Book Reviews

in Aspasia

Gisela Bock, Geschlechtergeschichten der Neuzeit: Ideen, Politik, Praxis (Gender histories of the modern era: Ides, politics, practice), Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014, 400 pp., €64,99 (pb), ISBN 978-3525370339.

Book Review by Johanna Gehmacher

Vienna University, Austria

Gisela Bock, emerita at the Free University Berlin, has been a researcher of great merit for women’s and gender history for more than thirty years. She has written a number of influential books, among which is her seminal study of forced sterilization in Nazi Germany and a comprehensive volume on women in European history since the Middle Ages, which was soon translated into several languages. As a cofounder and board member of the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, she helped in building strong transnational ties for the new academic field. Bock has made highly relevant contributions to a variety of academic fields—her research interests range from the early modern era to the present, and she has tackled diverse issues such as the history of political thought and the history of the welfare state.

It is very rewarding that Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht publishers have now brought out a comprehensive compilation of her work, reflecting the range of her career, and including a pathbreaking study from the 1970s on the history of domestic work in the United States (which is published as a separate article here for the first time), comparative research on late nineteenth-century suffragism (which calls into question accustomed generalizations on early comers and latecomers), as well as conceptual work on women’s agency during the Third Reich (where Bock develops her innovative but also debated argumentation on the relation between the categories of gender and “race” in the context of National Socialist genocidal politics).

For teaching, research, and reflection it is invaluable to have all these texts, which were published in rather diverse collections and journals, together within one anthology. The overall structure mirrors the author’s theoretical approaches and her central research issues. Framed by several examples of theoretical work in which Bock develops and critically reviews women’s and gender history over the decades—titled “Entwürfe” (Drafts) and “Rückblicke und Ausblicke” (Retrospects and views)—and providing the opening and concluding sections of the collection, the volume contains three further thematic sections. The first of these—“Begriffe und Geschichten” (Concepts and histories)—introduces the history of concepts. Taking the example of the European querelles des femmes and of the (also transnational) enlightenment concept of women’s emancipation, Bock demonstrates the differentiated insights that only a profound longtime study of a concept’s development and its contexts can provide.

Another chapter—“Wege und Bewegungen” (Roads and movements)—is made up of three articles on women’s-movement history that show Bock as a historian dedicated to working within a radically transnational scope: here, she discusses early discourses on women’s rights as human rights, as well as the political thought and developments of suffragism. Still another chapter—“Arbeit und Armut: Sozialstaat contra Rassenstaat” (Work and poverty: social state against racial state)—is already provocative in its conception, as it contains texts on domestic work and the development of welfare states alongside two articles on National Socialist racial politics and their implications for gender relations.

This volume, however, is more than a collection of influential articles written by a deserving researcher, because it also provides a number of hitherto unpublished recent articles focusing on the historical developments and perspectives of women’s and gender history, as well as on terminological questions relevant to the history of women’s movements. I will take a closer look at two of these.

The introductory essay reflects changing perspectives in women’s and gender history, and reminds us of key concepts and theoretical discussions that helped to reinscribe women into historical narratives and to establish gender as an important perspective for historical research. Bock makes clear that the project was a transnational venture in itself from its very beginning, as it was inspired from the 1960s onward by a transnational feminist movement. Its protagonists, languages, concepts, and interest circulated in a fruitful exchange between countries—her examples show that this was especially the case for the German-speaking countries, France, and North America. Bock also critically discusses the career of gender as a central category within the field of historical research. By demonstrating that the concept was present in the debate much earlier than Joan Scott’s influential article, and that it was actually already discussed in the United States from the middle of the 1970s and arrived in Germany in the early 1980s, she calls into question well-established simplifications that are often reproduced when discussing this development. Reviewing the persistent debates about whether “gender history” or “women’s history” promised a more radical perspective (9), Bock neither joins Scott’s millennial pessimism concerning the future of gender, nor sees the tasks of women’s history as already settled. Following Nathalie Zemon Davis, she strongly supports the use of “women’s and gender history” as a correct name for the academic subdiscipline (10). As Bock herself consistently consequently uses the term throughout the book, the volume’s actual title—“Gender histories of the modern era”—probably reflects the publisher’s wishes. Reviewing the development of the research field, Bock shows its strong connection with social history and the importance of questions concerning class, work, and poverty during the first decade of women’s and gender history. Discussing the strong focus on issues of gender and “race” since the 1980s, she distinguishes three main developments: the reclaiming of Afro-American women’s history, the emergence of a new postcolonial history of gender and imperialism, and the discussion of the interrelation of the National Socialist exclusionary category of “race.” Since the 1980s, she has herself contributed important research and theoretical reflection to the last perspective. Again, and this is a point that cannot be supported enough, she makes an urgent claim to fully integrate Jewish women’s stories into German history, and to research and discuss the National Socialist genocide and its effects on the post–National Socialist societies more rigorously (18).

Another extremely inspiring essay in this volume starts as a conceptual history of the term “women’s emancipation,” which Bock traces from the eighteenth to the late twentieth century and scrutinizes its changing uses and meanings. Honoring Reinhart Koselleck for his early and complex reflections on the concept in the 1960s, she also criticizes the limits of his interpretation, which she analyzes as problematically converging women’s emancipation with romantic calls for the liberation of the senses. Following Koselleck’s methodological advice to include “onomasiological alternatives” (parallel terms for a similar concept) as well as historical contexts into conceptual history, Bock’s comprehensive article has become much more than conceptual history. It is indeed a very dense discussion of earlier and recent research on women’s movements and a sophisticated analysis of their interrelations with other emancipatory movements, specifically the early nineteenth-century antislavery movement, struggles for the emancipation of Jews, and the labor movement of the late nineteenth century. Together with the discussion of the transformations and circulation of terms such as feminism, which first turned up in late nineteenth-century France (125), we gain insight into strategies and controversies ignited by the demand for the emancipation of women. In more than fifty pages that draw on Bock’s farewell lecture in 2007, the text is a passionate appeal to always take into account the complexity of historical sources, and to always reflect concepts and terminologies.

Both demands become clearest when Bock discusses the meanings of “bourgeois feminism.” Referring to Marilyn Boxer’s research on the issue, she shows the polemical character the term developed during the late nineteenth-century conflicts between socialist and feminist activists, especially and most prominently with Clara Zetkin (144ff.). Bock argues strongly against the use of terms like “bourgeois feminism” or “bourgeois women’s movement,” which are now very common in women’s and gender history, and prove most problematic in German texts where bürgerlich can mean a class position (middle class) as well as cultural concept. While this might be disputed, especially when the demand to situate a historical movement in its social context is taken into account, further discussions of the issue should include the innovative terminological alternative Bock proposes. Referring to a speech by German-Jewish social reformer Alice Salomon in 1899, she advocates the use of the term “civic women’s movement” (152).

As her many contributions to the development of women’s and gender history have always been, Gisela Bock’s new book is developed from a broad range of sources, and she argues with precision and wit. It should—and I am convinced it will—be widely read and discussed. Once again, Bock’s texts make evident that the exciting research field of women’s and gender history has to be a transnational venture that should always take into account the variety of multiple histories.

Helene Carlbäck, Yulia Gradskova, and Zhanna Kravchenko, eds., And They Lived Happily Ever After: Norms and Everyday Practices of Family and Parenthood in Russia and Eastern Europe, Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2012, 336 pp., $55.00/€50.00/£45.00 (pb), ISBN 978-615-5053-57-3.

Book Review by Svetla Baloutzova

Centre for Advanced Study, Sofia, Bulgaria

And They Lived Happily Ever After: Norms and Everyday Practices of Family and Parenthood in Russia and Eastern Europe is yet another important contribution to the increasing body of scholarly work documenting the everyday life of women (and men) under socialism and its transformations in the transition period toward a market-driven society. As indicated in the Introduction, despite the growing number of studies on gender issues in Eastern Europe, the changing patterns of marriage, (single) parenthood, and discourses and policy approaches toward the family largely remain an underexplored field in history and the social sciences, begging for further explication. Hence the fourteen essays, authored by an international academic team of Russian, Swedish, Finnish, and Lithuanian researchers, set forth to explore the East European family of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries as a socioeconomic category in flux. Its changing nature goes beyond transformations in people’s lives, and mirrors the wider transfigurations in the political fabric of the region. Thus studying the family and its reorganization in time becomes instrumental to exploring further issues such as changing labor market strategies in Eastern Europe through the revisions in the social value system and people’s changing reproduction decisions which reform intimate choices and adjust them to the shifting macroenvironment.

The volume embraces three particular goals. First, it aims to analyze and explicate Russian and East European family norms as reflected in the legislation and publicpolicy regulations of their time as well as shed light on their implementations in the daily life of the Soviet Empire and its post-1990 aftermath. Arranged chronologically and covering a historical period of nearly seven decades (1940s to about 2010), the chapters offer exceptionally valuable insights into the evolution of family patterns within the transforming sociopolitical context, as well as the state of social security and the ideological revisions made. Second, the changing dimensions of gender aspects—gender roles and gender relations, gender division of labor both in society and at home, and the mode and extent of state intervention into family life—become another significant target of elucidation. The altering face of demography as viewed through shifts in fertility, birth, and mortality rates, as well as poverty statistics as addressed by authorities and officials, provides a welcome insight into how ideology and law translate into everyday life. Third, combining two approaches—from above and from below—the volume analyzes the actual patterns of reconciliation between parenthood and labor market participation, and the household division of labor and child care. Motherhood—conceptualized and experienced within the political, socioeconomic and cultural turbulence of the two periods under consideration—particularly falls under the spotlight. Fathers and fatherhood are discussed in the studies, too, though to a lesser extent.

The volume is divided into two parts that reflect major family developments between the 1940s and 1980s (“The Family as a ‘Basic Unit of Socialist Society’”), and the 1990s and 2000s (“Social Transformations in the Mirror of Family Life”), and has fourteen chapters. As indicated by the title, the majority of articles are devoted to Russia; yet five other East European countries—the three ex-Soviet Baltic republics (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia), alongside Hungary and the former German Democratic Republic (GDR)—are also represented, adding a vital, synchronic and diachronic, comparative aspect to formal narratives and women’s experiences before and after 1989. The critical examination of their continuing or changing nature, as well as how historical legacy in the family and gender fields has been played out since 1990 contribute to the scholarly achievements of the book. References to the results of similar family research projects in Scandinavia and West Germany further bolster the volume’s expertise.

The sources deployed by the authors include a variety of archival materials, policy documents, aggregated statistics, official mass media discourses, surveys, and most of all, interviews, life stories, and memories of women (and men) that help to capture and preserve the spirit of the past and link it to the present. Their (especially women’s) narratives, reminiscences, comments, doubts, and hesitations regarding their roles as partners, parents, employees, and individuals, alongside a wide range of feelings that permeate their voices, personalize the respondents’ experiences and provoke strong empathy in the reader.

The very title of the collection was subject to careful consideration by the editors as its corresponding idealized image of blissful love and life evokes the stereotype of the Western middle-class, well-groomed nuclear family with conservative norms and gender relations. While this bourgeois model was attacked and dismantled under the Soviet regime, for the past twenty years it has been penetrating East European societies through dramatic changes in family legislation, and has become a wishful unattainable dream, in stark contrast to reality. This is particularly true for lone mothers—a legal term for unmarried mothers in the Soviet Family Law (1944–1969)—who were denied the right to paternity suits and hence the right to paternal responsibility and a father’s last name for their child. In “Lone Motherhood in Soviet Russia in the Mid-20th Century—in a European Context,” Helene Carlbäck follows official and informal discourses on unwed mothers and fathers, including their victimizing and moralizing stance, to reveal that they were far from uniform in the Soviet society where radical revolutionary ideas of free cohabitation had given way to the necessity to legally revive the stable family sealed by matrimony. Elena Zhidkova’s study on “Family, Divorce, and Comrades’ Courts: Soviet Family and Public Organizations during the Thaw” in Soviet Russia does not disclose a “happily ever after” either: the need to counter the demoralizing economic and demographic consequences of World War II in Khrushchev’s 1950s and 1960s enforced an “etacratic” (i.e., based on state control) gender system in family affairs, which was enacted through voluntary organizations related to the trade unions and the Communist Party. While meant to uproot brawling, wife-beating, and drunkenness, these organizations—known as “comrades’ courts”—interpreted domestic violence as a breach of labor discipline and work code rather than as a violation of women’s integrity and health, and as Zhidkova argues, were seen as “as a form of care and protection” in the established Soviet gender order (60).

In “A Life of Labor, a Life of Love: Telling the Life of a Young Mother Facing Collectivization,” Ildikó Asztalos Morell analyzes the devastating intervention of the state in the private economic sphere in Hungary in the 1960s, and thus further challenges the image of the idealized socialist family based on women’s independence achieved through emancipatory paid work. Morell’s research demonstrates how emancipation within the frame of a public exploitation labor model can lead to women’s loss of autonomy as mothers, wives, and individuals, and enhance their dependence on husbands and family members, especially when their workload in the cooperative jeopardized their health and endangered their family well-being, too.

However, a contrasting picture of women’s empowerment rather than victimization through state policies toward working mothers emerges from Christine Farhan’s analysis of East German women’s interviews in “East German Women Going West: Family, Children and Partners in Life-Experience Literature.” In the former GDR context of state-secured child-care provision, working motherhood and gainful employment bestowed on women financial independence, networks of friendship and socialization, and a sense of being “family engineers,” thus turning them into “agents and creators of their own living conditions” (87). Farhan’s study decries former research on East German women as passive victims of the socialist social order as “too one-dimensional” (ibid.). Instead, the author argues that based on collected life stories and interviews gathered from East German women in the transition period from 1990 to 2004, GDR women emerge as “proud, self-confident, powerful, smart, ambitious, well-educated, and enterprising” (ibid.)—qualities that greatly facilitated their lives and careers after the Unification.

An essential asset of the volume is its illumination of how family policies were enacted during the socialist period, thus manifesting the ineptness of enforced Soviet normative transplants in a foreign, hostile environment. For example, Sovietization in Lithuania after 1944 led to a confusion of concepts (e.g., what constituted the definition of a single mother?), and bureaucratic felony. Dalia Leinarte’s chapter, “Does Public Policy Implementation Fail? Lithuanian Office of State Benefits for Mothers of Large Families and Single Mothers, 1944–1956,” shows how dysfunctional such ventures could be. Her findings are further supported by Maija Runcis’s chapter, “The Latvian Family Experience with Sovietization, 1944–1990.” There, the revolutionization of indigenous Latvian family patterns and gendered family relations according to the Soviet model of “heroic” working mothers exacerbated wronged national feelings and construed a counterimage of gentle, Christian femininity in women, akin to the Western, postwar ideal of the well-cared-for middle-class housewife.

With the exception of the former GDR, where discrepancies between women as carers and providers were less pronounced, the overall post–World War II period in the history of the East European family emerges as characterized by mounting tension between state attempts to reconcile the double burden of child care and household obligations with women’s roles as a full-time labor force. This tension dramatically spilled over in the post-1990 period when the universalistic model of welfare provisions was dismantled and replaced with a means-tested approach toward the family—this alongside the radical shift from a state-regulated economy to its market counterpart.

As elaborated in the second, post-1990 part of the collection, post-Soviet Russia, Estonia, and Latvia empowered the family by delegating it an active role in family affairs. Yet the state’s withdrawal from the private domain went hand in hand with removing its services (though hitherto problematic) in terms of free or low-cost day-care institutional provisions, thus leaving child care to the management of the increasingly impoverished family. Previous socialist attitudes toward preschool child care and education were subject to reevaluation, leading to ideological revisions in the teacher–parent relationship, and weakening the role of the preschool educator. As Yulia Gradskova reveals in her chapter, “‘Supporting Genuine Development of the Child’: Public Childcare Centers Versus Family in Post-Soviet Russia,” the evolving, post-1990 public discourse shaped the image of the new parent—actively involved in his/her child’s preschool’s affairs—but it also bolstered the mother’s role as prime carer and educator in the age group “zero–three.”

As Anna Rotkirch and Katja Kesseli convincingly demonstrate in their case study of St. Petersburg’s declining fertility trends, “‘Two Children Puts You in the Zone of Social Misery’: Childbearing and Risk Perception among Russian Women,” the exacerbated vulnerability of the family under the new socioeconomic circumstances escalated women’s economic and health concerns, and substantially increased their doubts about their own psychological and personal strength to fulfill their reproductive desires beyond the first child. The early and almost universal marriage pattern continues to be part of post-Soviet Russia’s nuptiality model, and the appreciation of children still completes women’s personal identity as well as their image of femininity. Yet, child-friendly attitudes do not preclude the recognition that a two-child family model endangers the family’s well-being and paves its road to welfare deprivation.

Zhanna Kravchenko’s study, “Everyday Continuity and Change: Family and Family Policy in Russia,” offers a further, perceptive vision into the recent transformations undergone by the contemporary Russian family, by analyzing the family as an increasingly active agent of welfare production and distribution. De jure, Russia’s social policy continues to facilitate the combination of work and care by promoting a liberal, idealized model of family life of full employment of both partners, with recourse to social insurance to cushion breaks in paid work because of family-related situations, and access to public/private child care. Yet failure in the policy’s implementation (reminiscent of the Soviet period) forces the family to continuously resort to its own strategies and mechanisms of coping and survival. Single mothers, in particular, are affected by policy underadministration in which criteria of “neediness” are poorly defined. Elena Iarskaia-Smirnova and Pavel Romanov’s study, “Single Mothers—Clients or Citizens? Social Work with Poor Families in Russia,” incorporates heartbreaking accounts of social workers burdened with the categorization of one-parent, women-headed families as “worthy” or “unworthy” of means-tested support, in an atmosphere of social isolation and stigmatization. Here the levels of the clients’ poverty transgress the borderline of pauperization and destitution. Tragically, as the authors’ analysis reveals in the section “Social Workers: ‘The Smell of Poverty Discourse,’” the economic status of social workers themselves, as part of the newly emerged social group of “the working poor,” approaches the poverty line.

The declarative approach of the state toward family and gender problems in a milieu shaped by Russia’s “shock therapy” is further elucidated by Aino Saarinen in “Welfare Crisis and Crisis Centers in Russia Today.” Saarinen proves that the state continues to treat women as instruments rather than subjects, especially in relation to the country’s demographic crisis. Male authorities continue to address issues of male mortality and low female fertility from an exclusively male point of view and fail to problematize the “violence-against women crisis.” Yet, as Saarinen claims, “abused women hardly make happy mothers” (245). In her view, there is an essential demand for transforming the family itself in order to unravel the welfare crisis.

The Baltic states initiated such radical family transformations after they regained their independence. New provisions were integrated into Latvia’s, Lithuania’s, and Estonia’s Civil Codes to reformulate marriage and divorce. Olga Khazova’s essay, “Marriage and Divorce Law in Russia and the Baltic States: Overview of Recent Changes,” illuminates the new developments in matrimonial law in the three republics within their historical context and especially their attitudes toward their Soviet past. The collapse of Soviet rule in the Baltics took the states to their pre-Soviet times by inducing a conservative turn to religious marriage, and reintroducing fault-based divorce—in contrast to secular marriage normative practices and permissive divorce legislation under the former Soviet regime. Yet, according to Khazova, a move toward a more liberal European model of family legislation can be observed in Lithuania recently, where cohabitation has been legally acknowledged in order to regulate property relations between the partners.

The results of these arrangements are studied in Ingegerd Municio-Larsson’s chapter, “Doing Parenting in Post-Socialist Estonia and Latvia,” which pays special attention to parental obligations after divorce. Different scenarios emerge that straddle impoverished mother-headed families of dependable providers and carers, and absent fathers compliant with the market demands for a mobile workforce, on the one hand, and “negotiated families” (292) based on a constant search for love, and incorporating a “constellation” of siblings and step-parents, on the other hand. A third, democratic scenario is the “reconciliation alternative” (ibid.) in which men and women have equal rights to engage in outside activities and seek self-fulfillment outside the home. The latter, however, remains in the utopian realm.

Finally, Ann-Mari Sätre’s chapter, “Gendered Experiences in Entrepreneurship, Family and Social Activities,” takes the reader back to the case of Russia by explaining why the legacy of the Soviet family model of a dual breadwinner and female/state caregiver has persisted in time, despite major societal changes. Her findings underline the continuity of norms once established by the Soviet system, and still informing everyday practices. The welfare needs of a vast sector of the population remain to be covered by the state budget. Rather than subject to direct distribution, support is now concentrated in the hands of local authorities and large local firms advocating a return to the patronizing norms of Soviet times. Yet, as the weight of family responsibilities has been additionally enhanced by the disintegration of the former social system and as newly established hierarchical and male-dominated relations crisscross the economic sphere, gender roles have nevertheless been changing. This is true for men shouldered with heightened expectations as the main providers for the family, and for enterprising women who resort to hired labor to manage their domestic care duties.

And They Lived Happily Ever After is a solidly researched, well-written, and stimulating collection. Not only are the included studies informative for both a specialized and wider readership, but they may also excellently serve further academic investigations in the comparative field of socialist and postsocialist legal and welfare regulations of the family and everyday practices. Most of all, the volume is appealing with its scholarly sincerity and unbiasedness. The voices of interviewed women and men incorporated in its pages challenge one’s sentiments and provoke further, heterogeneous thoughts of what socialism was and what followed after its breakdown. The answers are not uniform, and invite a serious reconsideration of how the socialist model of gender roles, family organization, and state obligations toward the family was implemented by authorities in socialist Eastern Europe and its aftermath.

Peter Coleman, Daniela Koleva, and Joanna Bornat, eds., Ageing, Ritual and Social Change: Comparing the Secular and Religious in Eastern and Western Europe, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013, xv + 283 pp., price not listed (pb), ISBN 9781409452157.

Book Review by Orlin Sabev

Institute for Balkan Studies with Center of Thracology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, Bulgaria

This collection of essays is the outcome of a team research project that included twelve researchers and was funded by the Religion and Society Programme supported by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council. The Preface to the collection is written by Grace Davie—a reviewer of the project proposal. She stresses her strong conviction that the volume contains “exceptionally rich data” (xiii) about the engagement with religion of elderly people in various (and “very different,” as she expresses it) parts of Europe, describing the reasons for this. The methodology used in the project, comprising interviews with such people, is another virtue, which “in itself adds to the richness of the material” (xiii). Oral history, thus, is meant to be the main source of narrative on which the ten contributors to the volume, working in the fields of gerontology, anthropology, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology, attempt to reveal the role of religion in the lives of a particular segment of the population (the elderly).

This interdisciplinary volume consists of five parts including twelve chapters (including the introduction), some of which are coauthored by two or three people. The choice of countries, Bulgaria and Romania, on the one hand, and the United Kingdom, on the other, provides an opportunity for comparative study between East (former state socialist/communist) and West (noncommunist) Europe; between Orthodox and non-Orthodox countries; between poor and developed societies; between countries with relatively high indices of religiousness (Romania) and more secularized countries (Bulgaria and the UK).

The first part, titled “Setting the Scene,” includes two chapters that reveal the scope and aims of the research project, as well as the methodological issues related to it. In the first chapter, “Introduction: Ageing and Ritual in a Changing Europe” (3–17), the project leaders and the editors of the volume Peter G. Coleman, Daniela Koleva, and Joanna Bornat set the subject matter and methodological framework of the study by correlating two “surprisingly neglected” (3) social phenomena, namely, religiosity and ageing. The correlation between the two is justified by the obvious fact that “the significance of religion often becomes more important in later years” (3). On the other hand, they emphasize, the level of religiosity differs from age to age, from region to region, and from society to society. Given these factors, the project takes into consideration three particular countries and the editors’ choice reflects two distinct sets of comparison: between an increasingly secular (UK) and more traditionally religious societies (Bulgaria and Romania), the latter being also former communist regimes, in which, however, religion played quite different roles. The comparative study focuses on ritual (religious and secular rituals that mark life transitions such as birth, marriage, and death) because it is recognized to be essential to religiosity. The volume contributors approach ritual as “socially standardised behaviour with a symbolic content” (9) in its personalized aspect. As for the methodology, the study is based on oral history interviews undertaken with people over the age of seventy-five (sixty interviewees, twenty from each country, are listed in Appendix Two, 259–262). In the second chapter, “The Challenge of Difference: Approaching Comparative Oral History” (19–40), Joanna Bornat emphasizes the challenges posed by the cross-national comparative study of the religiosity of the elderly people. She provides a detailed theoretical framework of the literature based on cross-national studies and teamwork, as well as a description of the interview principles that were followed in the course of the field studies undertaken in the three countries in question (the interview guide instructions are presented in Appendix Three, 263–267).

The volume’s second and largest part, “Ritual and Story in Bulgaria, Romania and the UK,” comprises four essays exploring religiosity/nonreligiosity and religious rituals in people’s lives. In the third chapter, “‘I Will Die Orthodox’: Religion and Belonging in Life Stories of the Socialist Era in Romania and Bulgaria” (43–65), Simina Bădică compares the different levels of religiosity in Romania (much higher) and Bulgaria (much lower) and underlines that in Romania Orthodoxy is embedded in the national identity. She emphasizes that in both countries (and in Eastern Europe in general) the model of “belonging without believing” prevailed, as opposed to the West European “believing without belonging.” Hilary Young’s contribution in the fourth chapter, “‘God Can Wait’: Composing Non-Religious Narratives in Secular and Post-Communist Societies” (67–87), is based on the life stories of nonreligious interviewees and aims to understand how they make sense of their lives and compose their secular identity. She explores the trend toward secularization in the three countries and suggests that this trend presents a framework for people to understand their religious past and their nonreligious present. Sidonia Grama draws attention to what people did not say while being interviewed and attempts to understand the meaning of the silences that “thoughtfully punctuate life narratives” (89). Her observations and suggestions are hence titled “Ineffable Silence and the Sacred: Crucial Moments in Life Histories” (89–110). This section closes with Daniela Koleva’s (fifth) chapter on “Performing Social Normativity: Religious Rituals in Secular Lives” (111–132). She is struck by the paradoxical lack of religious meaning of the people’s participation in traditional religious rituals. She explains this paradox as a result of the power of social normativity that forces nonreligious people to engage in religious practices for the sake of conformity, solidarity, and as a manifestation of a cultural tradition.

The third part “Death and Loss” includes two contributions: the seventh chapter by Galina Goncharova, “Personal Ideologies of Death: Shaping the (Post)Self in Rituals” (135–154) and the eighth chapter by John H. Spreadbury, “Belief in the Context of Bereavement: The Potential Therapeutic Properties Associated with Religious Belief and Ritual” (155–176). Goncharova compares the models of bereavement and the meaning of funerals and mourning in the three countries as affected by the respective social structures and political regimes. Spreadbury, on the other hand, examines the role of religion and ritual in cases of bereavement. He suggests that religious beliefs and practices have therapeutic effects and help people to cope with the loss of loved ones.

The fourth part, titled “Gendered Ageing and Religion,” provides a gerontological study of the religious aspects of the adjustment of older people to ageing in two chapters dedicated to men and women, respectively. In the ninth chapter, “Social Change and Well-being: The Place of Religion in Older Bulgarian Men’s Lives” (179–200), Ignat C. Petrov and Peter G. Coleman compare religious and nonreligious Bulgarian men’s adaptation to ageing, and in the tenth chapter, “Religiosity and Women’s Ageing: Biographical Perspectives” (201–225), Teodora Karamelska compares older women’s personal spiritual experience (the meanings that women assign to religious rituals in the course of aging) in the three countries.

The final (fifth) part of the volume, “Review and Conclusions,” also consists of two chapters. In the eleventh chapter, “Ritual in the Changing Lives of the Very Old” (229–246), Peter G. Coleman, Sidonia Grama, and Ignat C. Petrov take into consideration the oldest cases in the team’s research, that is, people older than eighty-five. One of the major findings of their research is that greater respect for religious ritual is observed in Bulgaria and Romania than in the UK. The contributors suggest possible explanations for this difference from historical, educational, and cultural perspectives. In the concluding, twelfth chapter, “Reflections on the Study: Why Are There No Simple Answers?” (247–256), Joanna Bornat and Daniela Koleva dwell on the achievements of the research project. They emphasize the focus of the research on “practices and emotions rather than statements of belief, and on participation in collective rituals as much as individual practices” (247). The authors highlight the key findings of the project as follows: the importance of historical context, including a reversal of the normative assumptions about religion and secularism; the significance and enduring role of ritual at various life transitions; the role of beliefs and religious practices in later life; and specific gendered ways of being religious. They also dwell on the difficulties in drawing firm and ultimate conclusions due to the existence of different methodological interpretations and diverse research perspectives. Nevertheless, as the authors insist, the study “serves as a reminder that subjectiveness and individual biographies are intrinsic to understanding the position of older people in society and their role in sustaining and representing continuities between past, present and future” (255). To the well-known and broadly studied factors of older people’s well-being such as health, material conditions, family ties, and social contacts, the study adds and highlights the significance of religiosity and spirituality, “which has often been overlooked in the design of welfare policies” (255). Given all this, the volume is a good illustration of how interdisciplinary work can broaden the scope of research by correlating neglected topics and can deepen our understanding of interconnected phenomena by taking advantage of the achievements and methodology of various social sciences.

Aslı Davaz Eşitsiz Kız Kardeşlik: Uluslararası ve Ortadoğu Kadın Hareketleri, 1935 Kongresi ve Türk Kadın Birliği (Unequal sisterhood: International and Middle East women’s movements, the 1935 Congress and the Turkish Women’s Union), Istanbul: Türkiye Iş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2014, 892 pp., 42 TL (pb), ISBN: 978-605-332-296-2.

Book Review by Nezihe Bilhan

Turkish Association of University Women, Istanbul, Turkey

Aslı Davaz, who since 1990 has worked for Kadın Eserleri Kütüphanesi ve Bilgi Merkezi (the Women’s Studies Library and Information Center) in Istanbul, has published extensively on women’s libraries and information centers throughout the world. She also compiled an important sourcebook for researchers working in the field of modern Turkish women’s and gender history: an exhaustive bibliography of Turkish women’s periodicals that appeared between 1928 and 1996.1 In her new book—Eşitsiz Kız Kardeşlik: Uluslararası ve Ortadoğu Kadın Hareketleri, 1935 Kongresi ve Türk Kadın Birliği (Unequal sisterhood: International and Middle East women’s movements, the 1935 Congress and the Turkish Women’s Union)—Davaz puts the struggles of women who lived through world wars and major economic crises within the context of the economic and political situation in the world. While taking into consideration women’s movements in Western countries, the author carefully examines the women’s movements in Turkey and the Middle East. She concentrates on the struggles of the pioneers of the Turkish women’s movement who were born during the last period of the Ottoman Empire, lived through the difficult years of World War I, and witnessed the end of the empire, the War of Independence (1919–1922), and the first years of the Turkish Republic.

In the first part of the book, the author discusses the major international women’s organizations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in particular the International Council of Women (ICW, founded in 1888), the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA, founded in 1904), and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF, founded in 1919). The Türk Kadınlar Birliği (Turkish Women’s Union, TKB, founded in 1924) became a member of the IWSA in 1926, the same year that the organization changed its name to the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship, IAWSEC. Turkish women attended the eleventh congress of the IAWSEC in Berlin in 1929 and hosted its twelfth congress in Istanbul in 1935. In the interwar period one of the common struggles of the above-mentioned organizations was for the right to vote and to be elected. Davaz presents the efforts of women in these organizations to create a collective identity, based on joint struggles for political rights during times of war and peace and on the power of international sisterhood, which generated prospects but at the same time had its limits.

Women from the West and women from the East mutually desired cooperation, but whereas most Western women did not criticize the colonialist approach of their countries, Eastern women distanced themselves from what is nowadays called imperialist or missionary feminism. Unfortunately, the young TKB could not play an active role in international cooperation, although Egyptian and Middle Eastern women admired the political rights that women in Turkey gained in the young secular Republic of Turkey with its large Muslim population. Furthermore, members of the East European Little Entente of Women (1923–1929), who worked for their rights, were not successful in creating a sustainable unity and were not very eager to cooperate with the TKB.

The second part of the book tries to find answers to the questions regarding the relationship between the first Turkish feminists and the leaders of the international women’s movement. As already mentioned, in 1935 Eastern and Western women came together in Istanbul to attend the twelfth congress of the IAWSEC. This event was an important turning point for the world feminist movement, but was international sisterhood established? Were all the women who attended the congress able to cooperate for the cause of women’s political rights?

Davaz offers answers to these latter questions in the third part of the book. She also points out that the IAWSEC previously chose its congress locations in countries where women did not have political rights in order to attract the attention of the population to women’s issues and gender equality. For its twelfth congress, however, the organization chose Istanbul, where women had gained their rights earlier than in many Western countries and where seventeen women MPs in the Turkish Parliament served as important role models. Many delegates from Middle Eastern countries participated in the 1935 Istanbul congress, and many important steps were taken toward internationalism. Although there were some clashes of opinions, all delegates agreed that gender equality is the most important indicator for the modernization of each nation-state. The congress also paid great attention to and emphasized the importance of issues such as threats to world peace and the unemployment and poverty of women.

In the fourth part of the book readers can learn about the activities of the IAWSEC, the TKB, and the journal Kadın Gazetesi (Women’s newspaper) from 1939 to 1952. The IAWSEC’s struggle for peace caused further clashes after 1935. For example, at the 1939 Copenhagen Congress, the Palestine problem divided the delegates. In the following years, black feminists and third world feminists harshly criticized US and West European feminists. The TKB was disbanded unexpectedly after the 1935 Istanbul congress, because the republican government believed that “the woman question” in Turkey had been resolved.2 In the new world order established after World War II, Hanna Rydh, the president of the International Alliance of Women (IAW, as the IAWSEC was renamed in 1946), visited Turkey in March 1947 on her way to several Middle Eastern countries with the aim of helping the Alliance to gain international prominence again.

Aslı Davaz’s new book is a wonderful contribution to the field of Turkish women’s history. Based on extensive primary research and deep knowledge of the Turkish and international context, this study is the first to explore the complex history of the women’s movement in modern Turkey and especially the Turkish Women’s Union, in relation to the liberal international women’s movement of the time. It is highly recommended for anyone interested in these fields.


Aslı Davaz-Mardin, Hanımlar Alemi’nden Roza’ya Kadın Süreli Yayınları Bibliyografyası: 1928–1996 [Bibliography of women’s periodicals from Hanımlar Alemi to Roza: 1928–1996] (Istanbul: Kadın Eserleri Kütüphanesi ve Bilgi Merkezi Vakfı, Türkiye Ekonomik ve Toplumsal Tarih Vakfı, 1998).


The TKB was reestablished in Ankara, but only in 1949.

Sashka Georgieva, Zhenata v bulgarskoto srednovekovie (Woman in medieval Bulgaria), Plovdiv: Fondatsiya Bulgarsko istorichesko nasledstvo, 2011, 409 pp., BGN 30 (pb), ISBN 978-954-91983-7-9.

Book Review by Tsvetelin Stepanov

St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia, Bulgaria

Sashka Georgieva is a renowned scholar in the field of medieval women’s history in Bulgaria. Her book is indeed the first full-length monograph in Bulgarian historiography that synthesizes all available written and visual evidence regarding women’s roles and positions as well as ideas about women in the lands inhabited by Bulgarians between the seventh and the fifteenth centuries. This book displays a panoramic view of many issues relating to medieval women in Bulgaria, such as their position in society according to law (marriage, sex, property, and juridical practices) and women in social and political life (economic, political, cultural, and religious activities). These are the two main issues that “run” throughout this book (see esp. chapters 2 and 3), a fact predetermined by the sources available and their main characteristics, in particular.

The monograph starts with a Preface followed by a prolonged Introduction. They clarify not only the situation with previous research on this topic in Bulgaria but also point out all the specifics of evidence available, which in fact leads to serious difficulties with the “procedures” undertaken when one is reconstructing the past. Because of this, one of author’s main goals is to present a picture of the activities of not only the Bulgarian tsaritsi (empresses) but also other aristocratic women and, though on a reduced scale, of ordinary women as well (8).

Chapter 1 reveals the notions of women in Bulgaria according to the so-called heathen model and those typical for Christians (the latter based mostly on ideological and religious principles that were indeed very well-developed in the literary sources, including those from the Bulgarian milieu after the end of the ninth century). Since the monograph is based on the Georgieva’s PhD dissertation, defended in 1989, in this chapter and especially in the paragraph dedicated to the “heathen” model (before AD 865), the book is still seriously influenced by Marxist historiography. Georgieva missed my monograph published in 2005 where all the above-mentioned issues, especially those related to the Bulgar women before AD 865, are treated according to notions typical of the so-called Steppe Empire.1

The monograph ends with a Conclusion, Abbreviations, Bibliography, Index, and a ten-page Summary in English. It also has several black-and-white illustrations (mainly of icons, miniatures, and frescoes), thus helping to visualize her theses and interpretations.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the author’s willingness to correct some of the (hypo)theses concerning the images and roles of medieval Bulgarian women that have been put forward by different Bulgarian scholars in the past century. Among them, I would like to mention at least, Anani Stoynev, and his extreme structuralist views on the position of women in medieval Bulgarian society (see, the Introduction and especially chapter 1, the paragraph on the “heathen” model, 21–22). Another strong aspect of this book is its special attention, paid not only to women who were followers of Eastern Orthodoxy but to women heretics, as well (mainly of the Bogomil sect).

What is lacking in the monograph, however, is a more solid and complex picture of everyday life in the country and women’s role in it, in particular. Needless to say, such an approach requires a thorough study of all the archaeological data available up to the present, a goal Georgieva obviously did not aim toward. In addition, some of the books cited are not mentioned in the Bibliography section—for instance, that of Mikhail Artamonov on Khazaria, published in 1962, which is incorrectly cited as having been issued in Moscow (instead of Leningrad, today Saint Petersburg), and in 1961 (251n89). These are, however, minor issues and they do not spoil the overall good impression of the book.

To sum up, Sashka Georgieva’s monograph will serve not only scholars and students of the Middle Ages but also all those who are interested in the humanities as a whole, including those not exclusively focused on issues of wars, rulership, politics, Crusades, or other “male” activities of this period. The book has a real potential to become a Vademecum (reference book) in women’s history regarding medieval Bulgaria.


Tsvetelin Stepanov, Bulgarite i Stepnata imperiia prez rannoto srednovekovie: Problemat za Drugite (Sofia: Gutenberg, 2005). See also the English version of the book: The Bulgars and the Steppe Empire in the Early Middle Ages: The Problem of the Others (Leiden: Brill, 2010).

Kristen Ghodsee, The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe, Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2015, 231 pp., $15.00 (pb), ISBN 978–0-8223–5835-0.

Book Review by Evgenia Kalinova

St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia, Bulgaria

Kristen Ghodsee’s new book presents both her archival and her ethnographic gender-sensitive research on post-1989 Bulgaria. One part of the book is the result of Ghodsee’s work in Bulgarian archives and interviews with Bulgarian women who occupied senior positions in the Komiteta na dvizhenieto na bulgarskite zheni (Committee of the Bulgarian Women’s Movement) during the communist era. Another part of the book, however, is dedicated to a new research area for the author—the resistance movement in Bulgaria during World War II and the role played by the British captain Frank Thompson. At first glance it is hard to find a common point between these two topics. However, Ghodsee unites them through the stories of several ordinary men and women, who lived the dramatic events of the twentieth century—World War II, the Cold War, and the collapse of communism. She is convinced that “small histories can reveal grand narratives, and grand narratives can inspire new ideas” (xx). In the prologue and the conclusion (which are especially interesting and important in order to understand the main ideas in the book), Ghodsee risks claiming that today, due to the crisis of global capitalism, there is a strong drive to look for an alternative, while simultaneously there is an equally strong drive in certain political elites to paint the recent socialist past exclusively in negative terms. This extreme and one-dimensional portrayal of communism raises concerns for the author that the only alternative to neoliberalism could turn out to be “the hate-filled, scapegoating, nationalist rhetoric of the far right” (xix). However, it also motivates her to understand the essence of this ideal, which inspired both the privileged British student Frank Thompson from Oxford and the three Lagadinov brothers and their fourteen-year-old sister Elena from a poor rural family in Bulgaria to risk their lives by standing on “the left side of history.”

The author tackles these topics from a thoroughly scholarly point of view. The first part of the book is dedicated to World War II and traces in parallel the key moments in the lives of Frank Thompson and the Lagadinov brothers. At first, they seem complete opposites—Frank comes from a wealthy British family, studies in the prestigious Winchester High School and then at Oxford University, speaks several languages, and writes poetry. Kostadin, Asen, and Boris Lagadinov are the sons of a poor craftsman in the small mountain town of Razlog in Southwest Bulgaria.

What unites the three Bulgarians and Frank is that they are attracted by the communist ideal. Ghodsee outlines with sufficient support the social and personal factors that have led them to make this choice—their actions, motivated by this ideal, are a testament to their readiness for self-sacrifice. Thompson enlists in the army as soon as the war starts, later transferring to the Special Operations Executive, which organizes British support for antifascist movements in the Balkans. In January 1944, he is dispatched with the Bulgarian partisans in the western part of the country. The brothers Lagadinov are sought by the police for illegal communist propaganda and in the autumn of 1941 join the first partisan section in southwest Bulgaria. Ghodsee demonstrates good knowledge of the situation in Bulgaria, which at the time is a German ally, and where the government is engaged in a merciless struggle with the partisans. In the spring of 1944 Thompson is captured and later executed by the Bulgarian police alongside several other partisans. Asen Lagadinov is killed almost at the same time, while his father and the fourteen-year-old Elena Lagadinova are forced to flee from the authorities and to join Kostadin and Boris in the partisan squad.

The author focuses specifically on the moments when her protagonists make decisions that put their lives in danger, as well as on the everyday risks they face. Her research is based mostly on the already existing scholarly literature, but she also draws in important ways on Frank Thompson’s diaries and correspondence and on the unpublished memoirs of Boris Lagadinov. Ghodsee is aware of the conflicting assessments of the resistance movement in Bulgaria, which are often strongly influenced by political views. Her conclusion is that the partisans and Thompson are neither heroes nor villains, but are ordinary people trying to change a world turned upside down by war. However, “they all shared the common ideal of a future where workers and peasants would have a greater say in government and a greater portion of the wealth they labored to produce. Frank Thompson, the Lagadinovs and countless other young idealists across Europe embraced this dream, a dream that gave them courage and hope” (65).

The question of whether it was worth it for these people to take such risks given that future generations would judge them from the vantage point of their momentary political situation is no less important for Ghodsee. This is the subject of the second part of the book, which transports the reader into the present. It is largely based on interviews with Elena Lagadinova—the youngest partisan in the summer of 1944, head of the Committee of the Bulgarian Women’s Movement from the middle of the 1960s until the end of the 1980s, and an ordinary retiree during the transition years after 1989. For the author she represents a control case and a test for the endurance of the ideal, which Elena first embraced as a child and then sought to turn into a reality under socialism, only to see it tarnished and vilified after 1989. Elena’s story is supplemented by her rich personal archive as well as by Ghodsee’s work in Bulgarian archives and interviews with other women of different backgrounds, ages, and professional experience, from the Committee of the Bulgarian Women’s Movement.

Particularly important given the challenges of researching the recent past is the chapter “History Is Written by the Victors.” There Ghodsee concludes that during the Cold War stereotypes existed in both the East and the West, but that after 1989 the victors imposed their own stereotypes, which leads to a lack of intellectual and ideological pluralism when one discusses the history of the recent past in Eastern Europe: “It might be easier to assert that the moon landing was staged than it would be to argue that there was anything good about the communist past” (133). The second part of the book brings back Thompson and the brothers Lagadinov, this time as memories or comparisons and correctives for the hard Bulgarian transition, which overcomes the feeling that some interviews might have just been an end in themselves. Furthermore, one can also recommend a more precise treatment of some historical facts in the first part of the book, but neither of these should detract from the general feeling of a complete and thoughtful narrative written in such an absorbing way that it deserves each and every minute spent reading it.

Last but not least, one should also note the emotional, sincere, and professional conclusion that Ghodsee draws at the end of the book as she stands in front of the grave of Thompson who died at age twenty-three just outside the Bulgarian village of Litakovo. She presents a systematic assessment of just what communism represents in both a global political and economic way and a personal way, that is, its attraction for the protagonists of the book. Her conclusion is that despite the many aspects of communism ranging from achievements to restrictions and violence, during the transition years the public remembrance of the period had become “one-dimensional” (192). Her observations, supported by specific facts, are that since the outset of the 2008 global financial crisis there has been a concerted effort to remind people of the evils of communism and to downplay the crimes of fascists by presenting them as victims of communism. Ghodsee’s human and scholarly position is not to ignore these processes but rather to try to “recognize the nuances of what communism meant to ordinary people, how it motivated or paralyzed them, how it fueled hope or spread disaster” (199–200).

Kristen Ghodsee‘s book will be an excellent reference point in debates about the nature of the recent past and its projection in the present, and an example of a sincere and professional attitude toward the research of historical events and processes.

Marina Hughson, Poluperiferija i rod: pobuna konteksta (The semiperiphery and gender: The rebellion of the context), Belgrade: Institut za sociološka i kriminološka istraživanja, 2015, 146 pp., price not listed (pb), ISBN 978-86-83287-83-3.

Book Review by Zorana Antonijevic

University of Novi Sad, Novi Sad, Serbia

What is the link between the semiperiphery and gender and why do certain social contexts refuse to fit into the usual theoretical frameworks of social theory? Marina (Blagojević) Hughson’s new work Poluperiferija i rod: Pobuna konteksta (The semiperiphery and gender: the rebellion of the context) explores and further develops this dynamic relationship and gender (de)construction at the semiperiphery. The book comprises an introduction, four chapters, a bibliography, and a summary in both Serbian and English.

In the introduction the author describes her own trajectories in defining her theory of semiperipherality. The construction of the theory of semiperipherality started early in her career with the main focus on the position of the female scientist in Serbia,1 and in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).2 Her interest gradually developed toward a focus on knowledge production in the context of postsocialist divisions in the East and West that resulted in a new imaginary and constructed hierarchies.3 In her new book, Hughson moves from a geographical and material understanding of the semi-periphery (countries at the intellectual, economic, and political margins, being in but still outside the European Union [EU] borders, or striving toward EU membership at the pace of a moving target), toward the detection of its structural characteristics.

In the first chapter, “What Is the Theory of the Semiperipheriality For?” Hughson explains her theory by acknowledging the ongoing debate between East and West, including the debate within feminism(s). The author very eloquently defends her feminist “standpoint” that feminist theorists from the semiperiphery can be not only transmitters and users of knowledge but are also its creators (47). Therefore, to progress toward the core, that is, the Global North, it is crucially important for feminist theorists from the semiperiphery to define their position and to develop a theory that will help them understand this position. And this position, as Hughson claims, is based on “our own direct experience, our own ontology and the ontology of our context” (39).

The theory of semiperipherality is built on several different theories: The first one, articulated by Raewyn Connell in 2007 as “Southern Theory,” allows the “polycentrism of knowledge.”4 This means that communities are “producing the knowledge that is suitable for these societies, their needs and possibilities, and which is very often beyond the language, the discourse, and the notions that the core can understand” (60). The second foundation of the semiperipherality theory is the feminist standpoint theory that understands the structure of society in terms of power relations that can be applied to the dynamics between the core, semiperiphery, and periphery. The third line of Hughson’s critical thinking originates from the multiple modernity theory, which claims that the modernization process is not uniform; therefore, the path of the semiperiphery toward modernization is always a “process,” characterized by a complex presence of concurrent premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity.5 Finally, the last theoretical ground on which Hughson builds her theory is the theory of world-systems. However, she is moving beyond notions of locality, territory, and geography toward an understanding of semiperipherality as “the system of structural dispositions of semiperipherial societies, which is closely linked to their location and territory, but goes deeper into the manner of how they function” (64–65).

In the second chapter, “Basic Coordinates of the Theory of Semiperipherality,” Hughson explains the basic elements of her theory. The major characteristics of semiperipheral societies are a mixture of both periphery and core, which causes diachronicities, hybridity, “de-development,” “surplus of humans,” and “lagging behind,” resulting in ambivalence toward the center: feeling attraction and aversion at the same time.

All these characteristics are further developed in the next chapter, “Gender Regimes at the Semiperiphery,” where Hughson identifies two major characteristics of the gender regimes at the semiperiphery: self-sacrificing micro-matriarchy and masculinity crises. Building on empirical findings from her 2013 comprehensive study Rodni barometar u Srbiji: razvoj i svakidašnji život (Gender barometer in Serbia: development and everyday life), she defines gender regimes at the semiperiphery in the Balkans in the context of retraditionalization, which is not simply a going back into the past, but an erasing of tradition from memory and constructing a new memory and tradition.6 Together with a lack of human and knowledge resources, democratic institutions, and a culture of tolerance and collaboration, the societies at the semiperiphery exist in the context of “façade democracies.”7

That affects how public policies are created and implemented, and how the field of policy intervention in the domain of gender equality is developed. This is the content of Hughson’s last chapter, “Gender Policies at the Semiperiphery: Rebellion of the Context.” The findings in this chapter are deeply rooted in contextual knowledge from the research Hughson has conducted in the past ten years in the Western Balkans and CEE, where she had an opportunity to intervene in the field of gender equality public policies and also to witness all the gaps in and obstacles to their successful implementation.

Marina Hughson’s book Poluperiferija i rod: Pobuna konteksta is an inspiring and brave book. She has tried not only to understand the “reality” of the semiperiphery but also to open further dialogue in this region. This dialogue has to take place not only among policymakers and decision makers, but among those who create new trajectories in feminist theory at the semiperiphery. That is why this book will be required reading not only for students in sociology, political science, and gender studies, but also for decision makers aiming toward imagining and creating more egalitarian societies.


Marina Blagojević, Žene izvan kruga: profesija i porodica [Women out of circle: Profession and family] (Belgrade: ISIFF, 1991); Marina Blagojević, “Svakodnevica iz ženske perspektive: Samožrtvovanje i beg u privatnost” [Everyday life from women’s perspective: Self-sacrificing and escape in privacy], in Društvene promene i svakodnevica: Srbija početkom 90-ih [Social changes and everyday life: Serbia at the beginning of 1990s], ed. Silvano Bolčić (Belgrade: ISIFF, 1995), 282–314.


European Commission, Enwise Report: Waste of Talents: Turning Private Struggles into a Public Issue: Women and Science in the Enwise Countries (Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2003).


Marina Blagojević, Knowledge Production at the Semiperiphery: A Gender Perspective (Belgrade: IKSI, 2009).


Raewyn Connell, “Margin Becoming Centre: For a World Centred Rethinking of Masculinities,” Norma: International Journal for Masculinity Studies (30 August 2014), (accessed 2 May 2015); Raewyn Connell, “Between Periphery and Metropole: Towards a Polycentric Social Science,” in Social Science in Context: Historical, Sociological, and Global Perspectives, ed. Rickard Danell, Anna Larsson, and Per Wisselgren (Falun: Scand Books, 2013), 237–256. See also Raewyn Connell, Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science: Social Science and the Global Dynamics of Knowledge (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).


Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, ed., Multiple Modernities (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2002).


Marina Blagojević Hughson, Rodni barometar u Srbiji: razvoj i svakidašnji život [Gender barometer in Serbia: development and everyday life] (Belgrade: UN WOMEN, 2013).


Andrea Spehar, “This Far, but No Further? Benefits and Limitations of EU Gender Equality Policy Making in the Western Balkans,” East European Politics and Societies 26, no. 2 (2012): 157–168.

Luciana M. Jinga, Gen şi reprezentare în România comunistă, 1944–1989 (Gender and representation in communist Romania, 1944–1989), Bucharest: Polirom, 2015, 368 pp., RON 44.95 (hb), ISBN 978-973-46-5267-1.

Book Review by Alexandra Ghit

Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Available historical narratives on Romanian state socialism say little about the fate of women’s organizations or gender equality policies, especially after the 1966 passage of the violently pronatalist Decree 770. Luciana M. Jinga’s book on women’s social visibility and political participation fills an important gap in this literature by showing, in the first part, that communist women’s organizations and their social functions have a complicated history in Romania, one that predates 1944. In the second part the author seeks to assess the success of gender equality policies over four decades of state socialist policymaking. She shows that the abortion-banning Ceauşescu regime exhibited a consistent preoccupation with the promotion of women in political and management leadership positions through the implementation and monitoring of a system of representation quotas. Upon finishing, the reader might be left with an unanswered question: what was happening in the world that made renewed attention to “the woman question” a priority in Romania at different points?

There had been a near dozen restructurings of organizational formulas for “working with women” within the persecuted interwar Partidul Comunist din România (Communist Party of Romania, PCR) and then the postwar Party. Jinga demonstrates how otherwise marginalized and mistrusted interwar communist women’s groups or individual activists were crucial in continuing communist and antifascist organizing in Romania and elsewhere during the suppression of the Party in the 1930s, via participation in overtly aid-oriented (and covertly militant) organizations. Despite their receiving life imprisonment and death sentences for their actions, most women activists were intentionally excluded from postwar commemorative practices in favor of constructing a postwar mythology of illegal struggle revolving around the imprisoned male leadership (58). A 1920s fear of “feminist sectarianism” reemerged in discussions of the activities of the Uniunea Femeilor Antifasciste din România (Union of Antifascist Women of Romania) and the Uniunea Femeilor Democrate din România (Union of Democratic Women of Romania), the mass organizations functioning in the 1945–1953 period (chapter 2).

After several other formulas, a Consiliul National al Femeilor (National Council of Women)—paralleling, intriguingly, the model of the communist Union des Femmes Française (Union of French Women)—was created in 1958. Jinga reconstitutes the changing tasks of the council during the following three decades: countrywide community organizing through village and city committees or mobilization for productivity and ensuring women’s promotion via workplace commissions during the 1960s, concrete implementation of the PCR program for increasing women’s representation in leadership positions beginning with the 1970s, active participation in antiabortion campaigns and factory-level surveillance of women’s reproductive choices coupled with participation in sanitary campaigns, city beautification programs, or supervision of youth organizations in the 1980s (chapters 3 and 4).

The author states that these multiple formulas were a result of the subordination of these organizations and of women as a group to the rather underspecified changing ideological and economic priorities of the regime. Yet the mentions of instances of dissent within these organizations, of opposition to or rather clear support from PCR leadership throughout the period prompt questions about the more specific sources of these tensions and the particular political rationales that underpinned them. The book’s findings suggest that it might be more suitable to speak not of a single if evolving project of organizing women under communism but rather of multiple visions, abandoned initiatives, and malfunctioning plans.

In the numbers-heavy second part, a review of classical socialist ideas on the “woman question” and the gender equality track record of other state socialist countries (chapter 5) frame the discussion of the Romanian government’s measures in the field. Thus, in chapter 6, Jinga traces changes in the legal and educational systems and their demonstrably beneficial effect on women’s professional achievements but also the regime’s backtracking on equality—by discouraging divorces for instance. The analysis of labor policies and women’s labor force participation presented in chapter 7 documents gendered professional segregation, exclusionary protective legislation, the “glass ceiling,” and the “double burden” as phenomena marking women’s professional lives throughout the period. At the same time, in this and the following two chapters (on women’s representation in government and the professional trajectories of high-ranking PCR members, respectively), the author highlights the consistent preoccupation with fulfilling planned gender quotas, a project hampered by persistent sexism at all levels. Here Jinga also addresses the stubborn myth that the strict desire to legitimize the power of Elena Ceauşescu, the president’s wife, underpinned all these efforts. Demonstrably, these policies were not about one woman but about transforming or stabilizing gender orders.

This carefully researched volume, grounded in an impressive array of sources, vacillates in its overall interpretation between the moralizing anticommunist tone and tropes of much recent Romanian historiography and the more ambivalent readings of communist projects in the gender and feminist scholarship the author incorporates. Yet Gen şi reprezentare în România comunistă, 1944–1989 is likely to become a key reference for Romanian-reading researchers interested in the women’s and gender history of state socialisms. The book’s findings encourage scholars to reach for new sources (such as oral histories), detail the reasons and effects of specific policies, and embed, via gendered analysis, a deconstructed narrative of Romanian communism’s “totalitarian exceptionalism” in an attentively historicized global context.

Roswitha Kersten-Pejanić, Simone Rajilić, and Christian Voß, eds., Doing Gender—Doing the Balkans: Dynamics and Persistence of Gender Relations in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Successor States, Munich, Berlin, and Washington, DC: Verlag Otto Sagner, 2012, 245 pp., €29.80 (pb), ISBN 978-3-866888-326-0.

Book review by Chiara Bonfiglioli

Centre for Cultural and Historical Research of Socialism, Juraj Dobrila University of Pula, Croatia

This edited volume is the outcome of a conference held at Humboldt University, Berlin, in 2011, within the framework of the project “Language and Gender in South-Eastern Europe: Linguistic Manifestations of Gender Conceptualisations in Albania, Croatia, and Serbia,” funded by the German Research Foundation. It includes a wide array of original contributions related to gender studies in Yugoslavia and post- Yugoslav states, divided according to the following interdisciplinary sections: Politics and Society, Constructions of Gender in Language and Media, and History and Anthropology.

The editors convey from the start their intent to overcome essentialist notions of “gender” and “the Balkans,” stressing the performativity of language and the constructed character of these categories in a global and multipolar era. The deconstruction of Balkanist discourses and of the Europe versus Balkans dichotomy is undoubtedly part of the volume, especially when it comes to its first section. In her essay, Marina Blagojević talks about the necessity to deconstruct predominant gendered and ethicized narratives in the former Yugoslavia. She proposes instead to emphasize pozistorija, meaning the positive history of multiculturalism and resistance to war, which has been cast to the margins of popular culture and academic discourse. The first section on politics and society also includes a discussion of the limits of European Union gender mainstreaming policies in Croatia and Macedonia (Andrea Spehar), a comparison of different legal provisions on prostitution in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia (Mario Vinković), an account on the development of gender studies, women’s representations in the media, and women’s interventions in the arts in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Marina Katnić-Bakaršić), as well as a contribution by Petra Bläss-Rafajlovski on her collaboration with women politicians and nongovernmental organization activists from the region, particularly in relation to peacekeeping negotiations in Kosovo.

The second section presents a series of innovative contributions on gendered discourses in the region that aim to unravel the performative character of gender in language and to deconstruct sexist representations in mainstream media. Zorica Mršević addresses gendered discrimination in the Serbian media, and particularly the frequent misogynic attacks against professional women and female politicians. Similarly, Roswitha Kersten-Pejanić documents the media reactions surrounding the election of the first Croatian female prime minister, Jadranka Kosor, in 2009. The author discusses how Kosor was often discredited in mainstream media and how she openly responded to these attacks by stressing women’s equal rights, hence adopting a position that seemed at odds with the conservative Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica (HDZ, Croatian Democratic Union) to which she belonged (and from which she was later expelled). This analysis became even more relevant after the election of Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, another politician from the HDZ, as the first female Croatian president in December 2014. The other articles included in this section focus on gendered language and gendered stereotypes in the media in Albania (Delina Binaj), on the dominance of the masculine gender and the introduction of gender-sensitive language in Serbia (Ljiljana Marković), on addressing practices in Slovenia during and after socialism (Renata Šribar), and on the gendered character of job advertising in Croatian newspapers (Zrinjka Glovacki-Bernardi).

The third part of the volume addresses the gendered construction of femininities and masculinities from an anthropological and historical perspective, encompassing both the socialist and postsocialist periods. Rada Drezgić studies the construction of rural masculinities in Serbia in the 1990s, taking the case study of a failed attempt at international matchmaking between rural middle-aged bachelors and Ukrainian women, who were supposed to reproduce the traditional Serbian family through patrilineal lines. Drezgić’s contribution makes evident that gendered practices and discourses need to be situated in relation to other relevant factors of differentiation, such as the urban–rural divide. The other three contributions deal with the complex gendered constellations that emerged during the socialist period. Dean Vuletic discusses the difficulties encountered by researchers when attempting to document the history of homosexuality in Croatia before the 1980s, and analyzes some episodes of discrimination and persecution from the late 1940s and early 1950s, when political leaders debated how to treat homosexuals in the partisan army and in the Communist Party, before the approval of the 1951 Penal Code that criminalized homosexual acts. The ambivalent gendered and sexual morality of socialist elites is also discussed by Nataša Mišković, who concentrates on the figure of Jovanka Budisavljević (1924–2013): A young partisan from the rural region of Lika, she became the last wife of Josip Broz Tito. Mišković underlines the patriarchal role of Yugoslav male leaders and of Tito himself, but also relates how Jovanka and other former partisan women managed to exercise a certain degree of power in postwar Yugoslavia. The new socialist regime opened up new possibilities for women’s agency, as made evident in Natalja Herbst’s article on the figure of Rajka Borojević (1913–1973), a former partisan and communist activist who set up a cooperative of female weavers in the mountain village of Donji Dubac in 1952, contributing to the education and empowerment of local women.

In conclusion, the articles collected in the volume Doing Gender—Doing the Balkans represent a valuable contribution to ongoing debates on gender relations and gender practices in the post-Yugoslav region, and will be of particular interest to scholars working in the fields of media studies, linguistics, politics, and history.

Daniela Koleva, ed., Lyubovta pri sotsializma: Obraztsi, obrazi, tabuta (Love during socialism: Patterns, images, taboos), Sofia: Centre for Advanced Study, 2015, 311 pp., BGN 15 (pb), ISBN 978-954-320-494-6.

Book Review by Ana Luleva

Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, Bulgaria

If we need to give a short answer to the question of the field in which the collection Lyubovta pri sotsializma: Obraztsi, obrazi, tabuta (Love during socialism: patterns, images, taboos) belongs, it would be fair to say that this is the field of love studies. The theme of love unites the thirteen essays written by authors from different academic backgrounds (philosophers, sociologists, historians, psychologists, cultural studies specialists, literary scholars, etc.). Equally, however, it is reasonable to say that the collection belongs to the field of cultural studies of socialism or the history of emotions during socialism, because it is a book in which love is explored from different perspectives as a socially constructed feeling during the period of state socialism in Bulgaria.

Unlike public life, the areas of intimate life, the private sphere, and especially the subject of emotions, are much less studied. Probably to a large extent this is due to the difficulty of entering the personal world of people who lived under socialism, even though the biographical twist in the social sciences has brought more researchers closer than ever to the living worlds of “ordinary people.” However, as the essays featured in this volume indicate, there are still untapped sources that shed new light on the emotions of that time.

The collection is aptly structured in four sections, in which the essays correspond to each other and create a multilayered picture of the researched object. In the introductory essay of the book, Daniela Koleva outlines three main thematic fields that intersect with the theme of love during socialism and that the authors refer to in their individual studies: the first is the education of emotions as a political project or the attempts to impose a certain emotional normativity associated with this field; the second is the relationship of public–private, which is discussed in some of the essays, and the third is the subject of discourses and policies on gender. Although only one of the essays offers gender-sensitive analysis, many others contain valuable observations about gender culture during socialism. Discursive analysis is preferred by the majority of authors who, through this approach, come closer to the social reality constituted and displayed by various discourses.

The first part of the book includes papers that interpret love discourse in the theater (Violeta Decheva), biographical journalism (Nadezhda Alexandrova), labor culture (Bilyana Raeva), and the media image of an exemplary socialist family (Nadezhda Galabova). The role of popular youth magazines is the subject of interest in the second part of the collection. Essays by Galina Goncharova and Nikolai Vukov deal with the youth cultures and subcultures of the same period, and shed new light on the ambiguous relationship between the youth cultures and the regime. Vukov notes a very important feature of the intimate world of the time, which is also found in other texts in this collection, namely, the adoption of public language by individuals, the influx of ideological clichés into the intimate/private world. “The public” and “the private” are problematized in Ivaylo Alexandrov’s text on “the love image” of “the woman” in Bulgarian socialist advertising. I think the analyzed material speaks not so much about the love images of women and the transformation from public to intimate in the media discourse, as it does about the changes in the socialist gender regime and the construction of women as working mothers and wives. Following the accomplishment of full employment of women in the paid labor market, from 1960 onward, images of a traditional patriarchal femininity were increasingly circulated. The latter fit into the consumer culture that is typical of mature socialism.

At the center of research interest in the third part of the book are the discourses on eroticism and sex. Boyko Penchev’s literary analysis concludes that socialist literature from the 1960s and 1970s addresses love in a puritanical and a-erotic way; the erotic is subject to a higher ideological or philosophical task, it is associated with deviance and has bourgeois qualities, alien to the new socialist context. Generations of Bulgarians during socialism learned about sex from the popular book Muzhut i zhenata intimno (The man and the woman intimately) by the East German author Siegfried Schnabel, published in Bulgarian by the State Publishing House Medicine and Sports in 1979. In analyzing the book, the well-known novelist Georgi Gospodinov notes the lack of an adequate language for sexual relations during the socialist time. The discourse is medicalized, de-eroticized, and it constantly warns of the dangers of extramarital sex. Gospodinov coined the apt term partiarhalsocialism to denote the particular mixture of patriarchal shyness and socialism in that era. Michael Gruev’s article is dedicated to the history of paid love in Bulgaria between 1940 and 1960. Gruev shows that during that time there were substantial changes in terminology and state policy toward this phenomenon. The essay by Vivian Pramataroff-Hamburger is especially valuable to this collection. She reflects on her own experience as a doctor (obstetrician-gynecologist) in a Bulgarian hospital in the second half of the 1980s. The text is enlivened by the author’s frankness and her desire to reveal a darker side of the medical profession in socialist Bulgaria: the humiliating treatment of women who terminated unwanted pregnancies. The collection ends with two essays that offer two readings of an excerpt taken from a school diary.

The thirteen essays that efficiently complement each other in this collection manage to achieve “the modest ambition,” formulated by Daniela Koleva in the introductory text—to outline a blank spot in the knowledge about socialism and suggest possible research perspectives for it. It is a fascinating read not only for historians but for anyone interested in the period of state socialism in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe.

Agnieszka Kościańska, Płeć, przyjemność i przemoc: Kształtowanie wiedzy eksperckiej o seksualności w Polsce (Gender, pleasure, and violence: The construction of expert knowledge of sexuality in Poland), Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2014. 272 pp., 39 PLN (pb), ISBN 978-83-235-1562-3.

Book Review by Barbara Klich-Kluczewska

Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland

This book by Agnieszka Kościańska, a renowned anthropologist associated with the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Warsaw, is one of the most interesting critical works on sexuality published in Poland in recent years. This by no means diminishes the fact that such books are still very rare and most historical and cultural aspects of sexuality and body are yet to be fully researched.

Kościańska’s book is a study of expert discourse on sexuality, which comprehensively encompasses the last two decades of communist Poland and all of contemporary Poland (up to 2012). This is a completely different approach from the usual focus on big turning points (e.g., 1989), so widespread in Polish historical studies, although it is of course much more common in publications on gender history and gender studies worldwide.1 It is worth noting that the narration about the discourse of the People’s Republic of Poland of late communism constitutes both a point of reference for the analysis of modern times and a fully autonomous analysis itself, put in a historical context.

The book presents the most specific features of the Polish expert discourse in sexology and unearths a relatively little-known concept of the so-called Polish sexology school, with its holistic approach to patients (holistic sexology), interdisciplinary studies, and the belief that knowledge about sexuality must be spread in the society at large.2 Kościańska raises the issue of gender roles and sexuality models that are present in the discourse, along with the way they changed as a result of feminism and the postcommunist political and economic transformation after 1989. What defines the originality of her approach is the attempt to bring together the reconstruction of knowledge and particular sensitivity as to the process of creating such knowledge. Kościańska’s methodological inspirations include the methodological concepts of Ludwik Fleck, who argued that scientific ideas originate in interactions between “thought collectives” that represent various mindsets (here, for example, doctors, patients, or activists).3 Thus, despite being loyal to constructivism and the rigid model of Foucault (i.e., expert discourse creates the leading model of sexuality, providing the framework in which an individual experiences pleasure), Kościańska emphasizes the important role of the patient in the process of creating such knowledge. Perhaps as important, an element that defines the structure of the book is the concept of sexual hierarchy by Gayle Rubin, from whom Kościańska borrows the terms “good” and “bad” sex.4 As a result, the author focuses on two facets of sexuality—pleasure and violence.

The first part of the book outlines the profiles of people who represented the Polish sexology school in the wider context of the US school. The second part concerns the issue of good/socially desirable, defined in late communist Poland as kulturalny seks or kultura seksualna (well-mannered sex or sexual culture), which—according to Dr. Lew-Starowicz—is associated with, among other factors, knowledge about techniques, empathy, mutual understanding, as well as personal hygiene (71). The analysis of papers written by specialists considered revolutionary in their time owes the omnipresence of stereotypes, which concerned gender roles. According to Kościańska, “works by sexologists may be considered as the medicalization of stereotypes and the Catholic understanding of gender and marriage, when woman is put into the home area and man—into the public one; the former is identified as passive, the latter—active” (106). “Good sex” is a kind of sex practiced in a heterosexual marriage with procreation in mind. Even in the contemporary sexological discourse, Kościańska sees a continuity of the above, although now with many contradictions, thanks mainly to feminist and queer concepts. The most obvious change is the abandonment of the criminalization of homosexuality in discourse.

The most valuable conclusions come in the third chapter, which concerns rape. On the basis of expert publications and court sources from past years, Kościańska manages not only to reconstruct the level of knowledge but also to analyze it in court trial practice. She argues that rape discourse is still dominated by the image of a victim who allegedly provokes a man to rape (the stereotype of provocation) and hence shares at least partial responsibility for the crime. The reasons behind it, according to the author, come from the belief that women are, generally speaking, responsible for sexual and family life. This concept was very strong both in the 1970s and 2000s (as proved by court files), which is particularly surprising when compared to our contemporary times. However, we should also appreciate numerous (and effective) recent attempts to deconstruct this harmful stereotype, especially by feminist organizations such as Polskie Stowarzyszenie Feministyczne (Polish Feminist Association), Ośrodek Informacji Środowisk Kobiecych (National Women’s Information Center), Fundacja Feminoteka (Feminoteka Foundation), and Stowarzyszenie “W stronę dziewcząt” (Association “Toward the Girls”) (208).

An important aspect of this book is the discipline of thought and analysis. Kościańska makes no huge generalizations about communist-era Polish society as historians usually do. She also omits from wider consideration the phenomenon of homosexuality, due to the heteronormative character of the studied literature. Similarly (the sort of analyzed sources), she discounts the role of the Catholic Church in shaping ideas about sexuality. As a result, the book should be read as an analysis of a certain segment of the Polish discourse on sexuality, which is extremely important, but cannot be identified either through common knowledge or the state of social consciousness.

It is a matter of some regret that the author, in seeking a context for the development of Polish sexology, refers mainly to the achievements of US sexology, while at the same time overlooking the European, and—above all—East European context. On the other hand, thanks to the comparison with the United States she manages to prove that it was not the communist ideology but the freedom from pharmaceutical industry patronage that remained a significant factor influencing Polish sexology of the 1970s and 1980s.

Agnieszka Kościańska’s book is a successful interdisciplinary study which should become mandatory reading for historians, anthropologists and sociologists interested in the transformation of gender roles and the development of expert knowledge in late-communist and post-communist Poland, but also—more generally—the transformation of societies in Central and Eastern Europe in the recent five decades.


See, for example, Helene Carlbäck, Yulia Gradskova, and Zhanna Kravchenko, eds., And They Lived Happily Ever After: Norms and Everyday Practices of Family and Parenthood in Russia and Central Europe (Budapest and New York: CEU Press, 2012) [reviewed in this issue of Aspasia].


Kazimierz Imieliński, Michalina Wisłocka, and Zbigniew Lew-Starowicz are the most important representatives of the group.


Ludwik Fleck, The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1979).


Gayle Rubin, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,” in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), 100–133.

Denis Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2013, 431 pp., $55.00 (hb), ISBN 978–0-6740–7287-9.

Book Review by Courtney Doucette

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

In 1954, the year following Joseph Stalin’s death, the Soviet literary journal Novyi mir (New world) published Ilya Ehrenburg’s novella Ottepel (The thaw), which came to provide a name for the momentous years following Stalin’s death. In the 1950s and 1960s, Novyi mir published many works that were to define the era, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Odin den Ivana Denisovicha (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich). In The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past, historian Denis Kozlov narrates the history of this publication in its golden age and analyzes how discourse on the Stalin era developed in the wake of the leader’s death. In contrast to other recent scholarship, the author reasserts that the Thaw was “a new epoch—a time of major evolutionary change, when the fundamental notions of the Soviet polity, the worldview, and indeed the very language that had originated in the Stalin decades began to erode” (6).

Kozlov arrives at this argument through one central investigation: “How did the reading audience change in the process of contemplating and discussing the publications that became landmarks in the country’s history?” (12). A collection of more than three thousand letters responding to at least five major publications, and a rich variety of other sources, allow him to trace linguistic changes over time. In chapters on Pomerantsev’s “On Sincerity” (1954), Dudentsev’s Ne khlebom edinim (Not by bread alone) (1956), and Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (completed in 1957—it was of course never published in the Soviet Union, but letter writers nonetheless responded to what they had not read), he contends that a new language gradually emerged out of the rhetorical regime of the Stalin era. Responses to Ehrenburg’s Liudi, Gody, Zhizn’ (People, Years, Life) (1961–1966), Solzhenitsyn’s Odin den’ Ivana Denisovicha (1962), and even the Sinyavsky–Daniel Trial (1965–1966) demonstrate how Soviet people eventually developed a language they could use to voice critical views of official positions, discuss the Stalinist purges, and express their own experiences of the Stalin years. The Thaw, then, emerges not as an epoch launched by Khruschev’s “Secret Speech” denouncing Stalin’s cult of personality in 1956, but as one based on broad cultural linguistic shifts instigated by millions.

Through his rereading of the Thaw, Kozlov positions himself in the Soviet subjectivities debate. “Compared with those early years,” he writes, “the Thaw marked a different historical process—the unmaking of Soviet subjectivity”(9). He argues that as Soviet people developed new critical voices and a deeper understanding of the Stalin era, they ceased to inscribe their lives in the development of the revolution. In a fascinating way, Kozlov thus critically contends with recent scholarship that has brought the Soviet subjectivities into the 1950s and 1960s, though to further sort out the relationship between the Soviet population and the state, it would also be interesting to know more about traditions of criticism promoted from above—for example, kritika i samokritika (criticism and self-criticism)—and to what extent the critical language of Novyi mir readers mapped onto these traditions.

Exceptionally well-written and researched, this book opens up further research questions of particular interest to scholars of women’s and gender history. In the course of illuminating the editorial philosophies that shaped Novyi mir, Kozlov notes memoirists whose works did not make the final cut: Valentina Mikhailovna Mukhina- Petrinskaia, Maria Sigizmundovna Klimovich, Anna Emanuilovna Patrunov-Kagan, Nina Ivanovna Gagen-Torn, Lidiia Chukovskaia, and Evgeniia Ginzburg. Is it a coincidence that they were all women? The manuscripts of some men were undoubtedly denied publication as well, but this list, and the fact that Kozlov looks at only texts written by men, raises questions about the gender of the 1960s discourse on Stalinism and the role of women in the Thaw. Whose experiences were valued on the pages of Novyi mir? Whose voices came to shape the reevaluation of the Stalinist past?

The apparently masculine nature of the Thaw as Kozlov understands it draws attention to a broader trend in the growing body of scholarship on the Khrushchev and, to an extent, Brezhnev eras. Historians who have expanded our understanding of women and gender in these eras, including Susan Reid, Kristin Roth-Ey, Melanie Ilic, and others, have largely focused on consumption and the home. Almost no attention has been devoted to women intellectuals and the dynamics of gender within intellectual circles. We must locate the role of women in the history of ideas in the Soviet Union to gain a better understanding of the period as a whole and of the Thaw and critical discourse on the Stalin era in particular. Doing so might start with the pages of Novyi mir but will require careful attention to the categories and questions of women’s and gender history.

While Kozlov’s Readers of Novyi Mir leaves these questions unanswered, this monograph is a model of scholarly research and writing. Scholars of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death, twentieth-century Russian and East European literature and intellectual history, as well as those interested more broadly in methods for tracing popular engagement will all find this book indispensable.

Anna Pelka, Z [politycznym] fasonem: Moda młodzieżowa w PRL i NRD (In [political] fashion: Youth fashions in the PPR and the GDR), Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Słowo/Obraz Terytoria, 2013, 362 pp., 38.99 PLN (pb), ISBN 978–8-37453–221-1.

Book Review by Katarzyna Stańczak-Wiślicz

Institute of Literary Research, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland

Fashions and clothes in Eastern Bloc countries have recently become a popular subject in both academic works and popular discourses. There is already a rich body of literature on the subject of fashions in the Soviet Union, written—among others—by Olga Gurova, Mila Oiva, Djurja Bartlett, and Tatiana Dashkova, and new works concerning other East European countries are appearing.

From the beginning of her career, Anna Pelka, an art historian at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, has been interested in the relationship between fashion and politics in Eastern Europe (Poland and the German Democratic Republic, GDR) and in the West (Spain). She has focused her research on the interaction between political diktat on the one hand, and fashion and discourses on the body on the other. Her first book was an attempt to outline the changes in the ways that young people dressed in Poland during the period 1945–1989. In her latest book she puts the youth fashions in Poland and the GDR in the context of their political situation. Pelka focuses on the internal dynamics of the period 1945–1989, and on the shifting economic and political constellations, which caused changes in the official views of clothes and fashions. She reveals the broader context of the examined phenomena, while she briefly discusses the cultural trends that came from the United States and Western Europe.

Pelka’s research fits into the mainstream of cultural studies of communism, all the more so because she employs the methodological tools of a historian and an art historian and bases her analysis on an impressive list of sources. She uses archival materials—Party documents, followed by the internal materials of institutions on the subject of fashions, and academic works from the period. She reaches out to the specialist and popular press, using oral history interviews and visual materials such as photographs of clothes, designs, and pictures taken on the streets showing “fashion in action.” Visual sources make up an integral part of the book, which is essential from the point of view of the subject discussed.

The author chronologically compares the situation in Poland and the GDR. The justification for the choice of these two states is the extremely difficult situation of both countries right after the war as well as their characteristics, which dictated similarities but most of all differences in policy regarding clothes and fashions. The opening chapter examines the situation in Poland and the GDR up to the 1950s, and ends with an epilogue briefly showing the transformation after 1989. Between these two chronological poles, the narrative is conducted separately. Separate chapters are devoted to successive decades in the history of Poland, and alternately in the GDR, whereby the author always indicates the similarities and emphasizes the differences in the ideology and practice of both countries. For instance, she shows the convergence of the youth policies pursued under Ulbricht and Gomułka in the early 1960s. Elsewhere she demonstrates that the ideology of (restricted) consumption in Poland in the 1970s was combined with a much wider opening to Western influence than in the GDR. Pelka repeatedly emphasizes Poland’s relatively broad independence within the socialist bloc and the country’s major role in introducing Western patterns. Just as frequently, she underlines the paradox of the GDR’s situation—geographical proximity to the West and the same language as in the other German state, but at the same time a much greater resistance to Western cultural influences than in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Seeking the reasons for this, she indicates the need, constantly stressed in official debates, to cast off the heritage of the Third Reich. In the sphere of fashions, this casting off was supposed to be manifested in a rejection of the folklore motives popular in the West and in other bloc countries in the 1970s, or in a tendency to make women’s clothes more “masculine” than, for instance, in Poland. Both folklore motifs and overly feminine dresses were associated with the Nazi idea of womanhood. Summing up, although the author indicates only some aspects of the phenomenon, it is valuable that she draws attention to internal differences within the Eastern Bloc and their manifestations in the sphere of body and fashion.

Anna Pelka has succeeded in showing that clothes and fashion were very important in the socialist countries. First, like the whole of consumption, they were part of the Cold War struggles, then they became a part of policy toward these countries’ own citizens, and finally, they became a subject of interest and fascination to designers, creators, and ordinary consumers. The author devotes the least attention to the latter, for she concentrates on the political aspect of clothing and fashion, delving into the current of studies about communism based on the concept of totalitarianism. Already in the introduction she proposes an interpretation of young people’s fascination with popular Western culture in terms of “opposition to the system,” a struggle against the “uniformity and standardization” imposed by the state. Meanwhile, more recent works devoted to fashion in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc underline its specific nature and dependence on state control; nevertheless, the assertion that fashion was drab and people looked like a gray mass is receding into the past.1

It would certainly have been more interesting if the author had added to her study on Polish and GDR fashions the context of the history of the body, and if in addition to the political aspect, she had devoted more attention to the aspect of everyday life, to fashion as an expression of genuine human needs and their daily fulfillment, not necessarily as an act of resistance toward communism. The sources used in the book, at least the women’s and popular magazines, would have permitted this. The gender aspect of the studied phenomena is completely missing from the book. In describing how young people who “failed to adapt” during the Honecker era were treated as criminals, or how long-haired lovers of Western music were persecuted earlier, Pelka has in mind boys and young men. It is against them that political charges were brought. In the case of girls and young women, it is aspects of behavior and morality that caused anxiety—skirts that were too long or too short. The author shows this difference, but fails to conceptualize it.

Anna Pelka’s book fits into a totalitarian picture of the history of the Polish People’s Republic and German Democratic Republic. In the case of cultural studies, such an approach flattens the perspective. Nevertheless, the book certainly has its value. One of the greatest achievements of this work is the richness and variety of the source material analyzed. In-depth analysis of the politics of fashion as well as the dynamic juxtaposition of the situation in two socialist countries is worth mentioning. All this can make the book an important reference point for researchers of social and cultural history of the former Soviet Bloc.


Olga Gurova, “The Art of Dressing: Body, Gender and Discourse on Fashion in Soviet Russia in the 1950s and 1960s,” in The Fabric of Cultures: Fashion, Identity, Globalization, ed. Eugenia Paulicelli and Hazel Clark (London: Routledge, 2009), 73–91.

Amelia Sanz, Francesca Scott, and Suzan van Dijk, eds., Women Telling Nations, Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi B.V., 2014, 472 pp., $124.70 (hb), ISBN 978–9042038707.

Book Review by Valentina Mitkova

St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia, Bulgaria

Although the issues of national formation and nationalism traditionally fall within the focus of scientific research, stress has been relatively rare on the fact that, due to the androcentric pathos of historical narratives in general, national projects affected men and women differently. The collection of studies Women Telling Nations, edited by Amelia Sanz, Francesca Scott, and Susan van Dijk, by contrast, represents women as real participants in the formation of nations in the period from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. The goal is to prove, through analyzing variations of female activity (mainly intellectual) in the national establishment and evolution, that women’s role in the process was cross-cultural, transsocial, and transpolitical.

The articles featured in this collection are grouped in four thematic subsections, depending on the specific women–nations relations on which they focus. The first part, titled “Women Belonging to Nations,” analyzes the ways in which women expressed their belonging to particular communities, largely constructed through an active exchange of written texts and cultural practices. Functioning as alternative nations, they were mainly unions of spirit, of shared faith or intellectual belonging, transcultural and transpolitical by nature. Madeleine Jeay’s essay, “Medieval Women Networking before the Appearance of Nation,” which is first in the collection, demonstrates that a form of national consciousness was inherent to women long before the rise of nationalism as a doctrine and the actual delineation of national borders. Such consciousness occurred among certain privileged medieval women—queens, princesses, and Occitan female troubadours—who, based on the prestige of lineages were given the opportunity to participate in the public and cultural (religious) issues of the time. Inês de Ornellas de Castro’s study, “Latine Loquor [Speak]: Women Acquiring Auctoritas [Authority] (Portugal 1500–1800),” in turn concentrates on women literati who were part of the Portuguese aristocracy between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Considered an exception at the time, they managed indirectly to give publicity to their ideas and interests (different from the domestic and religious issues) through translating or commenting about Latin texts on historical, architectural, and other humanitarian topics, thus declaring their auctoritas—a spiritual reputation based on the possession of erudition, which was normally attributed only to renowned men in society. Crossing the boundaries—both symbolic and real—were also certain women in Spain between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. “Beyond Political Boundaries: Religion as Nation in Early Modern Spain,” by Nieves Baranda, focuses on the way women constructed identities based on spiritual relationships—either mutuality of faith, resulting in religious communities with a transnational dimension, or communities based on shared intellectual tradition (via the Spanish language and literature, which was the lingua franca of the time). In “Expatriates: Women’s Communities, Mobility and Cosmopolitism in Early Modern Europe: English and Spanish Nuns in Flanders,” María Jesús Pando-Canteli analyzes the multilingual transcultural communities organized by the Catholic women expatriates in the Spanish Netherlands in the seventeenth century: the intense circulation of writing within and among them cultivated awareness of a shared spiritual identity (based on common cultural practices), going beyond the borders of the national territories. Henriette Goldwyn, in “Strange Language and Practices of Disorder: The Prophetic Crisis in France Following the Revocation of the Edict on Nantes in 1685,” looks at the practice of prophesying as a unique discursive space, that gave the Huguenot women in seventeenth-century France the opportunity to oppose the monolithic, unified, and homogeneous monarchy. Through prophesying they appropriated a language foreign to them to engage in a narrative of identity repair (116).

The second part of the collection, “Women Writing Nations,” focuses on women’s voices devoid of transgressive pathos, but involved, by absorption of various practices and through asserting different positions, in the process of construction of the national myth. Biljana Dojčinović and Ivana Pantelić’s text, “Early Modern Women Intellectuals in 19th-Century Serbia: Milica Stojadinović, Draga Dejanović and Milica Tomić,” represents three outstanding female figures in the context of the young Serbian state, building its administrative and educational structures—a poet, an actress, and a journalist/political activist (Milica Stojadinović Srpkinja, Draga Dimitrijević Dejanović, and Milica Miletić Tomić, respectively), personifying a different (possible and evolutionary) mode of public visibility of women intellectuals. There was a clearly articulated consciousness of nationhood in the biographies of the three, paired with a progressive vision about women’s social status. Alejandro Hermida de Blas’s essay, “The Role of Božena Němcová in the Construction of Czech and Slovak Cultural Identity,” also focuses on a female character who was extraordinary for her time, having entered the public sphere and engaged with a political discourse that were traditionally reserved for men. Nadezhda Alexandrova’s text, “A Queen of Many Kingdoms: The Autobiography of Rayna Knyaginya,” in turn, sheds light on another aspect of women’s inclusion in the implementation of national projects—the symbolic use of female images in the construction and strengthening of the national ideology. The latter is demonstrated by tracking the life of the legendary image of Rayna Knyaginya, who has been stably reproduced as a sacred marker of women’s self-sacrifice in the Bulgarian national consciousness since the mid-nineteenth century. The royal title that belonged to a literary character was unquestionably attributed to a real person—the Bulgarian teacher and author Rayna Popgeorgieva, famous for sewing the main rebel flag of the Panagyurishte revolutionary district for the April uprising (1876). As Alexandrova notes, “the symbolic image was more durable than the self-assertive efforts of Rayna Popgeorgieva’s writing” (152), since the latter, trying to restore the memory of the uprising in its completeness and, subsequently, questioning its halo, confronted the postulates of the national ideology. The female image presented by Katja Mihurko Poniž’s text, “The Representations of Slavic Nations in the Writings of Jospina Turnograiska,” is also analyzed in commitment to the process of building of the national myth: Jospina Turnograjska, the first Slovenian woman who wrote in the years after the March Revolution of 1848, was engaged, together with her male contemporaries, in strengthening the national consciousness and spirit of the Slovenians. The Southeastern European author Dora d’Istria presented in Ileana Mihailă’s essay, “Dora d’Istria and the Springtime of the Peoples in South-Eastern European Nations,” was also involved through her writings in the movement to have Balkan people recognized as nationals following the 1848 revolutions. Through her remarkable literary contribution she helped by acquainting the readership of her time with the national identity issues and the folklore legacy of Southeastern European people (Romanians, Greek, Albanians, Serbs, Bulgarian, and Turks). Kati Launis, in “The Vision of an Equal Nation: Russian-Finnish Author Marie Linder (1840–1870),” in turn, explores the Finnish experience in national formation, stressing the novels of the Russian-Finish author and early feminist Marie Linder. The Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf’s writings, analyzed by Jenny Bergenmar in “Selma Lagerlöf, Frederika Bremer and Women as Nations Builders,” also focused on women’s role in constructing the nation. Visualizing women as nation builders, Lagerlöf compared men’s creation of the state with women’s creation of the home, seen as an absolute prerequisite for the good home in a societal and political sense. The Finnish author L. Onerva (Hilja Onerva Lehtinen) is the subject of the study “Decadent Women Telling Nations Differently: The Finnish Writer L. Onerva and Her Motherless Dilettante Upstarts,” by Viola Parente-Čapková. Analyzing Onera’s creative and personal biography, the text focuses on an alternative mode of femininity, questioning the exemplary image of women that was multiplied and inculcated by the national literature.

Although historically marginalized, women writers who created their work during the period of national formation managed to legitimize themselves through creating a network of connections and modes of communication beyond territorial and political boundaries. The articles included in the third part of the volume—“Women in Networks,” focus precisely on this form of legitimization. Hilde Hoogenboom’s essay, “The Community of Letters and the Nation State: Bio-Bibliographic Compilations as Transnational Genre around 1700,” makes a comparative analysis of about a hundred European compilations of women authors presented in the retrospective of six centuries—from 1900 back—visualizing the topography of female literary history in time. Providing quantitative data on women’s publications, the latter function as definitive proof of women’s inclusion in the international community of letters, drawing the international trajectory of female authorship and its reception. Thematically linked to Hoogenboom’s article, Rotraud Von Kulessa’s essay, “Anthologies of Female Italian Authors and the Emergence of a National Identity in 19th Century Italy,” narrows the focus, looking at the literary compilations of women authors created in Italy and France during the period of national formation. Emphasizing the impressive quantity of women’s dictionaries available in Italy in the nineteenth century, the author concludes that unlike the situation in France, Italian literary criticism at the end of the century demonstrated some acceptance of female authorship, recognizing its role in the realization of the national project. Maarit Leskelä-Kärki’s essay, “Histories of Women, Histories of Nation: Biographical Writing as Women’s Tradition in Finland, 1880–1920s,” looks at the pursuit of validation of female authorship in the Finnish context. It traces the early tradition of biographical writing in the country and, in particular, through the works of Helena Westermark and Helmi Krohn.

Focusing on the connections and communication of women writers that served as a tool for legitimizing their literary voices, Women Telling Nations also highlights the role of the press as a form of connectivity per se. Sirmula Alexandridou’s text, “Early Women’s Press: A Challenge for the 19th Century East and Greece,” traces Greek experience in the area, analyzing three specific literary magazines designed for the female audience and dating from 1845 onward. As the author notes, the periodicals not only targeted the delineation of the spiritual and political territory of Hellenism but also made efforts to waken women’s national consciousness as well as to cultivate women’s awareness of the value of their own gender. Henriette Partzsch, in “Connecting People, Inventing Communities in Faustina Sáez de Melgar’s Magazine La Violeta (Madrid, 1862–1866),” in turn, thematizes women’s press engagement in mid-nineteenth-century Spain and, in particular, the way the members of the literary circle around the author and publisher Faustina Sáez de Melgar managed to create their own (women’s) community through the weekly magazine for literature and culture La Violeta (1862–1866).

The last, fourth thematic subsection of Women Telling Nation—“Women Looking Elsewhere,” brings together articles on women intellectuals, conflicting with publicly (and nationally) approved standards of femininity and positioning themselves away from the regular routes and spaces—figuratively, by choosing a calling regarded atypical for their gender or literally, by “transferring” their diversity to foreign lands. In “Overpassing State and Cultural Borders: A Polish Female Doctor in 18th-Century Constantinople,” Joanna Partyka analyzes the biography of Regina Salomea Pilsztyn, a Polish doctor of medicine. Rejected in her home country (Poland) due to her qualities, which did not respond to the patriarchal idea of women, she found refuge and an opportunity for self-realization within the Ottoman Empire. The francophone texts by women writers in eighteenth-century Russia, analyzed by Elena Gretchanaia in “Between National Myth and Trans-national Ideal: The Representation of Nations in the French-Language Writings of Russian Women (1770–1819),” also represent a form of going beyond the native political, cultural, and geographic boundaries. Patriotic by pathos, but cosmopolitan in spirit, they simultaneously managed to position Russia among the other nations and focus on Russian uniqueness. Similar ideas in the novels of the Irish author Regina Maria Roche are analyzed in Begoña Lasa Alvares’s study, “Regina Maria Roche and Ireland: A Problematic Relationship.” Carmen Beatrice Dutu’s essay, “Amor Vincit (R)Om(A)Nia: Reshaping Identities in Romanian mid-19th-Century Culture,” takes a different research direction, analyzing the reading of sentimental novels as a glimpse of the Romanian women away from those patriarchal values that were traditionally honored and reaffirmed in society. Senem Timuroglu’s study, “Women’s Nation from Ottoman to the New Republic in Fatma Aliye and Halide Edip Adıvar’s Writing,” on the works of two pioneers of feminist literature in Turkey—Fatma Aliye and Halide Edip Adıvar—also traces women’s emancipatory aspirations. Contemporaries of the transition from a “multicultural, multilingual and poly-ethnic empire … to a nation state based on a monolingual, mono-religious and mono-ethnic society” (442), the authors created texts that unveiled the actual continuity between the two periods, the lack of transformation in the patriarchal mentality despite the modernizing efforts of the builders of the new state.

Tracking a broad European scene and within different sociocultural contexts of female literary activity between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, Women Telling Nations analyzes the various modes of women’s inclusion in national discourses. Documenting the intense circulation of texts, ideas, and cultural practices among them—transgeographical and transpolitical, but still in relation to the specifics of the national projects, the articles collected in the volume articulate women’s aspirations to vacate the periphery of social space, where they are traditionally positioned. Focusing on asserting women as full participants in European literary and political history, the essays are of interest both to researchers working in the field of gender studies and cultural history and to readers seeking a different and objective look at historical processes.

Zilka Spahić-Šiljak, ed., Contesting Female, Feminist and Muslim Identities: Post-Socialist Contexts of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, Sarajevo: Centre for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies of the University of Sarajevo (CIPS), 2012, 277 pp., Free (pb), ISBN 9789958704291.

Book review by Vjollca Krasniqi

Faculty of Philosophy, University of Prishtina, Kosovo

Religion is increasingly becoming a dominant theme in today’s world. As a feature of our contemporariness, it is a site of multiple meanings: shifting imagination, relatedness, difference, belonging, coexistence, and dialogue. Yet the discourses on religion have had differing effects on subjectivities and collectives. Against this backdrop, this volume, which is edited by Zilka Spahić-Šiljak, specifically looks into women’s practices of religion in everyday life—and their self-definition—in two Southeast European countries: Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Both societies are defined by their political trajectories—the legacy of socialism, the wars of the 1990s, and postwar international rule—as well as their religion. Still, while the majority of their populations identify with the Muslim religion, both states portray themselves as secular. They have embraced Western liberal concepts of democracy and state-building along with the legal language and provisions of gender equality. To be sure, not only the focus and the subjects in the book are premised on these localities but also its editor and the writers/ contributors, who are scholars from the former Yugoslavia, including Bosnia-Herzogovina and Kosovo. They are Lamija Kosović, Gorana Mlinarević, Jasmina Čaušević, Dženita Hrelja-Hasečić, Sead S. Fetahagić, and Ardiana Gashi.

The disconcerting questions raised by religion in women’s everyday life have been echoed in feminist scholarship. Muslim women have often been overlooked in academic writings and/or the perspectives in these writings have represented/reflected Western-centric ideas.1 Indeed, as a category, they have been constructed and represented as mere objects of religious discourses and traditions. They have been seen in isolation from the broader social context and competing ideologies, which have contributed to the framing of identities associated with hegemonic discourses.2

This book takes into consideration such intricacies, offering insights into Bosnian and Kosovar women’s experiences of the Muslim religion and their manifestations in the private and public domains. It also shows the operationality of power within the subaltern and gendered backgrounds and their effects on women who identify with and practice Islam. One great strength of the book is that it combines an overarching feminist theoretical and historical analysis—both structural and cultural—which produces an important scholarly account, while maintaining substantive focus on women’s narratives and the processes of the subject’s constitution within and outside the text. Thus, it has much to say about the interrelationship between religion, identity, and culture as well as the structural dimensions of gender inequalities.

The book takes advantage of individual narratives and oral history as methods of inquiry to make visible the relationship between everyday personal experiences and those embedded in the collective. Indeed, its most important feature has to do with the narratives of women and their accounts of living under multiple patriarchal systems of oppression and domination. The book validates women’s experiences and storytelling as foundational for the processes of their subject constitution. It shows that to the subjects of this book—women from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo—religion is not only a powerful identity marker but also a positive force in their life.

The essays in Contesting Female, Feminist and Muslim Identities also challenge secular/liberal as well as feminist understandings of agency by focusing on women’s practices of religion in their everyday lives and by particularizing their praxis through the multiple and often contradictory discursive worlds (religious and secular, traditional and modern, patriarchal and feminist) in which they are constituted. The narratives here show that power residuals within the culture are not only gendered and hierarchical but also maintained through erasures of difference. Hence, the strategies that women adopt in their daily lives disturb naturalizations of gendered power relations. As such, they constitute sites of transformative politics.

Indeed, even though the majority of women’s identifications in the text are not articulated as feminist, the tensions, renegotiations, and bargaining at work are manifestations of agency that transcend the boundaries between the private and public realms. Women’s narratives and experiences disturb the homogenizations of sociality and subjectivities outside the dominant representations of Bosnian and Kosovar women as passive and devoid of agency. They show once more the power of personal histories and narration as embedded in specific social, political, and historical contexts.

The book advances discussion on the role of religion for women who practice Islam and women’s agency in significant ways. It opens new avenues and capacities for understanding difference and feminism(s) based on the individual and collective past. It also contains future projections of different women across time and space. This accentuates the importance of historically informed analysis, consistent with the one offered by this book, to expand on the feminist moral imagination and politics to transform multiple vectors of gender hierarchies and social inequalities. All in all, this is an important book for anyone interested in gender, religion, and feminism in Bosnia- Herzegovina and Kosovo.


See, for example, Inderpal Grewal, “‘Women’s Rights as Human Rights’: Feminist Practices, Global Feminism and Human Rights Regimes in Transnationality,” Citizenship Studies 3, no. 3 (1999): 337–354; H. Sherene Razack, Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), quoted in Niamh Reilly, “Rethinking the Interplay of Feminism and Secularism in a Neo-Secular Age,” Feminist Review 97, no. 1 (2011): 5–31.


Reilly, “Rethinking the Interplay,” 14.

Rumiana Stoilova, Pol i stratifikatsia: Vlianie na sotsialnia pol vurhu stratifikatsiata v Bulgaria sled 1989 g. (Gender and stratification: The impact of gender on stratification in Bulgaria after 1989), Sofia: SIELA Publishers, 2012, 313 pp., BGN 16 (pb), ISBN 978–9-54281–184-8.

Book Review by Pepka Boyadjieva

Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia

The famous quote by Simone de Beauvoir, “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman,” has inspired a variety of interpretations—some of which are poetic and touch the heartstrings of feminine self-consciousness, and others which are strictly rational and strive to reveal the social determinants of woman’s presence in the world. Rumiana Stoilova’s monograph Pol i stratifikatsia (Gender and stratification) offers an original perspective on the social construction of how women are perceived and of their social roles under the conditions of radical social transformation occurring in Bulgaria since 1989. The study focuses on gender inequalities, analyzed here through the linking of sociological theories of stratification to the concept of gender as socially constructed and created through everyday action and choices. If I may paraphrase Simone de Beauvoir’s thought, in Stoilova’s interpretation it would be the following: “A woman is not born unequal to man but rather becomes unequal due to social conditions.”

The problems related to various kinds of social inequalities have acquired special acuteness in the past few decades in all countries, regardless of their degree of development. In Bulgaria, sensitivity to these issues has grown due to the difficulties, contradictions, and protractedness of the social transition from a totalitarian to a democratic social order. Both among the public at large and among the academic community, the need is felt to rethink the question of the origin and reproduction of social inequalities and to seek new approaches to understanding these trends and to solving the concrete social problems they engender. With her new monograph, Rumiana Stoilova has asserted herself as a serious participant in this topical social debate. Her study has the merit of not only being very timely but also of offering original theoretical ideas and conclusions based on a variety of deeply considered empirical data. The analysis is logically consistent and unfolds in five chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. It is visually supported by forty-four tables.

The book presents comparative studies of the social structure and inequalities by gender, education, and age in the labor market in Bulgarian society after 1989. Stoilova’s objects of critical interpretation are the theories of the classic thinkers of sociology—Max Weber, Georg Simmel, Talcott Parsons, and Harold Garfinkel—viewed through the perspective of methodological individualism and rational action. The book demonstrates the applicability to Bulgaria of some influential modern stratification theories, which, though barely familiar to Bulgarian sociology—Raymond Boudon, John Goldthorpe, Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Gøsta Esping-Andersen—are able to explain the processes of stratification going on in that society today. The rational action approach to understanding the choices made by women in the labor market had not been previously applied in Bulgarian sociology.

The central research problem is clearly formulated and refers to an actually existing social problem—the empirically registered reproduction of gender inequalities, even when the educational status of men and women is equal. In her analysis, Stoilova tackles this issue at three levels: theoretical, by elaborating her own theoretical framework for understanding it; empirical, by adducing a great variety of empirical data that delineate the various dimensions of the problem; and the policy level, by formulating directions for concrete policies aimed at dealing with this problem. The theoretically derived and empirically confirmed arguments serve to convincingly support the thesis that gender is such a significant individual characteristic that, without taking it into account, it would be impossible to fully understand and explain the life trajectories of women and the processes of reproduction of social inequalities. The success of Stoilova’s research effort is due primarily to the well-justified and wellapplied research approach. Proceeding from the idea of the multidimensional nature of stratification, the author argues the need for a complex approach to stratification analysis. In this book, the complex perspective unfolds in two dimensions: on the one hand, the author traces the mutual connection between family, culture, labor market, and institutional policies; on the other, the analysis is conducted at macro, meso, and micro levels.

Stoilova is the first Bulgarian author to have elaborated a relatively integral theoretical framework for studying the connection between gender and stratification, a framework centered around the rational action approach, but incorporating ideas from feminist theories and stratification theories, and applied at various social levels. An achievement that will be of heuristic value for future research is the author’s grounding of the specificity of the sociological method to gender as an approach that proceeds from the feminist view on the socially constructed nature of gender that incorporates social-structural analysis of the problem, and that focuses attention on the question of the extent to which the social status of individuals determines their chances of choosing between universal and gender-specific action.

I believe one of the author’s important accomplishments is to have thoroughly analyzed (chapter 3) the influence of social background on education, seen through Raymond Boudon’s theory of the primary and secondary effects of family origin on the educational chances of children. The mutual connection between social origin and educational attainments is a key topic for the sociology of education and for the respective policies in this sphere. In the past ten years, a serious debate has been going on in the international academic community about whether the massification of higher education is tantamount to its democratization. Stoilova adds her share to this debate by presenting analyses, based on empirical data, regarding the channels of influence of social origin on the educational trajectories, and by upholding the important presence of the gender perspective in this respect.

Deserving of special attention are the analyses of the dimensions of inequality in employment, which have a significant influence on the socioprofessional status of women and on the mechanisms by which gender affects and restricts women’s professional career growth (for instance, the impossibility of strategies for combining paid and unpaid work). In this connection, I find one of Stoilova’s important achievements to be connecting micro-level to macro-level analyses, specifically revealing how decisions women make at the micro level (connected with childbirth and raising children) reflect on the structure of employment at the macro level (chapter 4).

The monograph outlines heuristic directions for further elaboration and enrichment of concrete sociological concepts. Thus, for instance, the author clearly demonstrates how the concept of “multiple exclusion” may be viewed both in terms of the “gender and ethnicity” factors and through the interconnection between “gender and age.” I also see a significant heuristic value in the author’s elaboration of the concept of self-exclusion. In the framework of the thesis that gender determines life chances and the social positions occupied by women in the division of labor, the monograph shows how women’s individual choices also contribute to the fact they have lower returns, even when their education is equal to men’s; in other words, the author shows how the self-exclusion mechanism is triggered here.

Some of the interesting theses in the book are more concrete. For example, Stoilova concludes that the renegotiation of society’s gender order presupposes the presence not only of emancipated women but also of a critical mass of highly educated men who do not share the patriarchal notions of the superiority of men and of the gender division in work, and who are willing both to coparticipate in unpaid domestic work and to accept women as equal competitors for paid jobs.

Among the indisputable applied-scientific merits of the book, I will highlight two in particular. The first refers to the purposefully maintained linking of analysis to the formation of concrete social policies. On the one hand, the author critically reevaluates the social policies currently in effect aimed at overcoming social inequalities in the field of the labor market and education, and on the other hand, the theoretical settings and empirically grounded conclusions are used here as a basis for outlining directions for formulating new policies. Second, the analyses will stimulate the development of social surveys (including comparative ones) of gender inequalities, inasmuch as the author has formulated indicators for the social-structural measurement of those inequalities. In this connection, I should stress that the author’s theses are based on rich empirical data. Stoilova has used data from nine surveys, most of which are based on well-established methodologies applied in European comparative studies. The conclusions drawn from the data are convincing inasmuch as they are based on a skillful use of the comparative approach and of modern mathematical-statistical methods of analysis of individual data on the basis of theoretically grounded indicators for social stratification.

Pol i stratifikatsia is a very valuable study, both in its achievements and in the directions for future analyses that it delineates. In my view, the proposed theoretical model (13–15) needs to be further developed and given greater precision. The mutual connections between the separate elements are not sufficiently encompassed in their multiple aspects and depth. For instance, it does not become clear why in the graphic presentation of the model (15), the socially constructed quality of gender is referred only to the family, given that, on the one hand, in chapter 1, the author has shown how mass culture also constructs gender and, on the other, educational institutions also undoubtedly play a role in this construction. I believe a possible direction for future study would be to deepen the analysis of the impact of gender (and of social origin) on education. In this book, the impact in question is limited primarily to the choice of education.

Rumiana Stoilova’s monograph grounds and outlines the dimensions of a concrete study field designated as “gender and stratification,” which is new in Bulgarian sociology and has not been sufficiently developed even in international scholarship. The author has thereby enriched the scope of sociological research as well as of that of education and professional socialization in sociology; hence, her work will be of interest to a wide circle of readers. Those who will discover original and useful ideas in the book include students of social and human sciences, representatives of government and civic organizations, and those politicians who take the designing of social policies seriously and are interested in the actual processes going on in our society.

In this book, one finds strict reasoning and absorbing emotion and commitment: the work is both a highly serious scientific investigation of gender inequalities and a call for the right of everyone to enjoy free choice and to be treated with an equitable attitude that surmounts prejudices and social barriers.

Svetlana Tomić, Realizam i stvarnost: Nova tumačenja proze srpskog realizma iz rodne perspektive (Realism and reality: A new interpretation of Serbian realist prose from a gender perspective), Belgrade: Alfa univerzitet, 2015, 353 pp., no price listed (pb), ISBN 978-86-83237-96-8.

Book Review by Marina Hughson

Institute of Criminology, Belgrade, Serbia

This book is an original version of the author’s PhD dissertation, which was based on innovative and systematic research on Serbian literary realism, and its interpretation, from a gender perspective. This study represents a comprehensive attempt to create a typology and description of male and female literary characters from a gender perspective in the prose of Serbian realism and to confront those findings with the canonical literary interpretation, which is heavily biased toward patriarchalism. The book is structured in two major parts: in the first part, the author sets up a theoretical and methodological framework for her research, and the second part contains the results of the research itself. Svetlana Tomić creates a shift from the dominant literary interpretation, by employing a consistently inclusive approach on two levels: she includes not only canonical writers and their writings but also a wide spectrum of lesser known writers and feminist authors; and she writes not only about central characters but also includes a wider scope of figures relevant to the narration. The result is a large database typology, consisting of one hundred types of characters, which cleared the way to some groundbreaking discoveries. Tomić concludes that the traditional interpretation of heroes and heroines as the leading figures of a plot neglects the characters who often have even greater importance in establishing narrative logic.

She also convincingly shows how male authors constructed female types as schematic and inferior abstractions, while female writers deconstructed this negative politics of representation, by creating feminist types of female characters (educated, single, and independent young women, sisters, friends, students, writers, artists, etc.), but also new types of emancipated male characters (fathers who love and educate their daughters, husbands who support the emancipation of women). One of the most important findings of this comprehensive research is that Serbian realists, exactly by being real “realists” disclosed a much wider scope of social diversity from the one officially recognized by the most popular and canonized literary critique. In fact, Tomić discloses a gap reflecting the fundamental characteristic of Serbian ideological patriarchalism contained in different intellectual products, which persists until today. In other words, this “discovery” is very much in line with research on Serbian patriarchy coming from other disciplines and showing that “reality” is in fact more “gender-equal” than the discourses covering that “reality,” and that patriarchalism in public discourse has strong ideological connotations, in close connection to the Serbian national project. The author shows, quite disturbingly, that canonized interpretations regularly idealize and misread patriarchal order and violence, and remain blind to both the suffering of women (and men) and their rebellion.

According to Tomić, the academic norm has distorted the picture of Serbian realism through the systematic employment of several interpretative procedures. First, by decreasing the complexity of literary heroes and heroines and neglecting many of those who were distant from the patriarchal ideal of the harmonious family, it misrepresented the true heroes of the stories. Also, all violence coming from either the male or female side was silenced, in the name of “happy family.” On the other hand, many of the characters representing the younger generation of rebellious daughters were also neglected. The dominant academic interpretation neglected the characters who denote any kind of social progress, although these characters had their place within the literary field. Tomić even claims that the academic norm has “re-codified emancipated and liberal types as deviant, while denoted as desirable patriarchal pathological types” (p. 16). The damage is multifold because it relates to both canonical writers and canonical interpreters, which represent the major part of the national curriculum for elementary and secondary schools. At the same time, the academic norm absolutely excluded women’s writers, such as Draga Gavrilović, who was both an intellectual and a feminist.

The ideological purpose of canonical interpretation is fully deconstructed by Svetlana Tomić who even proves that those canons are unsustainable, illogical, and also based on ignorance and fabrication of “facts.” She shows that the problem is not only in the marginalization of some authors and few characters but also in a serious distortion of knowledge itself. The implications of this state of the art are disturbing because they show the stubborn resistance of the Serbian intellectual elite to modernization and the acceptance of modern ideas, including gender equality. Feminism in academia is being rejected as an “unnecessary burden,” which reflects the high level of societal misogyny and ignorance. At the same time, the “real” Serbian literary history, the one that speaks the modern language and liberation from the rigid patriarchal order, remains hidden and forbidden. Tomić believes that this led to the loss of opportunity for a national narrative to be constructed in line with more progressive ideas and norms.

This book should be essential reading for a wide scope of students and scholars dealing with the Balkans who come from a variety of disciplines: Balkan and Serbian history, gender studies, sociology, cultural studies, and Slavic and Serbian literature. Moreover, hopefully, one day the critical mass of “modern thinking” within academia will enable this type of knowledge to be integrated into the official, canonical interpretation of Serbian literature, at all levels of education. Younger generations deserve better knowledge.

Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, Rachel Duffett, and Alain Drourad, eds., Food and War in Twentieth Century Europe, Surrey, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011, 294 pp., $124.95 (hb), ISBN: 978–1-4094–1770-5.

Book Review by Rayna Gavrilova

Department of Cultural Studies, St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia, Bulgaria

In the past twenty years, food has entered academic writing forcefully and has contributed a number of new interesting questions. Historiography and, more specifically, social history have benefited significantly from the scrutiny of the production, distribution, preparation, sharing, and discourse of food and eating. The last volume of the International Commission for Research into European Food History, devoted to food and war, is an excellent illustration of the advantages of a focused conversation around a thematic pivot in a multidisciplinary field. One of the editors of the book, Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska, states that “the central role of food in modern warfare has not received the attention it deserves” (1), and sets out to offer a concise but informative overview of the existing publications. A survey of the bibliography indeed confirms that previous scholarship is not missing but confined to a narrow set of contexts: the British and the German ones, with a much shorter list of publications on other countries (France, the Netherlands, and Russia). The table of contents of the volume Food and War in Twentieth Century Europe, which lists essays on the Czech lands, Denmark, Iceland, Slovenia, and Spain, already promises a much broader view of Europe.

The editors have opted for a structure based on thematic rather than geographic or chronological pivots. The papers in part 1 focus on the provisioning and feeding of the armies; those in part 2 on the difficult adaptation to the war realities of the “home front.” Part 3 narrows the scrutiny to the efforts of the state to cope with the new war economy. Part 4 assesses the long-term impact of the war resulting in scientific efforts to find substitutes to disappearing peacetime foodstuffs. The thematic foci do not lead to one-sided views on the central topic, however. The collection of papers presented in the book originated at a symposium with some inquiry questions formulated in advance, which accounts for the clearly visible core of issues addressed by most authors. The governmental regulation, rationing, and efforts to come up with novel mechanisms; the poor preparedness of all governments of warring countries for the war economy is mentioned in all papers. The general alteration of food consumption patterns, the introduction of new foods and substitutes, the communal mobilization, are other topics that appear in most essays. These commonalities underscore one of the main ambitions of the volume: to offer the building blocks of a potential comparative perspective. A reading of the collection as a monograph achieves precisely this fullness, as in a chorus: the individual voices have distinction and strong empirical rootedness in the local context but the key elements of the narrative bring in nuanced arguments to support the similarity of human experiences in time of war and devastation across the front lines.

Among the several interesting contributions, a few are of interest to gender and family history. Steven Schouten, in his discussion of the observance of kashrut during wartime, writes, albeit briefly, on the particular role of women in preserving the tradition and coping with the difficulties of securing food for the family. Hans-Jürgen Teuteberg, aside from the illuminating discussion of the new nutrition economy in Germany during the war, claims that the war hardship increased the burden on housewives but at the same time raised the public status of domestic work, including through wartime propaganda: “the rifleman’s trench leads through the kitchen at home” (66). Furthermore, he mentions briefly the new domestic strategies to cope with food shortages such as war kitchens (an early example of collective consumption), urban gardening, foraging, and others.

The observations of Peter Atkins on communal feeding and British restaurants provide a useful comparative argument as to its long-term social impact (or lack of). The two papers from Central Europe—Martin Franc’s on the Czech lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Maja Godina Golija’s on Slovenia—explore in rich detail the change in consumption patterns in both countries. The contribution of Alicia Guidonet Riera on eating strategies and social change in Spain during and after the Civil War discusses the importance of reciprocity during war—another common element in several essays but discussed within a distinctive theoretical framework. A darker side of the victorious discourse about the successful British management of the wartime economy is presented in Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska’s paper on the limits of British food policy and the failure of the slogan of equality of sacrifice (135), along either social or gender divisions. Several papers discuss the role of scientific discourse in shaping public attitudes toward food. The impact of this involvement, even if not of the actual food items, made a lasting impression on the public imagination and attitudes toward food.

The richness of the data from several European regions and countries and the recurrence of some central themes place this volume firmly on the must-read list for anyone interested in the social history of the wars in the twentieth century.

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