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Everyday Life: From Non-Conformism to Dissent

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Recent tendencies in historiography have drawn our attention away from the top-down, state-level actors driving geopolitical currents to people's every day experience of life under Communism. This can take the form of studies of consumer culture, design, labor history, popular entertainment, or associational life as it was shaped by its participants. By the early 1960s, aesthetic and lifestyle choices that differed from the norm were already seen as a deliberate choice to be nonconformist, but after the events of 1968 these gestures were even further politicized and registered (in East and West) as dissent. In this module, we will look at a wide range of practices, from folk culture to street fashion to patterns of consumption and entertainment, to understand how every day life itself could be an act of resistance from a hegemonic political culture.

Handbook

Video

Readings

Compulsory
  • Apor, P., Horváth, S., & Mark, J. (Eds.). (2017). Secret Agents and the Memory of Everyday Collaboration in Communist Eastern Europe. London: Anthem Press.
  • Cazan, R. (2011). Constructing Spaces of Dissent in Communist Romania: Ruined Bodies and Clandestine Spaces in Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” and Gabriela Adamesteanu’s “A Few Days in the Hospital.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, 39(3/4), 93–112. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41308346
  • Pence, K. (2015). Antipathy and Attraction to the West and Western Consumerism in the German Democratic Republic. In R. Bavaj & M. Steber (Eds.), Germany and “The West” (1st ed., pp. 277–292). New York: Berghahn Books. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qctj1.21
  • Major, P., & Mitter, R. (Eds.). (n.d.). Across the blocs: Cold War cultural and social history. London ; Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2004.
  • Kemp-Welch, K. (2014). Antipolitics in Central European Art: Reticence as Dissidence Under Post-Totalitarian Rule, 1956 -1989. London: Tauris.
  • Bolton, J. (2012). Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, the Plastic People of Theuniverse, and Czech Culture Under Communism. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
  • Bren, P. (2010). The Greengrocer and His Tv: The Culture of Communism After the 1968 Prague Spring /. Ithaca : Cornell University Press,.
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Assignments

In-class or short-term assignments
1) Think of all the areas of everyday life that were impacted by the political, economic, and cultural policies of the socialist state in Eastern Europe. Can you think of any that weren't? What areas of life that we think of as private or personal were genuinely unaffected, if any?

2) Divide the class into two groups (not based on gender!). Based on the primary and secondary sources described in the module, what information can each group find about women's everyday lives and men's everyday lives, respectively? Can we find images from external sources, like fortepan.hu, which highlight these differences? in what way were women's and men's lives made more similar by socialist policies?

Offsite, longer-term assignments
Longer essay assignment: how did the educational system under state socialism and access to knowledge affect people's everyday lives? what kinds of choices were available to young people finishing primary school? finishing secondary school? After doing some basic research on the opportunities and limitations of the educational system, think again about the resources we have available to research people's everyday lives under socialism, and the role that education played.

Discussion

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