Bulgarian Comunism
Centre for Advanced Study Sofia
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20 October 2019
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Bulgarian Comunism
News / Events

27 June 2008
"Popular Culture and Socialism(s)"

Since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the socialist regimes of Eastern Europe passed into history, at least two major developments have taken place in the realm of Cold War studies, and more broadly in our understanding of 20th century history. One was spurred by the opening archives in the former Eastern block, which greatly increased the opportunities for international and comparative research on the Cold War, and gave rise to important reinterpretations of key historical events and processes in this period. The other major development involves a growing acknowledgment of the role of culture in the clash between communism and capitalism. Its proponents argue that mainstream approaches have perceived the Cold War primarily, and often exclusively, as a military, political and economic conflict, and missed the importance of factors such as religion, sports, education, literature, film, radio, television and consumerism.

Over the past two decades, historians, sociologists, art critics, anthropologists and media scholars have contributed to a veritable outpouring of publications exploring the complex relationships between political agendas, economic policies and cultural practices. Initially, most studies of Cold War culture have focused on the United States (e.g. Whitfield 1991, Wagnleitner 1994, Saunders 1999, Schwartz 2000), and to a smaller extent on Western Europe (e.g. Duggan and Wagstaff 1995, Nelson 1997, Scott-Smith and Krabbendam 2003). More recently, some scholars have began capitalizing on the increased accessibility of primary sources from former socialist states (e.g. Reid and Crowley 2000, Crewe 2003), and developed thought-provoking accounts of the cultural Cold War spanning both the West and the East (e.g. Buck-Morss 2000, Poiger 2000, Caute 2003, Mitter and Major 2004).

This growing body of work has not only broadened the geographical scope of the debate about the cultural Cold War, but also raised a number of wider conceptual and methodological issues. To start with, it questioned the value of understanding the socialist period as a ‘deviation’ from the supposedly normal course of historical development, as well as challenged the usefulness of treating the Cold War as a distinct historical period. Instead, it highlighted the continuities between post-1945 cultural histories and long-term historical trends, including the rise of modernity, popular sovereignty and mass production.

Furthermore, this body of literature also highlighted some of the structural similarities between the developments in the East and the West, and thereby questioned the rigid and often highly value-laden East-West distinction. Last but not least, this literature also opened the venue for a more nuanced understanding of post-socialist transformation, and for a critical engagement with the ‘transitological’ accounts of the collapse of socialist regimes. It is becoming increasingly clear that the processes of transformation in post-socialist Eastern Europe are far from uniform, and instead differ depending on the particularities of both pre- and post-World War II trajectories of individual countries (Pickels and Smith 1998, Stark and Bruszt 1998). Depending on these trajectories, the post-socialist societies are equipped with specific forms of economic, social as well as cultural capital which all influence their reaction to, or appropriation of, the liberal capitalist modus operandi (Blokker 2005).

The proposed edited collection seeks to further the debate on these issues by focussing on the history of popular culture in socialist Eastern Europe, as well as its legacies in the post-socialist period. We would welcome contributions addressing one or more of the following issues:

1. POLITICS, IDEOLOGY AND POPULAR CULTURE: What were the key ideological attitudes of the political establishment and the socialist intelligentsia towards ‘popular’ or ‘mass’ culture? How have they changed over time, and how did they differ from country to country? To what extent did these attitudes differ from those held by the political and cultural elites in the West? How have they shaped the cultural and media policies in socialist countries?

2. POPULAR CULTURE AND LEGITIMACY: To what extent did the socialist regimes accommodate the increasing demand for popular culture and consumer products among the population, and to what extent can this be seen as a (successful) attempt at addressing the lack of popular legitimacy? Or, in other words: were popular culture and consumerism always inherently subversive, or were they also used as a tool of internal legitimation and consolidation of socialist regimes?

3. NEGOTIATION, APPROPRIATION, AND RESISTANCE: How did either the producers or the consumers of popular culture adapt to the limits imposed by socialist cultural policies? How ‘popular’ were the popular culture products sanctioned and promoted by the socialist regimes? What practices of adaptation, negotiation or resistance can be discerned (e.g. cynicism/kynism, irony, dialogic farce etc.), and how influential were they in undermining the of legitimacy socialist regimes?

4. CROSS-BORDER EXCHANGE: What were the major routes of cross-border exchange of popular culture, both among the socialist states themselves and across the Cold War divide (e.g. transnational film and music distribution, co-operation between national broadcasting organizations, adaptation of foreign genres, formats and practices of cultural production etc.)? How did these exchanges contribute to the diversity and similarity of cultural production across different socialist states as well as across the Cold War divide?

5. WESTERN THEORIES AND SOCIALIST POPULAR CULTURE: How useful are the concepts and theories of popular culture developed in the West – particularly those coming from the field of cultural studies – in understanding socialist popular culture? What alternative theories and concepts can we think of that can better elucidate the role of popular culture in socialist states?

6. SOCIALIST POPULAR CULTURE, HISTORICAL CONTINUITIES, AND POSTSOCIALIST DEVELOPMENTS: To what extent were the different attitudes and responses to popular culture in socialist Eastern Europe rooted in pre-World War II cultural preferences and practices? What is the legacy of socialist popular culture today, and how does it figure in various nostalgic recollections of the period (Ostalgie, Yugonostalgia etc.)? To what extent did the post-communist societies inherit the ‘structures of feeling’ (Williams 1961) established through the socialist popular culture?

Ideally, we would like all contributions to be both empirically grounded and theoretically informed. Please send your proposals (800-1000 words) with a brief Curriculum Vitae (1 x A4) to Reana Senjkovic (reana@ief.hr) and Sabina Mihelj (S.Mihelj@lboro.ac.uk) by October 31, 2008. We will inform you about our decision by December 15, and if your proposal is accepted, we will expect a first draft by the end of May 2009, and a final manuscript by the end of September 2009.

We are currently in the process of securing funding for a small workshop that will allow us to discuss the first drafts and the possible ways of weaving them together into a coherent book. The workshop will be organized in Budapest, Hungary, in June 2009. Further details will follow after the submission of abstracts.

REANA SENJKOVIC, Institut of Ethnology and Folklore
Research, Subiceva 42, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia
Website

SABINA MIHELJ, Department of Social Sciences,
Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK
Website

 
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Book Presentation "This is My Past"
 
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Bibliography

Tomasz Kamusella
 
Ethnic Cleansing during the Cold War. The Forgotten 1989 Expulsion of Turks from Communist Bulgaria
 
London / New York: Routledge Press, 2019
Ivaylo Znepolski, Mihail Gruev, Momtchil Metodiev, Martin Ivanov, Daniel Vatchkov, Ivan Elenkov, Plamen Doy
 
"Bulgaria under Communism"
 
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2019
Maria Todorova, Augusta Dimou, and Stefan Troebst
 
Remembering Communism: Private and Public Recollections of Lived Experience in Southeast Europe
 
Budapest: CEU Press, 2014
 
Full Bibliography
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