Accepted Paper:

What was postsocialism? At least for anthropology  


Michal Buchowski (Adam Mickiewicz University)

Paper 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?

Paper 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?

Panel P031
Postsocialism and anthropology: theoretical legacies and European futures