Researching Labour History in Post-Socialist Contexts

Wednesday, 21 June 2017, 10:00am - 12:30pm, IWM library
After years of neglect and scepticism towards labour as a subject of study in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the topic is making a slow but significant comeback among scholars working the region. In the post-socialist space, a new generation of scholars is tackling the experience of work in the socialist and post-socialist era from the perspective of social history, anthropology, everyday life and global labour history. However, the theoretical and methodological challenges faced by such research are still considerable. In the regional context the totalitarian turn marginalised labour studies from the early 1990s. On the one hand, the mainstream political climate remains unwelcoming towards studies of working class history associated with the former socialist regimes. On the other hand, post-socialist transition—and in the post-Yugoslav case the creation of new nation states – had significant consequences on the preservation of archival sources as well as on the reframing of collective memories of the socialist era and of work and life experience before 1989. In Eastern Europe sentiments towards interwar national states rose and evoked a strong negligence of previous decades as another occupation, time of terror and captivity. The working class as a subject of research almost vanished with an exception of a few scholars and researchers from abroad.

The workshop aims to establish an overview of the current state of the art in the field, and to discuss new possible venues of exploration in a comparative perspective, but with an attention towards the specificities of local contexts. The workshop’s timeframe begins with the end of World War Two, but focuses strongly on the transition period and on the economical, political and social changes of 1990s—and their impact on labour history research. Agata Zysiak will discuss post-war working class in Poland, particularly a case of a highly feminised textile center and second biggest Polish city at that time— Łódź. Piotr Filipkowski will deal with the transformation of the Gdynia Shipyard in the last few decades—until its closedown in 2009—referring to narrative interviews with its (former) employees, workers and engineers. Goran Musić will talk about the current views on the experience of workers’ self-management in the academic and popular discourses in Serbia and Chiara Bonfiglioli will address women’s experiences of textile work in the socialist and post-socialist era in the former Yugoslavia, with a specific focus on Croatia.


Chiara Bonfiglioli is a gender historian specialised in the post-Yugoslav region and in transnational women’s movements, currently EURIAS visiting fellow at the IWM. In 2012 she received a PhD in gender studies from the University of Utrecht. Between 2012 and 2016, she held different research fellowships at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Pula. She is currently preparing a monograph titled Women and Industry in the Balkans: The Rise and Fall of the Yugoslav Textile Sector (I.B. Tauris, forthcoming).

Goran Musić is a researcher at the university of Graz’s Centre for Southeast European studies working on the Austrian science Fund (FWF) financed project ‘Between class and nation: Working class communities in 1980s serbia and Montenegro’. He holds a PhD in history from the European university Institute (EUI), Florence. His fields of interest are Global Labour History, comparative history of workers under state socialism and everyday history of socialist Yugoslavia.

Piotr Filipkowski, is a sociologist and oral historian, works at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. His recent publications are devoted to qualitative methodologies, biographical research, memory and narrative; currently he is postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for East-European History at the University of Vienna in a project Transformations from Below: Shipyards and Labor Relations in the Uljanik (Croatia) and Gdynia (Poland) Shipyards since the 1980s.

Agata Zysiak, PhD, a sociologist of culture and urban activist, works at the Institute for Social Studies at University of Warsaw, is involved in several research projects concerning industrial cities, socialist academia and modernity. She also served as a visiting scholar at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Wayne State University in Detroit and Free University in Berlin. Her postdoctoral research is a comparative study of working class in Detroit and Lodz.

Comments: János Mátyás Kovács graduated at the Karl Marx University of Economics, Budapest in 1973. He defended his doctoral dissertation (dr. oec) on “The Market Economy of the NEP” at the same university in 1975. In 1973, he became a research fellow at the Institute of Economics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest. Since 1984, he has taught history of economic thought as well as political economy of communism and the post-communist transformation at various departments of Eötvös Loránd University and Karl Marx University of Economics (today: Corvinus University) in Budapest. In 1987, Kovacs moved to Vienna, and has worked as a Permanent Fellow at the IWM since 1991, while remaining an external research fellow of the Institute of Economics in Budapest until 2014. Since 2009, he has taught history of economic thought at the Department of Economics, Eötvös Loránd University again. He serves as an editor of Transit (Vienna) and 2000 (Budapest).

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