Paths in Emancipation
Discussion series in the Prague City Library – online, spring 2021
Episode II. 16. 3. 2021, 7pm CET
Strong Words, Weak Resistance? The Black Protests in Poland
Since September 2016, people in Poland have been marching in the streets to protest against further restrictions on abortion access. Four years after the beginning of “the Black Protests,” the Polish Constitutional Court declared it illegal to terminate pregnancy even when the fetus risks severe illness. How do the protests look right now? What has changed during this period? Why have women been shouting “Wypierdalać”? If the protests are a form of “weak resistance,” as philosopher Ewa Majewska suggests, can they still have powerful effects? What are the different sides in the conflict? What language do they employ, and do they even communicate with each other? Is this “war,” as protestors have declared?
These are some of the questions to be discussed in the second episode of our discussion series Paths in Emancipation. The guest of this episode is Ewa Majewska, a feminist philosopher and activist who analyzes the Black Protests through the notion of “weak resistance.” She has taught at the University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, ICI Berlin, and the IWM in Vienna. She has published four books and 50 articles and essays in venues including e-flux, Signs, Third Text, the Journal of Utopian Studies, Jacobin, and Contradictions. Her current research focuses on Hegel’s philosophy and the dialectics and the weak, feminist critical theory, and antifascist cultures.
The event is hosted by Olga Słowik (Faculty of Arts, Charles University).
Event link TBA.
In Czech and English, with subtitles.
Coming episodes in the series Paths in Emancipation
20. 4. Free Kurdistan
11. 5. Against antigypsyism
1. 6. The labor movement today
Thinking Left Dissent
Video from Jan. 15 (2021) workshop now online!
On its way: Contradictions IV (2020), on Left Feminism
Call for Papers, Contradictions 2021
Thinking Left Dissent
In recent years, the dominant reading of dissent as an ideologically liberal project has been called into question. Academic discussions have seen calls to “rethink” and “reread” the history of dissent, leading to new inquiries into the political ideas that emerged from East-Central Europe before the radical changes of 1989. After years in which research on dissent emphasized questions of political freedom and human rights, new research has begun to address previously overlooked questions such as gender inequality, dissident conceptions of solidarity, labor exploitation, and the appearance of nationalism and illiberalism within some strands of dissident thought.
In a thematic volume of the journal Contradictions devoted to left dissent, we will focus on three mutually interconnected motifs. 1) Whereas a wealth of literature interprets dissent in liberal terms, only marginal attention has so far been paid to aspects of dissent traditionally associated with the political Left. We therefore wish to fill this historiographical gap by drawing attention to dissident concepts that derive from other intellectual traditions, such as humanist Marxism, reform Communism, and the New Left, which have defined themselves in contrast to liberal visions of the socio-economic order. 2) At the same time, we also reflect on the limits of the political thought and political imagination of the time, which was shaped by the theoretical and political experience of orthodox Marxism-Leninism. We ask whether left dissidents’ thought was intellectually consistent or internally contradictory, and to what extent it was affected by dissidents’ relative social and intellectual isolation. 3) Last but not least, we are interested in the relevance of the intellectual legacy of left dissent today. Should this legacy be seen as a mere relic of the past, necessarily tied to the existence of state-socialist regimes, or can it be a source of inspiration to those of us seeking ways out of today’s political, economic, and ecological crises?
We are interested in contributions that look at cases within specific national or local contexts as well as studies that take a comparative or synthetic approach. We especially welcome texts that trace the theoretical sources of given concepts as well their interpretation, development, and diffusion in confrontation with other intellectual approaches, and we encourage authors to approach their material critically, and to draw on analyzed material in order to develop new theoretical concepts.
Research questions may include the following:
- How did left dissidents critically conceptualize state socialism (employing notions like state capitalism or “the dictatorship over needs”)?
- How have socio-political concepts traditionally associated with the political left been discussed within dissent – concepts such as solidarity, community, equality, and liberation, as well as labor and capital?
- To what extent was Marxist terminology employed in dissident reflections as a critical tool for describing the operation of power, ideology, or economic injustice?
- To what degree did left dissent move beyond Marxism as an analytical and political tool, and what form was taken by these extra-Marxist aspects of left dissident concepts?
- What factors can explain the general decline of critical Marxism in Eastern Europe in the 1970s? How did the understanding of Marxism change during this period, and what form has been taken by attempts at its revival in the post-Communist era?
- Dissent in the 1970s and 80s was distinguished by a critique of socialist as well as capitalist industrial civilization. To what extent can this critique be brought to bear on the current environmental crisis and its political dimensions?
- Can the dissident critique of Soviet-type regimes help us understand the current crisis of political liberalism facing anti-pluralistic political tendencies?
- Can one speak of left dissent today? If the critical left not only distinguishes itself from liberalism and conservative anti-communism, but seeks to inscribe itself within alternative intellectual traditions, how might these traditions be understood?
- If part of historical left dissent defined itself not only against non-leftist liberalism, but also against regimes that were understood as leftist, can the legacy of left dissent also contribute to the internal critique of the contemporary left?
Deadline for submissions: 29 January, 2021. Please format articles in accordance with the Contradictions style guide.
We are accepting contributions until 29 January 2021 according to the standards of the journal
Workshop and Call for Papers 2020
Left Feminist Theory and Historiography
Between the Legacy of State-Socialist Emancipation and the Crises of Today
On September 19–20, 2019, in Prague's Academic Conference Center (Husova 4), Contradictions co-organized a workshop on Left Feminist Theory and Historiography, in collaboration with the research project NEP4DISSENT. For more information, see here. For abstracts, see below.
Thursday September 19, 2019
9:30 – 10:00 coffee
10:00 – 10:30 welcome, introductory remarks
10:30 – 12:30 / chair: Jan Mervart
Jan Matonoha “Dozens of Plateaus”:
a Preliminary “Inter-survey of the Nearest Past”:
Periodizing Works of Czech Female Authors
Published between 1948–1989 from a Gender
Perspective, with Special Regard to 1970s and
1980s Dissent and Exile Literature
Agnieszka Mrozik Female “Architects” of the
Polish People’s Republic: The Case of Zofia
Dembińska as a Critical Contribution to Feminist
Theory and Biographical Writing in Poland
Blanka Nyklová, Nina Fárová Gender Seen
13:30 – 14:00 Mikołaj Ratajczak Presentation
of the Journal Praktyka Teoretyczna
14:00 – 15:30 / chair: Zsófia Lóránd
Una Blagojević Women Intellectuals—Praxis—
the Korčula Summer School: 1963–74
Ľubica Kobová Socialist Feminist Manifestoes
and their Subjects
16:00 – 18:00 / chair: Joseph Grim Feinberg
Ankica Čakardić Early Social Reproduction
Theory and its Contemporary Strands
Tereza Stejskalová The Emancipated Household
in Czechoslovakia: A Resource to Reinvent
Almira Ousmanova Feminism, Marxism and
Love: Rethinking the Ongoing Debates on Sexual
Revolution and Socialism
18:30- 20:00 keynote / Zsófia Lóránd The Feminist
Challenge to the Socialist State in Yugoslavia
Friday September 20, 2019
9:30 – 10:00 coffee
10:00 – 12:00 / chair: Ľubica Kobová
Katarzyna Stańczak-Wiślicz “Imagined
Genealogy”: Legacies of Socialist-State
Emancipation, Dissent Discourses and Polish
Feminism after 1989
Kateřina Kolářová Rehabilitative Postsocialism:
Disability, Race, Gender and Sexuality and the
Limits of National Belonging
Libora Oates-Indruchová Post-1989 Czech
Historiography of State Socialism: Gendered,
13:00 – 15:00 / chair: Mikołaj Ratajczak
Selin Çağatay Redefining the Strike, Building
(Left-)Feminist Solidarity: Transnational
Mobilizations around the International Women’s
Zuzana Maďarová, Veronika Valkovičová Is
Feminism Doomed? Contested and Complex Paths
of Feminism in Slovakia
Ewa Majewska The Impossible Complaint as
a Symptom of Contemporary Crisis: Feminism,
Critical Theory and Academia Today
15:00 – 15:30 concluding remarks
Una Blagojević Women Intellectuals—Praxis—the Korčula Summer School: 1963–74
My presentation will discuss the Yugoslav Marxist Humanist circle formed around the journal Praxis. I will discuss their theoretical stances—understood broadly as the re-introduction of the work of the young Marx and Hegel. By introducing the role of women intellectuals in the very functioning of the journal, I review the consequences of their intellectual engagement in the early 1960s for the emergence of new feminism in Yugoslavia by the late 1970s. While the Praxis group has justly been described as a male-dominated group – with only two women on the journal’s editorial board – I will suggest potential venues of further research about women’s crucial agency and role in the operation of the journal outside of the editorial board, and in building the group’s own feminist positions.
After a brief review of published historiography about this group, I will contextualize the group and place it within a transnational Marxist Humanist movement that emerged in the late 1950s and 1960s in places like Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary. These Marxist Humanists were defined by their openness to other contemporaneous philosophical strains from ‘Western’ thought—for instance, existentialism and phenomenology. I will then describe the particular case of the journal Praxis and its affiliated summer school on the island of Korčula, both of which were seen as international hubs for the exchange of ideas among intellectuals from the ‘East’ and the ‘West.’ Both spaces of exchange existed in the period between 1963 and 1974. Crucial events for the European political Left—such as the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968—also ‘took place’ in a virtual sense on this small island off the Dalmatian coast. Major representatives of the New Left, such as Herbert Marcuse and Ernst Bloch, were able to reflect on these developments together, simultaneously. Given this ‘openness,’ I will then point out the tension between the intellectual and theoretical ‘openness’ of the Praxis group towards various intellectual traditions from the West on the one hand, and the visible lack of women’s participation and topics concerning women’s issues in socialist Yugoslavia and beyond on the other. At the same time, I will pose a question about the visible contribution of women participants to the ‘international’ character of the journal and summer school, and their place in shaping the prestige of both. Finally, I will pose a question about the importance of Praxis as a platform for the intellectual inspiration for future Yugoslav feminist thinkers.
Una Blagojević finished her MA in Philosophy at KU Leuven in Belgium and her MA in History at Central European University in Budapest. She is a PhD Candidate in Comparative History at Central European University. Her research interests include the intellectual history of Marxism in the twentieth century as well as the cultural, intellectual, and social history of socialist Yugoslavia.
Selin Çağatay Redefining the Strike, Building (Left-)Feminist Solidarity: Transnational Mobilizations around the International Women’s Strike
Rooted in women’s struggles in different world regions, the International Women’s Strike (IWS) took place in 2017 in more than 50 countries. The strike generated a global wave of transnational solidarity in the face of the worldwide rise of illiberal, authoritarian regimes and anti-gender mobilizations. Since then, the event continues to grow with more countries joining the strike each year with a wide range of protests—from large scale labor stoppages to solidarity statements. In this presentation I discuss the IWS events as examples of (left-) feminist solidarity building from below: the strikes happen without the mediation of states or transnational institutions and are being led by and/or address the issues of women from marginalized groups. Drawing on field and digital ethnography conducted through various feminist sites in Turkey and globally, I argue (a.) against the assumption that feminist agendas originate and flow to the rest of the world from the global North; (b.) for a multi-scalar approach to feminist activism that offers a more comprehensive view of transnational processes; and (c.) for a shift of scholarly focus towards how the differential positioning of feminisms vis-à-vis state power and transnational governance shapes the possibilities and pitfalls of solidarity-building.
Selin Çağatay is Postdoctoral Fellow in the research project Spaces of resistance. A study of gender and sexualities in times of transformation at Gothenburg University, Sweden. Her research concerns the changing agendas, forms, and strategies of gender equality struggles in Turkey and globally. She explores the relationship between gender equality activism and other actors of gender politics such as the state, political parties, social movements, and transnational institutions and formations. Selin holds a PhD in Comparative Gender Studies from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. She has been a Visiting Lecturer at Central European University, Department of Gender Studies and Eötvös Loránd University, Department of European Studies where she taught courses on gender regimes, women’s activism, NGOs, and transnational feminism from a historical and global perspective.
Ankica Čakardić Early Social Reproduction Theory and its Contemporary Strands
At the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th century, socialist women in the Second International based their universal political demands on socio-economic foundations, with a full understanding of the connection between exploitation at the workplace and oppression in the domestic sphere. Unlike bourgeois feminism of the time, which through its lobbying for equal rights reinforced itself on the basis of gender oppression of the higher classes, socialist feminism rejected the idea of a struggle whose foundations were not centred on class relations and a critique of capitalism. Among women socialists, four theorists and revolutionaries stand out: Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya and Alexandra Kollontai. These women socialists strongly addressed the relations of class and reproductive labour in the context of the capitalist mode of production. Their conclusions should certainly be interpreted as ‘early’ social reproduction theory and we will attempt to illustrate that. If we want to provide an overview of the continuous theoretical lineage of Marxist feminism as a critique of capitalism that extends from the nineteenth-century, via the twentieth-century, onto recent theoretical inquiries and into the problem of social reproduction, we would use Zetkin, Luxemburg, Krupskaya, and Kollontai as our points of departure.
Ankica Čakardić (Croatia) is Assistant Professor and Chair of Social Philosophy and Philosophy of Gender at the Faculty for Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb. Her research interests include Social Philosophy, Marxism, Marxist-feminist and Luxemburgian critiques of political economy, and history of women’s struggles in Yugoslavia. She has edited two books on feminist epistemology (both in Croatian) and is currently finishing her book on the social history of capitalism and Marxist critique of the thinking of Hobbes and Locke. She is a member of The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg Editorial Board. She is a feminist and socialist activist.
Ľubica Kobová Socialist Feminist Manifestos and their Subjects
The aim of the Communist Manifest (CM) – which is to create a revolutionary subject at a particular location and in a particular time – determined the rhetorical tools and argumentative strategies it used. The co-construction of politics and rhetoric should be taken into account in any interpretation, including in feminist interpretations of the CM. Therefore, in this paper I will discern the text’s gender ideology and see how it shapes the CM’s political subject. Even though the CM inspired a number of feminist iterations, the overproduction of feminist manifestos nowadays is perhaps partly attributable to the revival of the manifesto genre during the second wave of feminism and not to the CM itself. The “inflation” of manifesto as a genre in today’s feminisms – in which manifestoes may be individual codes of conduct or claims that construct hegemonic political subjects – conveys an important message about the current state of feminism. Therefore I will focus on the (rhetorical) ways in which the political subject is constructed in both the CM as well as selected socialist feminist manifestoes (A Cyborg Manifesto, Feminism for the 99 %, etc.).
Ľubica Kobová is Assistant Professor at the Department of Gender Studies, Charles University, Prague. She is the author of several articles on subjects such as the history of feminist political theory (Mary Wollstonecraft, Susan Moller Okin, Judith Butler), democratic political theory, work ethics, reproductive rights, reactionary movements and ideologies, and academic capitalism. Her recent research project focuses on the vulnerability of working bodies. Kobová has served on the editorial board of Contradictions: A Journal for Critical Thought, and Human Affairs: Postdisciplinary Humanities & Social Sciences Quarterly. She also serves on the executive committee of the Gender Expert Chamber of the Czech Republic.
Kateřina Kolářová Rehabilitative Postsocialism: Disability, Race, Gender and Sexuality and the Limits of National Belonging
Abstract and bio coming soon
Zsófia Lóránd The Feminist Challenge to the Socialist State in Yugoslavia
The book The Feminist Challenge to the Socialist State in Yugoslavia (Palgrave Macmillan 2019) tells the story of new Yugoslav feminism in the 1970s and 1980s, reassessing the effects of state socialism on women’s emancipation through the lens of feminist critique. This volume explores the history of the ideas defining a social movement, analysing the major debates and arguments this milieu engaged in from the perspective of the history of political thought, intellectual history and cultural history. Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, societies in and scholars of East Central Europe still struggle to sort out the effects of state socialism on gender relations in the region. What could tell us more about the subject than the ideas set out by the only organised and explicitly feminist opposition in the region, who, as academics, artists, writers and activists, criticised the regime and demanded change?
Zsófia Lóránd is an intellectual historian of feminism in post-WWII state-socialist Eastern Europe. Currently she is a Marie Curie Fellow at the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge. Her book, The Feminist Challenge to the Socialist State in Yugoslavia was published in the Palgrave Macmillan series “Genders and Sexualities in History” in 2018. She holds a PhD from the Central European University in Budapest and has held positions at the European University Institute in Florence and the Lichtenberg-Kolleg in Göttingen. Her further publications include articles about the history of feminist political thought in Croatia and Serbia after 1991, the problems of missing women’s perspectives in the nationalist commemorations of Hungarian history, the concept of the sexual revolution in Yugoslavia, among others. For 8 years, she worked as an SOS helpline volunteer and trainer in the field of domestic violence.
Zuzana Maďarová, Veronika Valkovičová: Is Feminism Doomed? Contested and Complex Paths of Feminism in Slovakia
The aim of this paper is to explore the realm of feminist activism in Slovakia in relation to two broader contexts: democratic backsliding across Europe, and feminist practice in a neoliberal society. Based on a theoretical framework developed by Krizsán & Roggeband (2018) we will look at the manifestations of democratic backsliding in Slovakia in recent years. Drawing on examples from feminist NGOs and Slovak public institutions, we will examine if and how the discursive delegitimization of gender policy objectives, the dismantling and reframing of existent policies, the undermining of implementation arrangements, and the erosion of inclusion and accountability mechanisms take place in Slovakia. How do these processes impact feminist activism and what do they tell us about the relationship between feminism and the state? Is feminism (as we know it) doomed? In order to answer these questions, we build on an approach developed by Eschle and Maiguashca (2018) that challenges three dominant narratives about the relationship between feminism and neoliberalism: strong co-optation, nuanced co-optation, and resistance. This approach goes beyond dichotomies of ‘good girls’ (resistant) and ‘bad girls’ (complicit to neoliberalism), and beyond the juxtaposition of institutional politics to grass-root activism. The paper asks how can current feminism in Slovakia be re-envisaged as a collective struggle, manifested in different sites, and entangled but not entirely captured within neoliberal power relations (Eschle & Maiguashca, 2018).
Zuzana Maďarová is Researcher at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations at the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University in Bratislava and an activist working for the feminist organisation ASPEKT. Her work focuses mostly on (historical and current) political subjectivities of women, gendered narratives of the Velvet Revolution, gender aspects of political communication, and the ‘anti-gender’ discourse in Slovakia.
Veronika Valkovičová holds a joint PhD degree in Political Science from the Faculty of Social Sciences in the University of Antwerp, and the Institute for European Studies and International Relations, Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences in Comenius University in Bratislava. Her doctoral thesis examined the role of expertise in gender equality public policymaking. She currently works for the Institute for Family and Labour Research in Bratislava where she is a member of a research project dedicated to tackling sexual harassment.
Ewa Majewska The Impossible Complaint as a Symptom of Contemporary Crisis: Feminism, Critical Theory and Academia Today
When thinking of academia, the notion of conformity immediately comes to mind. How did it become so? What can a feminist critical approach change here? Should it intervene? Why would its results be better when embedded in a materialist, Marxist and critical context? These are the questions I would like to pose in my presentation. I support my critical feminist view on contemporary neoliberal academia with theory and experiences of feminist scholars such as Sara Ahmed, Judith Butler and countless others. Many of these scholars try to practice feminism in today’s academia, and sometimes decide to quit it due to the impossibility of “living a feminist life” in it.
The complaint, as Ahmed conceptualizes it, is an impossibility in itself when the institution is resisting egalitarianism – which universities unfortunately do frequently. However, a complaint is also a worker’s strategy to announce oppression. Thus it can, and I think it should, also be understood as a form of resistance in the field of abuse. Using cases from Polish universities, I will undermine the neoliberal logic organizing the formal aspects of complaint, which posit a revival of solidarity networks, union’s responsibilities and striking as the only effective modes to change a workplace. Through this analysis, I will criticize the neoliberal university and neoliberal strategies of justice, which often lead to further victimization and blame of the already oppressed.
Ewa Majewska is a feminist philosopher of culture, she worked as Assistant Professor at the Department of Artes Liberales and Gender Studies at the University of Warsaw, Poland. She was a visiting fellow at the University of California, Berkeley (BBRG), a stipendiary fellow at the IWM (Vienna) and ICI Berlin. She published four monographs (Kontrpubliczności ludowe i feministyczne. Wczesna “Solidarność” i Czarne Protesty, Warszawa 2018; Tramwaj zwany uznaniem, Warszawa 2016; Sztuka jako pozór? Kraków, 2013; Feminizm jako filozofia społeczna, Warszawa 2009); four co-edited volumes on neoliberalism, politics, gender and education. Her articles and essays also appeared in: Signs, e-flux, Jacobin, Public Seminar, Nowa Krytyka, Praktyka Teoretyczna, Przegląd Filozoficzny, Przegląd Kulturoznawczy, Kultura Współczesna, Le Monde Diplomatique (PL) and multiple collected volumes. Her main focus is weak resistance, counterpublics and critical affect studies.
Jan Matonoha “Dozens of Plateaus”: a Preliminary “Inter-survey of the Nearest Past”: Periodizing Works of Czech Female Authors Published between 1948–1989 from a Gender Perspective, with a Special Regard to 1970s and 1980s Dissent and Exile Literature
Through an exclusive focus on Czech female authors, this paper examines the extent and possibilities of feminist engagement and visibility during the 1948-89 period. The paper proceeds from the mechanism of so called “wounded attachments” (Brown, 1993) and “injurious identities” (Butler, 1997), i.e. the situation in which one goal is followed while another one is neglected or rendered invisible. During the period examined, this meant taking an oppositional stance towards the ruling regime while other issues – such as gender and feminism – were made invisible.
While male authors of the era (such as Josef Škvorecký, Ludvík Vaculík, Václav Havel, Ivan Klíma, Jan Novák, Jan Pelc etc.) displayed constant male chauvinism and sexism in their writings, hence following the mentioned mechanism of injurious identities, female authors (such as Alena Vostrá, Zdena Salivarová, Eva Kantůrková, Eda Kriseová, Zuzana Brabcová, Alexandra Berková, Tereza Boučková, Iva Pekárková, Lenka Procházková) offered a very colourful map of a “dozen plateaux” with varying trajectories.
With considerable generalization, and following the logic of “expropriated voice” (Havelková, 2009), the paper claims that the 1950s and 1960s literature displayed significant emancipatory streaks (to be somewhat re-discovered after 100 years of feminist thinking), while the 1970s and 1980s displayed a rather injurious logic of (mis)identifications. In forwarding this argument, the paper will pay special attention to dissident and exile literature, including a collection of interviews conducted by Eva Kantůrková in the late 1970s, revisited 40 years later by Naďa Straková with an afterword by Marcela Linková.
Jan Matonoha holds a Mgr. and a PhD from Charles University in Prague, and an M.Phil. from Glasgow, UK. In 2012-13 he spent two years as a Newton Fellow in Sheffield, UK. He worked on several grant projects funded by various Czech Grant Agencies, as well as by the European Commission, and taught at various programs for both foreign students (in English, e.g. Prague Film Academy, East and Central European Studies at Arts Faculty of Charles University, Prague, and others), as well as domestic ones (including Czech Literature Department, Department of Gender Studies, Faculty of Humanities, both at Arts Faculty of Charles University, Prague). In addition to several articles, he published two books in Czech (Writing Outside of Logocentrism. Discourse, gender, text, 2009; and Beyond / For (De)Constructivism. Overview of Critical Concepts of Literary and Cultural Theory, 2017, both published by Academia Publishing, Prague), and published chapters in several edited volumes, including The Politics of Gender Culture under State Socialism, edited by Hana Havelková and Libora Oates-Indruchová (Routledge, 2014). For almost six years, he was a member of the editorial board of the bimonthly Česká literatura (Czech Literature) journal. His research interests are theory of literature, 20th century Czech and Central European literature, feminism and gender studies in literature and animal studies in literature. He is a member of the grant project INTER-COST, a subsidiary of the NET4DISSENT network.
Agnieszka Mrozik Female “Architects” of the Polish People’s Republic: The Case of Zofia Dembińska as a Critical Contribution to Feminist Theory and Biographical Writing in Poland
Zofia Dembińska (1905–1989) was an interwar teacher associated with the Vilnius communist left who after the WWII co-ran the state publishing company “Czytelnik”. She was the deputy minister of education and childcare in the 1950s and a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in the 1960s. Like many other female “architects” of the People’s Poland, she has not been an object of feminist research thus far.
In this paper, I take a closer look at Dembińska as a member of the leftist political formation that took power in Poland after 1945: a participant in the socialist modernization of the country in the area of culture and education, but also a co-creator of the project of women’s emancipation. Recalling her life story and activism, I pay attention to the place of communist women in the current Polish public debate; how they are narrated and why. But I also ask a question: why are these figures absent or poorly present in feminist research?
Dembińska appears here as a figure worth of independent attention, deserving a feminist gesture of “calling out from silence”, but also as an impulse to start discussion about the condition of feminist theory and biographical writing. The question about the reasons for the absence or poor presence of communist women in feminist projects of re-writing the national canons, re-constructing the history of women and women’s movements – compared with the multitude of works dedicated to female activists of independence movements and anti-communist opposition – is inevitably associated with questions about the theoretical self-awareness of contemporary feminist researchers in and outside of Poland.
Agnieszka Mrozik is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IBL PAN). She is affiliated with two research teams: The Centre for Cultural and Literary Studies of Communism, and the Archives of Women. She holds a PhD in Literary Studies (2012) and an MA in American Studies (2005). She is the author of Akuszerki transformacji. Kobiety, literatura i władza w Polsce po 1989 roku (IBL PAN 2012). She has co-authored and co-edited PRL – życie po życiu (IBL PAN 2014); Encyklopedia gender (Czarna Owca 2014), Historical Memory of Central and East European Communism (Routledge 2018), Communism – Ideas and Practices in Poland 1944–1989 (CEU Press, forthcoming 2020), Gender, Generations and Communism in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe (Routledge, forthcoming 2020). She is currently working on a book project tentatively entitled “Forgotten Revolution: Communist Female Intellectuals and the Making of Women’s Emancipation in Post-war Poland.”
Blanka Nyklová, Nina Fárová Gender Seen and Unseen
By the 1970s, the technical and scientific revolution became the discursive staple of policies for economic development in state socialist Czechoslovakia. In particular, the chemical industry was seen as a highly promising field to be developed using extensive purchases of licenses from the capitalist West. This discursive/economic importance attached to primarily applied chemistry (and research) is a field in which we look for manifestations of the gender regime as it related specifically to applied research and to the general gender order of the period. Our paper is based on multi-method analysis of media coverage of applied industrial-chemical research found in in-house journals. We include a general media analysis with a special focus on the changes seen across the three researched decades (1970-2000). Visual media analysis suggests strong overlaps with concurrent changes in the discourse on the gender order as identified in the relevant literature (e.g., Hašková and Uhde 2009; Havelková and Oates-Indruchová 2014; Lišková 2016). This analysis is coupled with insights from interviews with women and men researchers as well as laboratory technicians. The preliminary results suggest that visual analysis is a much needed parallel approach to mainstream gender studies research.
Blanka Nyklová has worked since 2014 at the National Contact Centre for Gender and Science at the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. She holds an MA in media studies and a PhD in sociology from Charles University in Prague. Her research interests span several areas: the Czech feminist scene, its changes and theoretical starting points; sexual violence in higher education with a particular focus on study abroad programmes; and the intersection of geopolitics and epistemology with an emphasis on transition processes in the Czech Republic and Central Eastern Europe around 1989. The latter topic is also the central focus of her current research project, which explores the fate of applied chemical research at research and development departments and institutes affiliated with chemical plants before and after 1989.
Nina Fárová is a sociology graduate of the University of West Bohemia. She is currently enrolled in the doctoral degree program at the Department of Anthropology at the same university. She has been conducting research in the Czech educational system, focusing on the position of men and masculinity in feminized working environments. Earlier, she worked as an analyst in an international consultancy company and as an assistant in a research project on grandparenthood. She joined the National Contact Center – Gender and Research team in March 2015.
Libora Oates-Indruchová Post-1989 Czech Historiography of State Socialism: Gendered, but Gender-Blind
Gender is rarely or not at all considered in the works on state socialism in Czech history-writing. In light of the prominence of the equality of the sexes in communist rhetoric and the heated anti- and pro-feminism media and intellectual debates of the 1990s, the omission stands out as a remarkable loss of opportunity in historical research. It also defies logic. For if ‘emancipation’ and ‘equality’ were such a strong presence in the pre-1989 discourse and women constituted half the population, does it not follow that the plain demographic fact should drive the interest of researchers to inquire where this population was, what it was doing and what it had to say? Seeking answers to these questions would produce richer descriptions and a drive to mine the archives for sources. Employing gender as an analytical category would then add comprehensiveness and nuance to our understanding of state socialism and also of continuities and discontinuities since its demise. I will first consider the status quo of gender blindness in Czech historiography in greater detail, before looking into the possible reasons for the phenomenon’s presence in the context of the legacy that state socialism left to social sciences and humanities, including: expertise, disciplinary legitimation and an epistemological legacy. Finally, I will discuss the consequences of the near-absence of gender history and analysis from post-1989 interpretations of state socialism. These include: blind spots and loss of knowledge, lack of precision in the interpretations of history and a heavy gender bias in historical accounts. All of these cause damage to historical knowledge and some amount even to the distortion of history and the creation of a false legacy.
Libora Oates-Indruchová is Professor of Sociology of Gender at the University of Graz (A). Her research interests include cultural representations of gender, gender and social change, censorship, and narrative research, with a focus on state-socialist and post state-socialist Czech Republic. Her recent articles include “A Dulled Mind in an Active Body: Growing Up as a Girl in Normalization Czechoslovakia” (in Childhood and Schooling in (Post)Socialist Societies: Memories of Everyday Life, ed. by Iveta Silova, Nelli Piattoeva, and Zsuzsa Millei, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) and “Unraveling a Tradition, or Spinning a Myth?: Gender Critique in Czech Society and Culture“ (Slavic Review, Winter 2016). She co-edited The Politics of Gender Culture under State Socialism: an Expropriated Voice (with Hana Havelková; Routledge 2014, paperback 2015; expanded Czech edition 2015) that won the 2016 BASEES Women’s Forum Book Prize. Her book, Censorship in Czech and Hungarian Academic Publishing, 1969-1989: Snakes and Ladders (Bloomsbury Academic), is forthcoming in 2020.
Almira Ousmanova Feminism, Marxism and Love: Rethinking the Ongoing Debates on Sexual Revolution and Socialism
The issue of radical transformation of love relations and sexual mores in Soviet Russia after the October Revolution, along with their literary and cinematic representations, enjoyed a wealth of scholarly attention during the last few decades. However, in former socialist countries and new independent states, along with the revival of nationalism and neopatriarchy, the question of sexual politics, women’s emancipation and the transformation of the intimate sphere under socialism often receives amazingly anachronistic interpretations. Often these interpretations are endorsed by the dominant political regimes and further propagated by media. Conservative historians claim, for instance, that “Bolsheviks did not have a coherent program in the domain of sexual and family policy”, that they “destroyed the biological norm” and rejected the “natural right” of society to the traditional family structure, and that eventually they had sexually “debauched” the population (Belarusians, Ukrainians, etc.).
In the given context I consider it important to return to the conceptual grounds and political aims of the “sexual revolution” and the ways in which they were developed and theorized in early socialist and feminist works (such as the works of French utopian socialists, F. Engels and A. Bebel, and the works of socialist feminists in post-revolutionary Russia including Alexandra Kollontai, Inessa Armand and others). I then turn to analyze how these ideas and the paradoxes of love under socialism are being discussed in contemporary scholarly debates.
Almira Ousmanova is Professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the European Humanities University (Vilnius, Lithuania). She is the author of Umberto Eco: Paradoxes of Interpretation (2000); and editor of several volumes: Anthology of Gender Theory (ed., with Elena Gapova, 2000); Gender Histories from Eastern Europe (co-edited with Elena Gapova and Andrea Peto), Bi-Textuality and Cinema (ed., 2003); Gender and Transgression in Visual Arts (ed., 2007), Visual (as) Violence (ed., 2008), Après Simone de Beauvoir: Feminism and Philosophy (ed., Topos, 2010), TechnoLogos: The Social Effects of Bio- and Information Technologies (ed., with Tatyana Shchyttsova, Topos, 2014). E-Effect: Digital Turn in Social Sciences and Humanities (ed., with Galina Orlova, Topos, 1/2017), Roland Barthes’ Time (ed., with V. Fours, Topos, 1/2019).
Tereza Stejskalová The Emancipated Household in Czechoslovakia: A Resource to Reinvent Domestic Space
In her essay Promethean Labors and Domestic Realism Helen Hester (2017) calls on feminists to develop a politics that aims at creating systemic solutions and visions challenging the status quo that are, at the same time, anchored in the sphere of the domestic. The essay and Xenofeminist manifesto (Laboria Cuboniks, 2015) challenge “domestic realism”. In other words, they challenge our incapacity to imagine home as anything other than a private space occupied by a nuclear family, a space of uneven distribution of labor that prevents women from participating in the political sphere, inaccessible to those who do not conform to gender norms, migrants and other oppressed and marginalized groups. In her book Xenofeminism, Hester (2018) is concerned with the history of women’s and LGBTQ+ grassroots movements that provide alternative forms of care and resist the oppressive and exclusionary nature of mainstream institutions. However, in spite of xenofeminist ambitions, it remains unclear how these activities could scale up or participate in building global institutions accessible to the broadest spectrum of beings. I would like to contrast the grassroot endeavours by queer activists and second-wave feminists with a particular history of state socialism in Eastern Europe inspired by the tradition of socialist and feminist thought and activism. Socialist experiments in social reproduction suffered from state paternalism, heteronormativity, and lack of resources that prevented ambitious visions to be fully implemented. In spite of this, I argue, they can serve as a resource for thinking about feminist technologies and possibilities of scaling. In my paper, I will explore the history of the so-called “Emancipated Household” (Osvobozená domácnost), an experiment in social reproduction, a cooperative established by women activists in 1945 in Czechoslovakia, to be later taken over and developed by the Communist Party.
Tereza Stejskalová is a curator at tranzit.cz and a lecturer at the Film Academy in Prague. She is the editor of Filmmakers of the World, Unite! Forgotten Internationalism, Czechoslovak Film and the Third World (Prague: tranzit, 2017) and co-editor of the Navigation book series (tranzit.cz). Together with Barbora Kleinhamplová she is the co-author of Who is an artist? (Prague: Academy of Fine Arts, 2015). Her recent endeavours include long-term research on the cultural diplomacy and internationalism of Czechoslovakia in collaboration with Zbyněk Baladrán. Various fragments of this research have appeared as a part of Kids Want Communism at Museums Bat Yam (2016), Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien (2017) in Berlin, It Won’t Be Long Now, Comrades, Framer Framed (2017) in Amsterdam, or as an exhibition Biafra of Spirit (2017) at the National Gallery in Prague. She organized a year-long seminar titled Feminist (Art) Institution at Tranzitdisplay in Prague in 2017, which resulted in the creation of a code of practice and the alliance of eleven institutions from the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Katarzyna Stańczak-Wiślicz “Imagined Genealogy”: Legacies of Socialist-State Emancipation, Dissent Discourses and Polish Feminism after 1989
In this paper I will examine how dissent discourses about women’s emancipation affected the post-1989 feminist movement in Poland. After the transformation, Polish feminist activists rejected the legacy of the socialist state. They argued that The League of Women, the only women’s mass organization before 1989 was subordinated to the communist party (PZPR) and acted as a “transmission belt”, and not as an independent political agent. This rejection of the legacies of socialist-state emancipation was rooted in opposition discourses formed in the 1980s. In 1988, a book titled “Kobieta polska lat osiemdziesiątych” (“Polish woman of the 1980s”, ed. Andrzej Bujwid) was published illegally. It claimed to show “the truth distorted or hidden by official propaganda” and offered a strong criticism of party-state policies towards women since 1945. The articles collected in the book went in line with the Catholic Church’s teaching as well as with the conservative attitude towards women’s emancipation shared by some party members. At the same time, the book’s authors ignored the fact that since the 1960s Polish sociologists criticized the implementation of emancipation policy. However, the book affected post-1989 discourses on women’s rights. Feminist activists repeated the slogans about “forced emancipation” under state-socialism and referred to the “imagined genealogy” of the movement – and only to the legacies of the interbellum period. I argue that this view was rooted in the dissent discourse, which in fact was not completely opposed to the communist party’s standpoint.
Katarzyna Stańczak-Wiślicz is a historian and Assistant Professor in The Institute of Literary Research in the Polish Academy of Sciences. She is also a member of the “Women’s Archives” research team. Her book, which is based on her PhD thesis, is titled: Real-life Stories. Confession Narratives in Polish Popular Women’s Magazines in XX century (Warsaw 2010). She also edited and co-authored a number of collections and collective monographs: Narratives of Suffering (Warsaw 2011) and Popular Culture in Poland 1944-1989, (2 volumes). Her research focuses on: cultural history, gender history, society and culture in post-1945 Poland.
In the 4th volume of Contradictions: A Journal for Critical Thought (to be published in 2020), we aim to explore two broader issues: the current crisis of capitalism and liberal democracy as well as the legacies of state-socialist emancipation. By connecting feminist political thought, theory, and philosophy with the history of Eastern and Central Europe, the planned volume aims to facilitate an intellectual and political exchange of ideas between theory and a historical-analytical reassessment of one of the most ambitious projects of women’s emancipation in the past. We invite abstracts for papers from a wide variety of disciplines and research orientations, primarily from feminist philosophy, socialist/Marxist/left theory, and gender history.
Strand One – Left Feminist Theorizations of Today’s Crises
Current hegemonic articulation of liberal democracy with the capitalist mode of production has suffered under the strain of a series of political, ideological, ecological, and economic crises. The social reproduction crisis, i.e. the growing inability of societies to sustain the conditions of their reproduction, is part and parcel of a generalized crisis sweeping communities across the globe. The contradiction between the need to reproduce labor as the source of value on the one hand, and the need to reproduce human beings, their provisioning and living environments on the other, is precisely what characterizes our current condition. Neither neoliberal feminism, which coopted gender equality principles it the service of progressive neoliberalism, nor the ever-growing variety of postfeminist discourses and cultural sensibilities are ready to face the challenges arising from the crisis of social reproduction and its political ramifications – quite the contrary.
In many places, it has been conservative movements that took up the gauntlet and addressed today’s precarities in a radically reactionary fashion, dismantling the modern notion of citizenship. Their concern for sustaining unequal social relations is exclusionary as they call for a return to the nativist family, complementary gender roles for women and men, and to rule over children in the name of protecting them. Reactionaries, including various anti-gender mobilizations, aim at preventing any other, non-heteronormative partnerships from gaining access to symbolic and welfare institutions which may provide recognition, mitigate precarity and build relations of support and mutuality.
We call for contributions that will engage in feminist critique in both its explanatory-diagnostic as well as anticipatory-utopian forms and will approach the aforementioned challenges primarily from socialist/Marxist/left feminist and radical-democratic positions. Suggested topics and questions to be addressed may include, but are not limited, to:
- What shape does the social-reproductive crisis take in Eastern and Central Europe? And how does this analysis modify and/or enrich social reproduction theory?
- What is the role of state violence in escalating the crisis of social reproduction in general and in reproducing heteropatriarchal oppression in particular?
- In what ways are the privatization of social reproduction and the intensification of exploitation gendered?
- What are the political-economic underpinnings of so-called cultural conflicts, which instrumentalize women’s and minorities’ rights in the name of racist, xenophobic and nationalist oppression?
- In the anticipatory-utopian vein of feminist critique, what social and political practices emerge as figures of the newly thinkable? Furthermore, what is the role of feminism in re-shaping emerging counterhegemonic forces (such as left populism, progressive populism, etc.)?
- Lastly, what modifications to feminist and Marxist conceptual apparatuses become necessary in relation to these challenges?
Strand Two: The Legacies of State-Socialist Emancipation
The last fifteen years have seen an upsurge in historiographic research of post-WWII socialist states. Diverting from the less conciliatory tone of post-transition historical scholarship, which framed state socialism as entirely at odds with feminist goals and principles, recent feminist historiography about East and Central European state socialism has explored gender regimes of state socialism as well as women’s activism therein in more nuanced ways. While the most intense scholarly debates perhaps concern the overall periodization of state socialist gender orders in respective countries, the research field has broadened beyond the study of proverbial controversies over women’s agency in socialist states. This research has provided new perspectives on a variety of issues ranging from labor history to the history of feminist dissident groups.
With respect to the aforementioned scholarship, we call for contributions on topics and questions such as:
- What arguments, concepts and figures stand out in the archives of feminist left thinking in Eastern and Central Europe? Which archives are still unexplored and why?
- How have women who joined Communist parties before WWII in various states remembered their realities and how have they been remembered (or forgotten) by others? And what purposes do the gendered politics of memory and communist women’s biographies serve today?
- How is the history of dissent constructed from a gendered perspective?
- How has the burgeoning field of recent feminist historiography affected research of state socialism in general? To what extent has gender become a useful category in historical analyses of state socialism? Or has it still not been adequately used
Please send your submissions in English, Czech, or Slovak, in formats *.rtf, *.odt, *.doc, or *.docx, to Ľubica Kobová, guest editor of the volume (Lubica.Kobova@fhs.cuni.cz) as well as to firstname.lastname@example.org. We encourage prospective authors to consult their ideas with the guest editor.
We also welcome submissions that go beyond this thematic call and address the continuing interests of our journal.
For more information, including citation style, see here.