Rethinking Socialist Space in the Twentieth Century

Marcus Colla's picture
Call for Papers
June 23, 2021 to June 24, 2021
United Kingdom
 CfP: ‘Rethinking Socialist Space in the Twentieth Century’


The ‘spatial turn’ in the humanities and social sciences has now been with us for the best part of a generation. Drawing on methods and ideas developed by philosophers and critical geographers, the work that has resulted from this focus on spatial categories has deepened our understanding of the manifold ways that space is produced and negotiated by historical actors.


The history of twentieth century socialism has not been immune to this reconfiguration of spatial categories. Under the Cold War analytical rubric of ‘totalitarianism’, traditional approaches to socialist space were principally concerned with the ways in which political regimes sought to imbue particular spaces with ideological, political and symbolic values. But over the past twenty years or so, a sophisticated body of literature has helped uncover the ways that, for example, sites of ‘private’ life and sites of memory could constitute dynamic fields of social and political tension under state socialism. Even more recently, historians have increasingly begun to deconstruct monolithic spatial notions such as the ‘Cold War bloc’ by interrogating how the production of socialist space was densely woven into multidirectional global processes. Reflecting on these recent scholarly developments, one might even be impelled to reflect on whether there is any point at all in discussing ‘socialist space’ as a discrete category of analysis.


The purpose of this workshop is to draw together the latest advances on ‘socialist space’ – broadly conceived – from different arms of historical research. With a particular emphasis on transnational and international approaches to the twentieth century history of socialist space, the workshop will reflect on how developments in the field over the past two decades have altered our understanding of how such spaces were constructed (both literally and discursively), how they could become sites of contested meanings, and how they were perceived outside the socialist world. In particular, the workshop will be concerned with how scholarly approaches associated with postcolonialism, global history, gender history, and the ‘temporal’ and ‘sensory’ turns have reconfigured our understandings of the twentieth century history of socialist space. 


The workshop will accordingly bring together scholars of the architectural, urban, social and cultural history of twentieth century socialism. Participants will be invited to speak on any theme they feel has been influential in changing scholarly understandings of ‘socialist space’. Scholars of all geographical regions are welcome, as are contributions on both theoretical and empirical aspects of the theme.



Format: there will be seven themed panels over the course of two days. Papers will be pre-circulated, and participants will provide 10-15 minute overviews as a stimulus for discussion. 


Themes for panels might include:

  • Socialist space and the ‘global turn’
  • Convergences between the ‘first’, ‘second’ and ‘third’ worlds
  • Humanitarianism and socialist reconstruction
  • ‘Private’ and ‘public’ spaces
  • Gendered and queer spaces
  • The materialities of socialist space
  • ‘Othering’ socialist space
  • Socialist spaces and the ‘sensory turn’
  • Legacies of socialist space
  • Socialist museums and cultural spaces


Date: 23-24 June (Wed-Thur). Venue: St Antony’s College, University of Oxford



Please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words, along with a short CV, by 31 March to Please note: only travel from within the United Kingdom can be reimbursed.


Contact Info: 

Marcus Colla

Departmental Lecturer in Modern European History

University of Oxford