CFP: New Subjectivities, New Emotions, New Politics: Oppositional Politics and Counter Cultures Across the Iron Curtain During the Long 1970s

International Workshop at the Center for Interdisciplinary Polish Studies, Europe University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder, Germany, 12/13 June 2015

Co-Organized by the European History Research Centre, University of Warwick & the Centre for Interdisciplinary Polish Studies, Europe University Viadrina

Joachim C. Häberlen (Warwick), Mark Keck-Szajbel (Viadrina), Kate Mahoney (Warwick)


During the ‘long’ 1970s, a remarkable plethora of oppositional grass-roots movements and counter-hegemonic subcultures emerged across the Iron Curtain. They ranged from Hippies in the Soviet Union to anti-psychiatrists in Italy, from Dutch kraakers to the Polish ‘Orange Alternative’, from consciousness-raising and therapy groups in Western Europe to rock bands in Central Europe, like the Czechoslovak ‘Plastic People of the Universe’ that faced oppression by the regime. One remarkable aspect of these often interlinked scenes is that they shared cultural styles across national and bloc boundaries. For example, as Padraic Kenney has observed, activists from Poland found it surprisingly easy to move around the Amsterdam leftist scene. Just like Amsterdam lefties, the Polish activists wore military style parkas and boots, had grown beards and long hair, and spoke a similar idiom. Similarly, dressing up as mythic or exotic figures became a common practice in both East and West – as the Native Americans costumes worn among the indiani metropolitani in Italy, the Stadtindianer in West Germany, and dressing up as elves in Polish Wroclaw all demonstrate.

These observations raise questions. Obviously, it is crucial to examine transnational connections and transfers to understand how musical styles, dress codes and ideas travelled from country to country, from one bloc to another, and how they were altered and adopted in specific circumstances. However, these observations also suggest that we might need an interpretative framework that reaches beyond national or bloc perspectives. What does the emergence of those movements mean for understanding the history of post-1968 Europe across the all too common East-West-divide?

As a tentative answer, which requires further exploration, we suggest that new – and perhaps shared – subjectivities, emotional styles, and political forms emerged in the context of these protest movements.

Subjectivities. Activists across Europe engaged in remarkably similar practices: they dressed in the same way, had complementary haircuts, played the guitar and sang during demonstrations or mocked the police. These practices could be interpreted as a means of forming new subjectivities, which could be understood, with Andreas Reckwitz, as counter-hegemonic. Indeed, subjectivity and forming new subjectivities became, for some activists, an explicit concern. West-German alternative leftists, for example, constantly talked about their ‘damaged personalities’, which needed to be ‘fixed’. We would be interested in explorations of such practices and interpretations of how they helped activists to create and perform subjectivities that challenged hegemonic forms of subjectivity. Case studies from Eastern and Western Europe could show whether such counter-hegemonic subjectivities shared common characteristics across the Iron Curtain.

Emotions. Feelings and emotions played a major role in many of the protest movements, not least in the formation of new subjectivities. Activists developed what could be called new emotional styles (Benno Gammerl) that highlighted expression of feeling. With these new emotional styles, actors tried to challenge hegemonic ‘emotional regimes’ (William Reddy). By wearing colorful dresses, Soviet hippies aimed to express emotionality in a society they deemed overly rational and hostile to feelings. In West Germany, participating in street demonstrations or even riots could be a means to overcome an allegedly omnipresent fear. At the same time, activists tried to learn how to express their feelings, both verbally and bodily, by joining consciousness-raising or therapy groups. Finally, the field of sexual politics will be highly relevant in this context, as activists tried to develop new forms of practicing love and intimacy. We look forward to contributions that analyze these emotional styles and their political meaning as ways to challenge dominating emotional regimes.

Politics. Protest movements in the post-1968 era are perhaps most famous for bringing new issues into the political arena, such as environmental concerns, child rearing and gender relations. Activists redrew the contours of the political and redefined its meaning. The feminist slogan ‘the personal is political’ encapsulates this change perhaps most precisely. Seemingly personal issues, such as subjectivities and emotions, gained political meaning. One consequence was that issues to which activists could directly relate to, often in highly local contexts, gained prominence, for example, urban modernization, the local environment, or kindergartens. We are looking for contributions that investigate the emergence of such new styles and forms of politics, how those challenged dominant modes of politics, and how this in itself was an element of protest.

Empirically, we welcome proposals that address a broad variety of movements and groups, ranging from New Ageists to counter-hegemonic music scenes, from peace groups to squatters, from feminist consciousness raising groups to gay activists. Chronologically, the ‘long 1970s’ are to be interpreted rather loosely. West-Berlin squatters from the 1980s and early 1990s could be included, as well as 1980s grass roots opposition groups in Communist Central Europe. Indeed, one of the questions the workshop should address concerns the exact temporal framing. We also invite potential contributors to reflect on the categories we propose. However, they should be conceived broadly and are open to critical discussions. Addressing these issues in a transnational perspective across the Iron Curtain, we hope to start developing an interpretative framework for post-1968 European history beyond cold war narratives. The workshop will thus develop new insights into cultural and societal transformation that affected societies both East and West. Looking at broadly conceived protest movements promises to be particularly revealing in this regard, since challenges to established subjectivities, emotional styles and political forms are arguably most visible and articulated in this context. While the workshop will take a European perspective, we would explicitly welcome national case studies that have the potential to create conversations across national borders. Ultimately, we hope that the workshop and the (trans-)national case studies presented there will result in a collaborative work that is more than the sum of its parts: a truly transnational perspective on European history of the long 1970s.

Potential contributors should submit a proposal of up to 500 words and a short academic CV by 1 November 2014. Contributions should not be based on previously published work. Accepted contributors should submit papers of up to 5,000 words by 1 May 2015. These papers will be pre-circulated before the workshop. At the workshop itself, contributors will provide a brief summary and contextualization of their paper, leaving more time for discussion. Travel and accommodation costs will be covered according to university guidelines.

Proposals should be sent to Joachim Häberlen, j.haeberlen@warwick.ac.uk