Late Socialist Eastern and East-Central Europe between the Private and the Public (conference report and query)

Yelena Kalinsky's picture

Dear SHERAns,

Some of you may be intersted in a conference report published by our sister network H-Soyuz on the conference "Late Socialist Eastern and East-Central Europe between the Private and the Public," held in December at the University of Passau. 

You can find and comment on the original H-Soyuz post here, and I include the text of the report below. It would be interesting to learn what new work is being done on the subjects of everyday life and private and public space/spheres by art and architectural historians of East/East-Central Europe, Russia, and Eurasia, not necessarily late socialist. Please feel free to comment below with citations to your own work or that of others. It would be great if we could use this network to share resources and discuss new research.

(If you need help posting to the network, you can find detailed instructions here and a tutorial video here.)


Yelena Kalinsky
H-SHERA editor

Discussion published by Tatiana Klepikova on Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Privacy Outside Its “Comfort Zone”: Late Socialist Eastern and East-Central Europe between the Private and the Public

Co-conveners: Lukas Edeler and Tatiana Klepikova (University of Passau)
Host institution: University of Passau, DFG Research Training Group 1681/2 “Privacy and Digitalization”
Date: December 8–10, 2017

Written by Lukas Edeler, translated by Tatiana Klepikova

In December 2017, researchers of the late socialist era from over ten countries gathered in the Bavarian Passau to discuss perspectives on the categories of the private and the public in the context of late socialist Eastern and East-Central Europe. Organized by Lukas Edeler and Tatiana Klepikova (both Ph.D. students at the University of Passau), the conference was generously supported by the grant from the Federal Foundation for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Eastern Germany and by the DFG Research Training Group 1681/2 “Privacy and Digitalization”—an elite research center for the studies of privacy in the changing global contexts that has been active at the University of Passau since 2012.

The aim of the conference was to revisit the spheres of everyday life, cultural expression, resistance, and non-conformism in late Socialist societies and discuss these through the lens of privacy. While this liberal category has become an established tool of academic analysis in the global West, its yet unconventional application “outside its comfort zone” (in the late socialist contexts) fostered by the conference was intended to open up new dimensions of inquiry into the complex social, political, and cultural histories of Eastern and East-Central European societies of the 1950s–1980s.

The conference opened on Friday, 8 December 2017, with the welcome words by the organizers and with the keynote Kak u sebia doma: The Personal, the Private and the Question of Privacy in State Socialist Societies by Lewis Siegelbaum (Michigan State University, USA). The editor of the Borders of Socialism: Private Spheres of Soviet Russia (2006) and of other books and edited volumes on the history of everyday life in the USSR, he outlined multiple existing perspectives that the global research has delivered on private spheres in the late Soviet context and emphasized the importance of stepping “outside the comfort zone”  to move the research forward—the necessity to confront social, historical and cultural research with innovative and unconventional perspectives, of which the present conference was an example. The keynote was followed by a lively discussion, in which over twenty conference participants and over forty members of the interested public took part and which continued in a more informal atmosphere at the reception after the event.

The second day of the conference kicked off with the panel Fluid Borders between the Private and the Public, which started with the talk by Christina Jüttner (Ruhr University Bochum) titled The Private and the Public in the Life Writing of Soviet Russian Dissenters (1960s–1980s), where she discussed various semantics of privacy in texts written by dissidents. The panel continued with Agnieszka Sadecka (Jagiellonian University in Krakow) whose paper The Subversive Force of Everyday Life: Private Becoming Public in Polish Reportage from Socialism elucidated how reports about daily life and private matters could hint at larger social and political problems of the era. Irina Souch (University of Amsterdam) concluded the panel with her analysis of diverse private models of “normal life” in late Soviet films (Without Witnesses: Privacy and the Normal Life in Late Soviet Cinema). David Gillespie (University of Bath) served as a chair and discussant on the panel.

Debates on privacy in late socialisms continued with the second panel, Music, Youth, and Private Practices. Andra-Octavia Drăghiciu (University of Graz) spoke about cultural exchanges between the East and the West and identity constructions by the Romanian youth in her talk When the Private meets the Public: Youth and Private Life in the Last Decade of the Romanian Socialist Republic. Claudiu Oancea’s presentation Rocking Out Within Oneself: Rock and Jazz Music between Private and Public in Late Socialist Romania (New Europe College in Bucharest) was unfortunately canceled, with his paper distributed to participants. Xawery Stańczyk (Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences) analyzed practices of self-presentation and protest vivid in the Polish punk scene in his paper There’s No Silence in a Block of Flats”: Fluid Border between Private and Public Spheres in Representations and Practices of Punks in Socialist Poland. Juliane Fürst (University of Bristol) opened the questions and comments round in her function as the chair and discussant on this panel.

In the afternoon, Éva Forgács (ArtCenter College of Design Pasadena) opened the panel The State, the Self, and Society with her talk on Passages between the Private and the Public in Late Communist Hungary, in which she analyzed artistic approaches to the dichotomy of the private and public. Mirja Lecke (Ruhr University Bochum) continued the discussion and presented her analysis of literary strategies of preserving one’s agency while interacting with the surveilling state by looking at dissidents’ texts of the late socialist era (Privacy, Political Agency and Construction of the Self in Texts Written by Dissidents). Vytautas Starikovičius’ paper Silenced Disability in Public and Political Discourses in Soviet Lithuania: Law, Ideology, and Biopolitics (Vilnius University) focused on ambivalent relations between marginalized social groups and the state against the backdrop of balancing national and all-Soviet politics. Tatiana Klepikova (University of Passau) served as chair and discussant on the panel.

The day rounded up with the panel Privacy and Identity in Crime and Law Discourses, which explored deviation narratives. Lesia Kulchynska (Department of Film and Television Studies at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine) presented the paper Construction of Personality Through the Crime Narratives of Late Soviet Cinema, where she pointed out some directions in which late Soviet films educated the viewers. Her talk was followed by the paper Spousal Murders and the Disruption of the Private Sphere in Czechoslovak Criminological Discourse after 1968 by Lucia Moravanská (Masaryk University in Brno), who focused on the nexus of “the private” and “the normal” in criminological discourses. Abigail Bratcher (University of Chicago) uncovered the expeditions beyond the criminal matter into the realm of the private that Soviet comrade courts undertook (Comrades' Courts in Khrushchev's Russia: A Gendered Reading). Lewis Siegelbaum (Michigan State University) closed the panel with his comments as discussant.

On Sunday morning, the final panel of the conference, On Both Sides of Surveillance, opened the avenue for discussions of surveillance, its consequences, and counteractions. Thomas Goldstein (University of Central Missouri) centered his paper Privacy as a Weapon? The Mysterious Health of Hermann Kant around a provocative idea that privacy could be used strategically by the certain surveilled to reclaim agency in their relationship with the surveilling state bodies. Krisztina Slachta (Historical Archive of the Hungarian State Security in Budapest) discussed practices of surveillance in the context of vacation trips to Lake Balaton in Hungary (Summer in Socialism: Holiday under Control). Jon Berndt Olsen (University of Massachusetts) focused on the question how extended access to private property changed the practices of vacation and leisure in his paper Cars, Cottages, and Camping: Tourism and Personal Freedom in East Germany). Natali Stegmann (University of Regensburg) commented on the papers in her function as chair and discussant.

The conference closed with the roundtable that brought together all discussants and summarized the perspectives on the private and public spheres in late socialist societies while also focusing on the future directions that research could follow. The roundtable was moderated by Tatiana Klepikova und Lukas Edeler.

The organizers express their gratitude to the Federal Foundation for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Eastern Germany that provided necessary financial support and to the DFG Research Training Group 1681/2 “Privacy and Digitalization” for the help with the organization and co-financing of the conference.