Accepted Paper:

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


Tatjana Thelen (University of Vienna IAS Paris)

Paper 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.

Paper 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.

Panel P031
Postsocialism and anthropology: theoretical legacies and European futures