socialist states in Europe the study of socialism developed into a regional science. As a temporal phenomenon the developments after 1989/90 accordingly received the label post-socialism. However, post-socialism could also be approached as lived realities and subjectivities as well as a theoretical challenge.

In this paper my aim is twofold. First, I intend to show that the term Post-socialism makes still sense regarding legacies of "actually-existing" socialisms. However, instead of reproducing binaries between (post)socialist (Eastern) and not (post)socialist western Europe or between a failed socialist past and a post-socialist present, I argue for overcoming the regional boundedness. This would allow to inquire into transformations elsewhere as well as for a (re)turn to the study of socialism. Questions persist upon how the experiences of individual anthropologists in socialism and their link to socialist ideas have influenced anthropological theory. Also, we see diverse socialist movements gaining in importance since 1989-90, providing a basis for research on the lived experiences of socialism. Besides, socialist ideas and iconography figure prominently as cultural practices, discourses and symbols. If socialism collapsed, partly due to the unfulfilled promises of consumer opportunities, then capitalism's constricted ability today to offer hope may result in new political formations and utopias of socialism emerging in diverse places, all of which would be worthwhile subjects of anthropological inquiry.

Socialism forgotten? Searching for the future's past among young Czechs

Author: Haldis Haukanes (University of Bergen)  email

Short Abstract

Building on insights from post-socialist anthropology on private and public memory, and work on shifting temporalities and past-future relations, the paper explores ways that memories of socialist/postwar pasts are manifested (or avoided) in future-oriented life narratives of young Czechs.

Long Abstract

Some of the most outstanding contributions from post-socialist anthropology to the discipline have been work on private and public memory, life narratives and remembering/forgetting (of WW II, of socialism and of the dismantling of the socialist regimes…). Building on insights from this research, as well as work on shifting temporalities and past-future relations, I will explore ways that public and/or private memories of the postwar/socialist past are manifested (or avoided) in future-oriented life narratives of young people living in North Bohemia. While recognizing the importance of socialist legacies in society at large, and the continued role that references to the socialist past play in Czech public discourse at both local and national levels, I find that the imprints of these legacies and references on young people's imaginations are scattered and vague. Following from this, I move on to question the usefulness of "post-socialism" as an analytical frame for understanding recent generational change and the diverse life projects that young people in the region are involved in while struggling to manage their future.

Post-socialism? Anti-socialism! Taking stock of the anthropology of music on Central Asia

Author: Kerstin Klenke (Goethe University Frankfurt)  email

Short Abstract

Western anthropology of music’s anti-socialist stance hinders the field from seriously engaging with Central Asian post-socialism. Countering the concept of traditionality, I propose an approach to post-socialist cultural production that transcends the common binarism of affirmation vs. opposition.

Long Abstract

In the early 2000s, with the brand new Garland Encyclopedia of World Music and the seventh edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, western anthropology of music presented two dense repositories of the state of its art at the same time. Remarkably, the entries on Central Asian music contain hardly anything on the post-socialist era. Even more remarkably, they contain hardly anything on the socialist era either. Instead, for the most part, the texts dwell on Central Asian music as it was (or can be imagined to have been) in late 19th century - albeit written in the present tense. Whatever else this peculiar narrative strategy achieves, it certainly manages to present the Soviet era as academically negligible. Entering the realm of individual research on Central Asian music, this anti-socialist stance translates into a predominance of studies on pre-Soviet musical traditions, their resilience and revival, whereas socialist musical innovations and additions are mostly met with ignorance or dismissal.

In my paper, I will explore the reasons for anthropology of music's anti-socialist attitude, its consequences - and an antidote. Drawing on my own research on Uzbek estrada and the work of scholars like Alexei Yurchak, I will problematise the temporal logic of the field's reigning paradigm and propose an approach that transcends the common habit of defining cultural production as either affirmative or oppositional. I will show, how shedding binary thinking and an essentialist understanding of traditionality, enables the anthropology of music to importantly contribute to conceptualising cultural processes - beyond the post-socialist realm and beyond music.

From border fetishism to tactical socialism

Author: Gabriela Nicolescu (Goldsmiths College, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

Based on Abu-Lughod’s (1990) concept of tactical humanism, I launch a critique on classical anthropology of Eastern Europe and promote tactical socialism as a strategy for future research and writing.

Long Abstract

Yurchak's affirmation 'Everything was forever until it was no more' as related to socialist USSR it is not ultimately accurate or true. There are still socialist practices and ways of looking at the world lingering in state institutions in many parts of the world, and not least in Eastern Europe - the so called grey zones (Kundsen and Frederiksen, 2015). There is still distribution of technical knowledge from East to West - although, we need to consider whether the term 'grey' applies to it? Instead of looking at socialism's dissolution, I argue that we should look at its persistence, today, in un-expected places, like a square in London for example, or in the migration of Eastern European women in care jobs in Southern Italy. Tactical socialism as a strategy derived from tactical humanism brings out similarities of state distribution and protection of its citizens (with its positive accomplished effects) in all our lives across the world, going beyond the border fetishism. It can be encountered in such nuanced, but at the same time positive projects on socialism's past, like for example Socialism Goes Global (yet to be shaped). I will re-phrase Mudimbe's (1988) affirmation into a question: is it possible to imagine any anthropology without a Western epistemological link? My account on state employed Romanian women, working as carers in Italy, is an example of continuity of autonomy and employment practice, surviving socialism, trans-borderly.

Challenging dispossessions and anthropology? Estonian migrants coping with transnational post-socialism

Author: Aet Annist (University of Tartu)  email

Short Abstract

My presentation will analyse the processes of social and ethnic dispossession in Eastern Europe and the emerging post-socialist transnationalism, and will theorise the implications of these changes for both anthropology of postsocialism as well as for anthropology in general.

Long Abstract

Approaching the developments in Eastern Europe from the angle of postsocialism has been particularly valuable to reveal the social effects of the speedy entry into neoliberalism in the area, unprecedented anywhere else in the world due to the "will to improve" (Li 2007) and to "return to the Western World" (Lauristin and Vihalemm 1997). This drive is a sufficient ground to still view this region through the prism of postsocialism which has triggered extremely rapid social restructuring in the region. Further, this condition has also shaped the particular type of transnational and diasporic postsocialism caused by discontent with the discrepancies between the expectations and the experiences of the real neoliberal capitalism. I focus in particular on "social dispossession" (Annist 2015) in postsocialist Estonia which has affected people's ability to informally solve local and communal problems, and on the availability and effects of local and national institutional solutions. I offer ethnographic examples that connect social dispossession in the postsocialist states with ethnic dispossession in diasporic/transnational contexts. Arising from this, I will address the wider issue of pervasiveness of neoliberalism and whether postsocialist neoliberalism deserves to be singled out as spearheading this global process. The analysis on dispossession of the neoliberal subject locally and globally could offer grounds to reconsider and reshape more general anthropological thinking on sociality, following both classical (Strathern 1996) as well as more recent (Viveiros de Castro 2012) debates.

The anthropology of fundamental regime-change: notes on 'postsocialism'

Author: Anselma Gallinat (Newcastle University)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on ethnographies of the region this paper explores the role of three factors in socio-cultural dynamics of fundamental change: a) speed of change, b) questions of ownership and c) the impact of change on notions of the person. It goes on to reflect on the notion of ‘postsocialism’.

Long Abstract

This paper argues that the rich ethnographic work conducted in the region during the last twenty-five years, which often seems too invested in the particular to allow any form of generalisation, highlights a number of key factors that influence the socio-cultural dynamics of fundamental change. It focuses specifically on: a) speed of change, b) questions of ownership and c) the impact of change on notions of the person. Drawing on ethnographies published over the last three decades and the author's fieldwork experiences in eastern Germany the paper will explore each of these factors and their interrelation by focusing on moments when change was resisted, embraced or seemingly went unnoticed. It will use these explorations to reflect on the utility of the notion of 'postsocialism' as a category for a specific experience of change and a specific region.

Roma & class in Kosovo after self-management socialism

Author: Amelia Jane Abercrombie (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

This paper assesses the utility of the categories of socialism and postsocialism for understanding the status of Roma in post-conflict Prizren, Kosovo.

Long Abstract

How useful are categories of 'socialism'/'postsocialism' for understanding the status of Roma in post-conflict Prizren, Kosovo? Across eastern Europe, Romani Studies scholars talk about Roma as having gone from marginalised but working class (with accompanying entitlements) to underclass. The same is true of many Roma in Kosovo, who in addition are accused of being on the wrong side in the conflict. This characterisation however is alien to the Roma I conducted fieldwork with. Although they also face high unemployment, they stress their integration and cosmopolitanism. Their relative high status dates back to Ottoman times, but was further cemented under Yugoslav socialism, when most had factory jobs. Indeed, paradoxically, although Kosovo was the most marginalised and deprived province of Yugoslavia, these Roma, like local Serbs, were much more integrated through their jobs and entitlements into the Yugoslav redistributive economy than the majority rural population (predominantly Albanian). Today there are very few formal jobs in Kosovo. Simultaneously, the demographic composition of Prizren has changed drastically, with the Serbs mostly leaving, and an influx of rural Albanian migrants. In this context, Prizren Roma are doubly marginalised. First, Kosovo is newly marginalised within post-Cold War political-economic European relations, hence factory closes and soaring unemployment; but secondly, they are a minority in a nationalising state, and subject to discrimination in the jobs market. Dominant optics see Kosovo in the light of conflict/reconstruction, and Romani marginalisation in ethnic terms. I suggest that these optics needs to be complemented with those of socialism/postsocialism.

Punctuated accelerations: carbon histories and future visions in Silesia

Author: Magdalena Buchczyk (University of Bristol)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the complexities of making and remaking of an industrial region in Poland. The city of Katowice and its surroundings serve to investigate difficult negotiations of socialist pasts and metropolitan futures, revealing the often blurred boundaries between transition and continuity.

Long Abstract

Built on "black gold", the industrial region of Silesia was a key to the post-war construction of Poland. For decades it served as an exemplar of socialist modernity and prosperity of the workers. Following the transitional economic 'shock therapy', the future outlook was bleak. During the 1990s, the region has undergone profound changes - several mines were closed down and the path to post-socialist prosperity carried profound social costs. The accelerated post-industrial future-making was a fundamental rupture not only in terms of Silesian everyday lives but also for the "black gold" ethos that underpinned the local constructions of identity. More recently, Silesia has accelerated once again through infrastructural developments, from regenerating the representational urban spaces to building of a large-scale motorway network linking the region to the new routes connecting the East and the West. Through these metropolitan developments, often supported by the European Union funds, the region was meant to overcome the past, raise from the ashes and be launched into the service economy and the European future.This paper focuses on some of the contradictions embedded in the relationships between the past and the future in today's Katowice and its surroundings. I argue that the question of 'what next' in Silesia is closely interlinked with the narratives and the material cultures of the past. By bringing together the fears and hopes embedded in materiality and everyday life, I will explore the tapestry of history and future to reassess the local dynamics of change and the 'post-socialist' nature of the region

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.