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Post-socialism Meets Postcolonialism

African Migrants in the Russian Capital

Dmitri M. Bondarenko, Elena A. Googueva, Sergey N. Serov and Ekaterina V. Shakhbazyan

While Western Europe has a long history of facing and studying the issues of immigration, this phenomenon is still recent for the ex-socialist states and has not been studied sufficiently yet. At the same time, the 'closed' nature of the socialist societies and the difficulties of the 'transitional period' of the 1990s predetermine the problems in communication between the migrants and the population majority, the specific features of the forming diasporas and of their probable position in the receiving societies. The study of African migrants in Russia (particularly in Moscow) recently launched by the present authors consists of two interrelated parts: the sociocultural adaptation of migrants from Africa in Russia on the one hand, and the way they are perceived in Russia on the other. One of the key points of the study is the formation or non-formation of diasporas as network communities, as a means of both more successful adaptation and identity support.

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Introduction

Postcolonial studies and postsocialism in Eastern Europe

Jill Owczarzak

The introduction to this special section explores the ways in which postcolonial studies contribute a deeper understanding of postsocialist change in Central and Eastern Europe. Since the collapse of socialism, anthropological and other social science studies of Eastern Europe have highlighted deep divides between “East” and “West” and drawn attention to the ways in which socialist practices persist into the postsocialist period. We seek to move beyond discourses of the East/West divide by examining the postsocialist context through the lens of postcolonial studies. We look at four aspects of postcolonial studies and explore their relevance for understanding postsocialist Eastern Europe: orientalism, nation and identity, hybridity, and voice. These themes are particular salient from the perspective of gender and sexuality, key concepts through which both postcolonialism and postsocialism can be understood. We thus pay particular attention to the exchange of ideas between East/West, local/global, and national/international arenas.

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A Ghost from the Future

The Postsocialist Myth of Capitalism and the Ideological Suspension of Postmodernity

Ridvan Peshkopia

There is a widespread tendency to see the perils of postsocialism in the revival of the ghosts and myths from the past—namely ethnocentrism, nationalism, exclusiveness, bickering, collectivist-authoritarianism, expansionist chauvinism, and victimisation. I suggest that postsocialism's perils rest with a myth from the future, namely, the myth of capitalism. Those perils, I argue, are rooted in the fetishisation of capitalism by the postsocialist societies as a reflection of their deeply ingrained teleological way of perceiving the future. Political leaders are taking advantage of this situation by putting themselves in the position of those who would lead toward such a utopia. As a consequence, individual freedoms are sacrificed at the altar of communitarian bliss. I suggest that the only hope that we have to secularise the newly re-religiosised postsocialist societies rests with intellectuals.

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“They don’t even know how to copy”

The discourse on originality in Albania’s art world

Sofia Kalo

This article explores the prevalence of concerns over artistic originality in Albania’s postsocialist art world. Based on anthropological fieldwork, it discusses how Albanian artists discipline each other’s work, particularly by noting its lack of originality in relationship to well-known Western artists but also their own. Emphasizing the social and organizational role of such concerns, I analyze them in light of various factors that have become salient after Albania’s transition from postsocialism to a market economy, including the loss of a system of authority following the liberalization of art production from state support and oversight and the failure to develop a stable one since 1991. The discourse on originality expresses Albanian artists’ perceived marginal status in the transnational art world and market and is deployed to transcend this status.

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Polya Ilieva and Thomas M. Wilson

This article examines forms of ideological and political responses to European integration and Europeanisation that are either negative in form and function or that are projected as such for local and national purposes. The concept of 'Euroscepticism' is shown here as a useful linguistic and sociological starting point for examining the transformative power of the EU in the politics of all levels of European societies. The ways in which people express their support, opposition or ennui in regard to the role of 'Europe' in their lives delineates here the instrumentalism in the way they approach advancing European integration. The processes of resisting, negotiating and adapting (and adapting to) European integration are offered here as topics of anthropological significance in their own right. A case study from one former socialist country, Bulgaria, illustrates what may be suggested as a commonplace sentiment throughout the EU - a feeling of marginality due to the disconnection and disaffection that remain at the heart of Euroscepticism in all of its forms. Bulgaria offers a frame through which to reflect on the reformulations in local, regional and national political society as they relate to supranational and transnational forces throughout Europe, and to illustrate how an anthropological attention to the issues of post-socialism in Central and Eastern Europe may bene fit from an examination of the new forces of European integration.

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Action Speaks Louder Than Words?

Trust, Trustworthiness and Social Transformation in Slovakia

Davide Torsello

This article argues that trust cannot be easily isolated as a form of social interaction without the risk of overseeing the nuance between practices and ideas. Using a case study of a rural community in post-socialist Slovakia, the author examines how trust and trustworthiness are built and applied under conditions of profound social transformation. Following mainstream anthropological approaches to post-socialism, he shows that this transformation has deeply affected the patterns of local social interaction. Moreover, following Slovakia's recent EU accession, increased social and work mobility have further complicated the picture. If trust remains a crucial idea underpinning individual social choices, cognitive constructions of trustworthiness tend to diverge from practices. This is due, among other factors, to the difficulty of calibrating spatial and temporal mental models of trustworthiness with trust as social action.

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Michał Buchowski

Western representations of the Other are criticized by anthropologists, but similar hegemonic classifications are present in the relationships between anthropologists who are living in the West and working on the (post-socialist) East, and those working and living in the (post-communist) East. In a hierarchical order of scholars and knowledge, post-socialist anthropologists are often perceived as relics of the communist past: folklorists, theoretically backward empiricists, and nationalists. These images replicate Cold War stereotypes, ignore long-lasting paradigm shifts as well as actual practices triggered by the transnationalization of scholarship. Post-socialist academics either approve of such hegemony or contest this pecking order of wisdom, and their reactions range from isolationism to uncritical attempts at “nesting intellectual backwardness“ in the local context (an effect that trickles down and reinforces hierarchies). Deterred communication harms anthropological studies on post-socialism, the prominence of which can hardly be compared to that of post-colonial studies.

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Kinga Pozniak

This article examines memories of socialism among different generations in Nowa Huta, Poland. Initially built as an industrial “model socialist town“, since 1989 Nowa Huta experienced economic decline and marginalization. Its socialist legacy is now being reinterpreted in ways that reflect changed political, economic, and social conditions. This article describes contemporary public representations of the town's history and considers how they resonate with the experiences and understandings of different generations of residents, from the town's builders to the youngest generation, who have no firsthand memories of the socialist period. It demonstrates how generational categories are both reflected and constructed through different accounts of the past, while also revealing overlaps between them. Throughout, specific attention is paid to the relationship between narratives of the past, present, and future, and present-day political and economic realities.

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Mapping Time, Living Space

The Moral Cartography of Renovation in Late-Socialist Vietnam

Susan Bayly

Building on fieldwork in Hanoi, this article uses the idea of moral cartography to explore the ethical significance attached to the expertise of mapmakers, geomancers and psychic grave-finders, fields widely esteemed in Vietnam as scientific disciplines with strong moral entailments. Of central concern are the ways such practices reflect the intertwining of the temporal and the geophysical. The material expressions of these engagements include article death goods and the photographs displayed on ancestor altars; also maps as points where histories of nationhood and family interpenetrate in forms both exalting and painful for those involved. In connecting the different markers and chronologies of Vietnam's official and familial time modes with the notion of a moralized marketplace, it is suggested that the ethical concerns of today's market socialism are being negotiated in Hanoi not only in temporal terms, but through evocations of purposefully achieving life in space.

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The Vanishing Power Plant

Infrastructure and Ignorance in Peri-urban Ulaanbaatar

Morten Axel Pedersen

In a neglected corner of peri-urban Ulaanbaatar’s sprawling post-socialist slums, the livelihood of dozens of households has over recent years been affected by a large infrastructure project that will never be built. ‘Power Plant #5’ was originally tendered to a Chinese construction firm in 2008 as part of a national strategy to develop Mongolia’s energy production to meet new needs. Taking its departure in the story of a poverty-stricken woman long employed as a caretaker by a mysterious organization allegedly in charge of Power Plant #5, this article explores the peculiar dynamics by which lacking knowledge about this and other infrastructural projects in contemporary Mongolia feeds into dispossessed people’s dreams about and plans for the future. Indeed, it suggests that ignorance itself may be conceived of as an infrastructure in its own right, insofar as it constitutes a ground from which certainty as well as uncertainty emerge.