Negotiating Modern Ways of Life: Life-Reform Movements in Central and Eastern Europe since 1900

Negotiating Modern Ways of Life: Life-Reform Movements in Central and Eastern Europe since 1900

Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe, Marburg; Centre for Baltic and East European Studies at Södertörn University, Stockholm
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
18.09.2023 - 19.09.2023
Matthias Junkers, Mönchengladbach; Ron Eilon, Social work, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

What new perspectives can be opened up on the life reform and what theoretical considerations can be applied to this topic across borders? These were some of the questions addressed at the conference in Marburg. The conference hosted 11 early career scholars from 10 countries. HEIDI HEIN-KIRCHER (Marburg) and JULIA MALITSKA (Stockholm) welcomed the participants and led together with Dr. Elisa-Maria Hiemer, Prof. Per Bolin and Prof. Marc Bassin through the two-day conference.

In the first session, “Crossing Borders: Circulation of Life Reform Ideas”, JOHANNES BOSCH (Heidelberg) presented his work, analyzing the naturist discourse in the turn of the century over social, political and cultural groups beyond the borders of the nation states of France, Germany and Switzerland. He discussed the role of the nation as a methodological category and suggested a shift from an international or transnational comparative perspective to a systematic comparison of different concepts of Life reform.

RON EILON (Jerusalem) discussed the expansion of Anthroposophy from Switzerland and Germany to Israel, through struggles of migration and translation between religions to the emergence of first social care institutions. He showed how pioneering anthroposophist deployed a vast network of international connections and simultaneously focused on the core practices of social care in order to realize and embed anthroposophical social work in Israel.

After the first session, the attendants had the opportunity to tour the Herder Institute, its comprehensive library, its rich archive, and the very informative map collection, all focusing on central and eastern European history and culture. The second session, held in the afternoon hosted two presentations discussing Ethics and Human health in the context of Life Reform. MATTHIAS JUNKERS (Mönchengladbach) presented the emergence, development and (temporary) end of the anti-tobacco movement beyond state measures in Germany between 1870 and 1935. He examined how the formation of a social life reform movement has influenced social life and as well as how the definition of health has been reevaluated through evolving discourse and new medical evidence, using tobacco as an example, in Germany.

SANJA PETKOVSKA (Belgrade) presented her work on vegetarianism in Belgrade, describing the activity of the vegetarian society “Leo Tolstoy”, which has been actively advocating vegetarianism by writing several books on the topic and founding vegetarian restaurants in Interwar Belgrade. Using this example, Sanja worked out the earliest emergence of the forms of organized and public vegetarianism in Serbia as an expression of global trends of the rise of life-reform movements, re-evoked, and invented traditions in the area of nutrition and morals.

That same afternoon we held a fascinating discussion on different perceptions and methodologies used to examine Life Reform Movements based on recent literature and texts. Many interesting issues arose, including how different research scales and periodisations influence our understanding of concepts like biopolitics, individualism and the different mechanisms used to promote societal change, and how we can draw wider historical and theoretical conclusions from the scales of archival research.

The day was concluded with the enlightening keynote lecture by CORINNA TREITEL (St. Louis): “Modernity Laboratory”. Treitel discussed several of her recent research projects showing how different life reformers influenced mainstream ideas and even policy. Focusing on the case study of nutrition, Treitel demonstrated the impact of Werner Kollath’s ideas and Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic agriculture on nutrition politics in Germany before, during, and after the second world war, perhaps up to these days. In addition, Treitel analyzes changes in German health narratives and the discourse on body, hygiene, and the scientific, or other, authority on those.

The third session, “Educating Minds, Reforming Bodies” dealt with different aspects of youth- adults- and class- education, and the ways life reform movements engaged in educational activities or opposed them.

IVANA CERCHOVYCH (Ukraine) described in her presentation how female education was utilized by the Ukrainian national movement as a Life Reform agent to emancipate the daughters in Habsburg Galicia. She showed how the main motif of Ukrainian women’s emancipation was based on a motif of sacrifice, in which by an individual loss, is simultaneously a gain for the national unit.

ESZTER ÖZE (Budapest) presented means of visual education used in Exhibitions in Museums in Budapest and in Vienna. Eszter Őze compared the rethorics of these exhibitions, aiming at educating the working class to better hygienic, safe and moral behavior and described the dual notions autonomy vs. paternalism, education vs. self-regulation and care vs. discipline.

In her presentation, IEVA BALČIŪNĖ (Vilnius), discussed the special case of youth in Soviet Lithuania in the tension between compulsory education and the failures of childcare institutions in the modernizing USSR. This tension has driven children and youth to different lifestyles including independent traveling around the country and natural life in the forests.

HEIDI HEIN-KIRCHER (Marburg) gave a keynote lecture analyzing the struggles against trafficking in girls and women in Galicia around the turn of the 20th century. Hein-Kircher demonstrated how these struggles were took on by civil organizations, in which feminist, urban middle class women took leading roles, and were not only motivated by solidarity or efforts to eliminate this social problem, but were also driven by national aspirations, and the images of a "healthy, modern and beautiful cities" as building stones of the "moral nation".

After a joint lunch we gathered for a fourth and last session: “Modern Life(styles) in Modern Cities.” IRINA SEITS (Stockholm) presented the history of the garden-city movement in the late Russian Empire and early Soviet Russia to analyze the main ideas and practices of the garden-city concept, the response from state authorities and local communities to the realized projects, and impact that the garden-city movement have made on communities in Eastern Europe.

VENDULA HNÍDKOVÁ (Prague) concluded in her presentation that garden city forms a radical intent to reshape and reimagine the world. She worked out the garden city movement as a significant part of cultural transfer embedded in the industrial society that has a lasting impact on modern towns. By means of scholarly and practical engagements with the English reform vision, she showed its adoption and transformation in the Czech Lands (that were to become Czechoslovakia in 1918) in general and its further dissemination in foreign countries in particular.

MARCIN WILK (Warsaw), elaborated in his presentation that the emancipatory development of women was closely linked to the importance of animal welfare in Interwar Krakow and was an expression of the outward-looking new role of women. Magazines and public protest marches in Krakow were used by the Animal Welfare Association to draw attention to animal suffering and to give young people the opportunity to recognize the value of animal life by participating directly in activities aimed at protecting the city's animals, such as building bird feeders.

In the concluding discussion we overviewed the traits, concepts, and categories common to our research projects. Important common points were the terms of social movements, biopolitics, state regulation (top down and bottom up), transnationality and lifestyle, as well as the broader terms of social movement, modernization, and the differences in practice of life reform movements between democracy and totalitarianism.

As participants of the conference, we shared the feeling that the acquaintance with the work of other early career scholars and the faculty that led the workshops was extremely fruitful for our own research. The main idea of negotiating modern ways of life was discussed under the application of different methodologies and theoretical approaches that have led to new ideas and research directions. One example, that we believed most of us shared, was the analyses of the meeting-points between "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches. Most life reform movements entailed to at least some extent a wish to promote behavioral change in wider societal contexts. That trait has sometimes led to internal small-scale problematics not unlike these described by theories of social engineering. That instance encouraged each of us to rethink life reform movements and draw new lines between their reactive elements and their initiative. It is worth noting that this was only one memorable example among many. Partly due to this example, the research work of the participants will certainly take on new perspectives and open up new research ideas for the field of life reform.

Conference overview:

SEPTEMBER 18, 2023

SECTION 1: Crossing Borders: Circulation of Life Reform Ideas
Chair: Heidi Hein-Kircher (Herder Institute in Marburg)

Johannes Bosch (University of Heidelberg): Life Reform as a Transnational Phenomenon. Varieties of Naturism in a European Perspective

Ron Eilon (Hebrew University of Jerusalem): The Emergence of Anthroposophical Social Initiatives in Israel

Discussant: Mark Bassin (Södertörn University)

SECTION 2: Ethics and Human Health
Chair: Per Bolin (Södertörn University)

Matthias Junkers (Mönchengladbach): “Der Bund Deutscher Tabakgegner”. The Institutionalisation of an Anti-Tobacco Movement Beyond State Measures between 1870 and 1935

Sanja Petkovska (Institute for Criminological and Sociological Research in Belgrade): Vegetarianism in Interwar Belgrade between Deviance, Fashion, Ethics and Intellectual Trends

Discussant: Elisa-Maria Hiemer (Herder Institute)


Prof. Corinna Treitel (Washington University in St. Louis): Modernity’s Laboratory.
Chair: Julia Malitska

SEPTEMBER 19, 2023

SECTION 3: Educating Minds, Reforming Bodies
Chair: Heidi Hein-Kircher

Ivanna Cherchovych (National Academy of Science of Ukraine): Life Reform through Education: Ukrainian Elites and their Emancipated Daughters in Habsburg Galicia

Eszter Őze (Museum of Fine Arts – Central European Research Institute for Art History, Budapest): Reform and Paternalism: A Case Study on the Modernist Bodies in the Social Museum, Budapest (1901–1945) and in Otto Neurath’s Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum, Vienna

Ieva Balčiūnė (Lithuanian Institute of History, Vilnius): Wanderers, Resisters, “Anti-Social” Youth in Soviet Lithuania: an Alternative to the Modernisation of Society

Discussant: Julia Malitska


Heidi Hein-Kircher: Struggles against trafficking in girls and women in Galicia around 20th century.
Chair: Julia Malitska

SECTION 4: Modern Life(styles) in Modern Cities
Chair: Julia Malitska

Irina Seits (Södertörn University): From Garden City to Red Village: the Legacy of the ‘Garden-City’ Movement in the Russian Empire and Early Soviet State

Vendula Hnídková (Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague): Reforming Society by Urban Reform

Marcin Wilk (Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw): Girls/Women Emancipations and Animal Welfare in Interwar Krakow

Discussant: Heidi Hein-Kircher

SECTION 5: Final Joint Discussion and Concluding Remarks
Moderation and Input: Heidi Hein-Kircher and Julia Malitska