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Heritage Activism in Cities of Eastern Europe and Russia from 1968 to the Current

Date: September 13-14, 2018
Venue: Herder Institute, Marburg, Germany

Organizers: Olga Sezneva, Department of Sociology, University of Amsterdam, Eszter Gantner, Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe

From the works of Walter Benjamin to writings of Andreas Huyssen, cities have been recognized in their role as depositories of history and memory. Different cities performed differently in this role, of course. Issues of ‘truth’ and ‘distortion’, ‘silencing’ and ‘forgetting’ were at the forefront of public discussions during the period of 1990s’ transitions in Eastern Europe and Russia (Czaplicka, Gelazis and Ruble, 2009). As capitalist economies took root and the ‘heritage industry’ expanded, political uses of the past gave way to its commercial exploitation (Labadi & Logan, 2015; Samutina and Stepanov, 2014). Quarter-of-a-century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, socialism and its legacy are no longer debated in terms of either ‘truth’ or ‘lie’ but urban ‘atmospherics’: structures of feelings, which are spatially generated but temporally significant. Artists are often the chosen agents of these creations who put their creative practices toward the reinscription of meaning and alternative activation of urban spaces (Goebel 2015).

Our goal in calling this workshop is to examine and extend the existing knowledge about the political potential of heritage in the context of the post/socialist city, in the past and present.

  • How can urban heritage and its making in the context of the city politicize, mobilize and produce opposition, including one expressed artistically?

We understand ‘heritage-making’ as an open-ended process by which urban built environment is positioned as valuable and socially and culturally significant for a group or a community across generations. The focus of the workshop, therefore, is on the tangible form primarily, or its mediated representations (as, for instance, in the case of digital reproductions). By ‘protest’ we mean practices subversive of the established political order, urban civic initiatives or outright protests. What unites these categories of action is the ethos of change, however implicit or ineffective from the point of view of achieving it.

History has taught us that under authoritarian regimes, it is often the artistic practices, including performance, that carried the political weight and expressed discontent — a role that may be relevant again for arts and artists in the current political climate of Eastern Europe and Russia. As this might be the case, trajectories of performative traditions of non-conformist art of the social period, and their possible influence on the current subversive practices form our special point of interest.

We invite research-based papers that address one or more of the following questions/issues:

  • What role did urban heritage play in the expression of political discontent under socialism (between 1968 and 1991) in Eastern Europe and Russia; what was its material substance; and how exactly it was taken up and figured in protest movements and urban activism (broadly conceived)?
  • How do heritage-making and political dissent intersect in the cities of the former socialist block today?
  • What are the trajectories, if any, that the socialist-period subversive practices might have taken after 1989-1991?
  • What can we learn about heritage-making as a political practice from the history and the present of urban activism in Eastern Europe and Russia?
  • What can we learn about urban activism and other practices with subversive effects from their association with heritage-making?

The papers may address these and other related questions from a variety of disciplinary and theoretical perspectives, including the recent developments in Science and Technology Studies (STS), urban political ecology and artistic research practice.

Language of the workshop is English.

Please, send an abstract of 250 words to Olga Sezneva O.Sezneva@uva.nl and Eszter Gantner eszter.gantner@herder-institut.de by July 10. Announcements of acceptance will be sent on July 20.

» download the complete call for papers

The workshop will take place on September 13 late morning, concluding on September 14, afternoon.

Herder Institute has a limited number of travel grants to cover the participants’ commute and one night at a hotel. Participants are encouraged to seek support from their home institutions, where it is possible.

References:

Benjamin, W. [1927] 2002: The Archades Project. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass.

Czaplicka, J., Ruble, B. And Gelazis, N. (eds) 2009: Cities After the Fall of Communism. Reshaping Cultural Landscapes and European Identity. Woodrow Wilson Centre Press with John Hopkins University Press.

Goebel, H. 2015: The Reuse of Urban Ruins. Atmospheric Inquiry of the City. Routledge: London & New York.

Hoskins, A. (ed.) 2017. Digital Memory Studies: Media Pasts in Transition. Routledge: London.

Huyssen, A. 2003: Present Pasts. Urban Palimpsest and the Politics of Memory. Stanford University Press: Stanford, California.

Labadi, S. and Logan, W. (eds) 2015: Urban Heritage, Development and Sustainability. Routledge: London, New York.

Samutina, N. And Stepanov, B. (eds.) 2014: Tsaritsyno: attrakcion s istoriej [Tsaritsyno: An Attraction with History] Novoe literaturnoye obozrenie: Moscow.