The Fourth Nordic Conference on the Anthropology of Post-Communism

"Anthropological Perspectives on New Social and Cultural Divisions in East / Central Europe"

Copenhagen, Danmark 20-22 april 2002

Workshop Description and Schedule

Saturday, April 20th

Workshop 1:
Power and powerlessness after Communism - East European experiences

Tova Höjdestrand (, Stockholm, Sweden
Galina Lindquist (, Stockholm, Sweden

The resentment to the oppressive power of the alien regime was central to the oppositional forces in the former Soviet block and crucial for the fall of Communism. After the disintegration of the Soviet system, the newly liberated countries adopted what they saw as more authentic forms of governance, subsumed under the label of 'democratic institutions'. The latter concept is often paired with 'the market', another Western institution that was initially seen by most as a liberation, but soon appeared to engender its own forms of power and powerlessness.

How have these changes affected the paradigmatic oppositional duality of the Soviet times, of 'people versus power'? What are the major shifts and continuities, in the patterns of distribution of power in East European societies? How do these societies differ in this respect, and how do these differences reflect their respective cultural and historical legacies? How do new forms of power relate to local traditions of hierarchy and egalitarianism?

In this workshop, we eschew definitions of power and adopt a more Foucauldian approach, trying to explore power through clusters of relations where it is made socially and existentially relevant. Even in societies with an egalitarian ethos, power is omnipresent, often feared, respected and worshipped, and powerlessness can be morally humiliating and physically crushing. The workshop explores these issues, based on examples from various countries and fields of life, which give illustrations of changed conceptualizations, contestation, abuse, or maybe good use of power through institutions and interpersonal relations. We encourage the participants to re-examine their material in the light of the questions of power.

Contributions from various social areas are welcome, not only structures and institutions that deal explicitly with power, like politics or gender, but also those that relate to it indirectly, like religious ideologies or practices of child socialization. Papers based on historical material or exploring methodological issues of the study of power are also welcome.

Workshop 2:
Memory - a prism onto social and cultural change

Ingunn Vagstein (, Oslo, Norway
Inger-Elin Øye (, Tromsø, Norway

Memory is more than an epiphenomenon of political and economic change. In this workshop we want memory to serve as a prism through which more general processes in "post-socialist" society may be seen: processes of state consolidation, power relations and differentiation as well as hermeneutical and existential issues brought forth by massive change. In the following we outline some of the issues we wish to address:

In the first years after 1989 the official sanctioning and discrediting of the communist past, which was performed to a varying extent throughout the former Eastern Block, was essential to the legitimatation of new political orders. In some states, however, the first harsh critiques of socialism have been moderated, and communist and socialist parties have gained strength.

Looking back on the last decade, do we find a crystallization of hegemonic narratives, i.e. about socialism, in official and political life? Or is official memory a changing and ambivalent, or deeply contested terrain? How prominent and widely shared are images of the socialist era and how do they link socialism to other periods in history?

Questions like these, about change and continuity, and about the consolidation of state hegemony, urge us to relate memory to the life-worlds, interests and power relations of social and ethnic groups. How does the (simultanous) construction of memory and groups serve as an asset ("capital") or a hindrance to access to resources, affluence and influence?

Memory is part of the dynamics of differentiation. It implies principles of inclusion and exclusion, not only in the way its "content" is interpreted, but in the often tacit evaluation of its form and medium. The linear, documentary narrative of authorized history can function as a hegemonic form which excludes non-linear stories. Likewise, articulated memory, particularly written narratives, may obscure the role of embodied, non-verbalized memory in everyday practice.

Memory is also involved in existential matters, which cannot to be separated, a priori, from issues of power and differentiation: the task of creating meaning, of solving dilemmas, addressing troubles and traumas, and establishing identity, belonging and continuity in a socially and physically changing environment. These aspects of memory may be clarified, e.g. by phenomenological discussions of the Subject and its relation to the world, the role of narration, bodily practices etc.

Workshop 3:
Networks and elites - practice, discourse, perspectives

Finn Sivert Nielsen (, Copenhagen, Denmark

In the former socialist societies of East / Central Europe, informal networks were a vital resource. Networks gave access to privilege, power and "culture", and were not only the lifeblood of the increasingly "privatized" offical elites, but a basis for the growth of informal and oppositional elites of various kinds. In the post-socialist societies, old networks often continue to play a crucial role - but their functions and organization, as well as their value orientations and symbolic expressions, have changed, and their role (in elite formation, and in society at large) varies across national and sectorial boundaries.

The workshop will discuss the changing relationships between networks and (formal and informal) elites since the fall of the socialist regimes. Papers may deal with empirical, as well as methodological or theoretical, issues. Examples of questions that might be addressed are:

- Formal and informal organization: How are the old, informal networks influenced by the increasing formalization of civil society throughout the region, and how are various local and national elites (cultural, religious, economic, political, subcultural etc.) influenced by these developments? Have old formal elites in some cases been resurrected as informal elites?

- Ideology and values: How are elite values and symbolic expressions changing? Have the old formal and informal networks been influenced by changes in state ideology? How have elite values, and public self-representation by elites, changed?

- Cultural capital: What forms of cultural capital become accessible through participation in (old or new, formal or informal) networks? How is cultural capital activated, circulated and transformed within networks?

Sunday, April 21st

Workshop 4:
Corruption and the transition

Klavs Sedlenieks (, Riga, Latvia

As long as the socialist system was still a reality in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, corruption was - in official discourse - represented as a phenomenon found exclusively in capitalist countries. The period of glasnost in the late 1980's introduced an awareness that corruption may be present in the socialist system as well. At the same time, in public discourse on the other side of the (former) Iron Curtain it was generally assumed that Eastern and Central Europe was permeated by corruption - this was in part explained as a result of the deficiencies of the socialist system. Now, ten years after the socialist system has ceased to exist, most Eastern European countries are still rated well below most Western European countries on the Corruption Perception Index. The World Bank states that one cannot speak of a low level of corruption in the countries of Eastern Europe. One should speak of moderate and high levels instead.

The workshop addresses the reasons for these 'moderate and high levels of corruption' in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Is corruption an inevitable attribute of ex-socialist countries in transition? If so - why are the levels of perceived corruption so different in various post-socialist countries? What is the relationship between corruption as a social practice and corruption as an object of discourse?

We might, for example, consider J. Parry's idea that "[i]f corruption is the misuse of public office or assets for private interest, then the notion obviously presupposes a clear conceptual separation between the two". Does this imply that the high levels of perceived corruption in Eastern and Central Europe indicate that these countries are on the path to democracy - because of the increasing awareness of 'correct' and 'incorrect' activities? Or would other explanations be appropriate?

Workshop 5:
Adaptation to the New Cultural Realities - the biographical method

Aili Aarelaid-Tart (, Tallin, Estonia

The workshop will deal with the method of life story interviewing as a means to describe real adaptations to rapid cultural change. Two key questions are important for an understanding of the inner world of persons in cultural transitions:

1) How is their mind-set integrated into the new mentalities that are inherent in the new socio-cultural patterns?

2) Does their identity preserve common traditions and a mother tongue that provide links to previous cultural contexts?

Integration as a transitional process leading from one socio-cultural system /situation to another, may be interpreted as a remaking or correction of the private sphere models constructed by individuals, in accordance with the public sphere models of the state, which increasingly demands the right to regulate the everyday life of its citizens. But in personal life courses, integration into the new and preservation of the old are two sides of the same coin. There must be a dialectical balance between them. When one of the processes prevails and the other is put under pressure, various socio-psychological conflicts or large-scale individual traumas may be unleashed. For individuals, integration is a radical change in life itself, in all its colorfulness and richness.

This is an excellent field for biographical method. Each person tells a unique story, but in summing up the stories the researcher may discern patterns that are characteristic of an era's cultural transformations (whether Socialist or Post-Socialist). Personal as well as national identities grow and mature in certain cultural contexts. Culture is a continuous reality, in permanent contact with social discreteness. One of the manifestations of discreteness is a political regime, which may in the course of few years transform important cultural symbols and cultural texts. How is this polarization of continuity and discreteness mirrored in the life stories of ordinary men/women?  We welcome discussions of:

1. Theoretical and methodological problems of the biographical method

2. Analyses of life stories of all kinds of migrants, from the perspective of acculturation (World War II refugees now living in Scandinavia, Jews around the Baltic Sea and in Central Europe, Balkan war refugees, Russian-speaking populations in the Baltics, Islamic populations in Northern countries, exiled persons from the CEE and Baltic countries returning to their homeland after the collapse of Socialism, etc.)

3. Descriptions of Post-Socialism as a new period in the lives of persons from the CEE  countries: changing values and life-perspectives, the emergence of long-term losers and winners, etc.

Workshop 6:
Sites for democratisation studies: Media and NGOs

Katja Murray (, Copenhagen, Denmark
Mimi Larsson (, Århus, Denmark

This workshop deals with ways to conceptualise democracy and democratisation as an object of study. One question might be: How can anthropologists study democratisation and what should we do with the concept of ’civil society’?

NGOs and Media will be discussed as popular (and problematic?) settings for democratisation studies. The workshop will consider the roles of both the media and NGOs in relation to civil society. In much anthropological literature on East / Central Europe the rise of civil society has been related to the fall of communism and the introduction of democracy. What part do NGOs and the media play in the creation of a critical public sphere and the interpretation and implementation of democracy? In the West, the media are often viewed as a fourth state power and a critical watchdog on government. Likewise, many Western NGOs represent themselves as the voice of the people in relation to the authorities. Even after the democratisation of the media, there have been public protests in recent years against the uncritical attitudes towards the state in the media, and there are fears that old habits of symbiosis with the state may be reasserting themselves in new ways.

There are many other possible angles on these problems, and the preceding text is only meant as an inspiration. We welcome papers on specific analyses of field data as well as more general theoretical and methodological papers that are not necessarily empirically founded. Participants are invited to present examples of studies on the themes mentioned above and, in turn, to suggest ways to conduct research on democratisation, both from a methodological and a theoretical perspective. The workshop should be viewed as an opportunity to raise problematic issues (for example the issue of the bias caused by value-laden assumptions about democracy) and challenge established approaches to such elastic concepts as civil society.

Monday, April 22nd

Workshop 7:
Images of Europe - Post-Socialist or New European?

Jeppe Linnet (, Copenhagen, Denmark

Should the 'transition' still be defined as a post-Socialist condition? Across East and Central Europe, the building of independent nation states is experienced and legitimized not only as a break with the past, but as a 'return to Europe', with the possibility of joining the EU as the ultimate expression of this 'return'. But does the concept 'post-Soviet' itself further or obstruct our understanding of the experiences and strategies of people, who do not see themselves as victims of the past, but as citizens of countries moving 'towards Europe'?

The Soviet heritage may partly explain how and why people construct their past in certain ways. But what about their constructions of the future? Does the concept 'post-Soviet' capture the tension people experience between 'wanting to become European' and not wanting to loose their newly acquired national independence in the multinational maw of the European Community? Does the term inspire inquiry into the everyday experience of normal citizens, or focus our attention on the 'debris of empire': from remnants of socialist social organization to diasporas and minorities?

Finally, and most fundamentally: If the post-Socialist label is discarded, what new analytical concepts are needed to understand the societies of East / Central Europe? What new theoretical paradigms should be applied?

Rather than a session of conceptual trenchdigging, this is an invitation to bring together the past and the future in analytical terms. Participants are encouraged to discuss paradigms and concepts that can capture the experience of being a "returned European" or even a "pre-EU'an" (perhaps reinterpreting ethnographies of the transition in this light). Empirical or methodological descriptions relevant to the workshop's focus are also welcome.

Workshop 8:
Old and New Identities in the Post-Soviet Field - Ethnic, National and Religious Aspects

Janna Kormina (, St. Petersburg, Russia
Oleg Patchenkov (, St. Petersburg, Russia

The collapse of the Soviet Union as a geographic and political unity started with and was caused by a crisis of identities which was an inherent part of the Soviet ideological system. During the last decade the process of looking for new identities has taken place at a state, as well as at a local, level (this is particularly true in the new borderlands), and at the level of distinct social groups.

Unfortunately, this crisis of identities in some cases causes conflicts and violence. In constructing new identities, people can make use of elements from their old identity system (for example, 'traditional' ways of representing historical events), but more commonly they turn to ethnic and religious symbols.

Our workshop concentrates on questions concerned with choice of different strategies in constructing identities at different levels. Papers on such topics as local/regional identities, representation of ethnic and national identities through religious symbols (and vice versa), construction of ethnic and religious histories of social groups, and issues of new nationalisms are welcomed.