Physical Violence in Late Socialism

Physical Violence in Late Socialism

Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam / Department of Social and Political Theory, Vytautas Magnus University
Vom - Bis
05.09.2013 - 07.09.2013
Stephanie Karmann

The project “Physical Violence and State Legitimacy in Late Socialism” at the Centre for Contemporary History (ZZF) in Potsdam is seeking additional contributions for a volume that will consist of original research by the project’s fellows and international academics.

The volume will present empirical research on physical violence in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe after 1956. The central question is how violence– both exercised by the state as well as by other social actors –transformed after the end of Stalinist terror. The contributions investigate the relationship between physical violence and the regimes’ quest for legitimacy during the “thaw” and the decades preceding the demise of communism in 1989/91. We argue that the primarily peaceful fall of communist regimes may only be understood if the relationship between statehood and violence in the post-Stalinist era is re-examined.

Methodologically, the volume follows anthropological approaches to the study of violence as introduced by Heinrich Popitz, Jan Phillip Reemtsma and Alf Lüdtke in Germany or Randall Collins in the United States (Heinrich Popitz: Phänomene der Macht, Tübingen 1988; Randall Collins: Violence. A Micro-Sociological Theory, Princeton, NJ 2009; Jan Phillip Reemtsma: Trust and Violence. An Essay, Princeton, NJ 2012). Our goal is to describe violent practices, understand their dynamics and consequences and decipher their symbolic meaning. Rather than condemning violence we seek to explore how late socialist societies dealt with the experience of violence.

Geographically, the volume covers the USSR and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia. It will be divided into three thematic sections. The first section explores institutions crucial for the states’ exercise of physical force, e.g. secret police, military and border regimes. In these zones Stalinist practices survived but were also devalued over time. The second section focuses on public order and disorder. The control of public space was vital for the communist regimes’ domination; after 1956, however, the states’ hegemony over public space began to crumble. The studies in this section examine the violent clashes which resulted from the declining capacity of the state to exercise control over public space. The third section deals with violence in the private sphere and in educational institutions. The growing awareness of parental or spousal abuse and the debate about violence in pedagogy posed a challenge for the late communist regimes which sought legitimacy and recognition by providing ‘peaceful life’ for their citizens. This part will also investigate Western influences on these critical discourses, as well as the interaction between changing public attitudes, private life and state care policies.

Proposals for all sections of the volume are welcome.

After an initial meeting in June 2013 in Budapest, the editors and some of the authors will meet in Kaunas on 5-7 September 2013 to discuss and further develop the volume. Respondents to this call for articles may be invited by the ZZF to Kaunas or Potsdam to present their contributions. We would encourage participants to work closely with the editors and the other contributors in order to produce a coherent book.

The publication is scheduled for 2014/15 with an academic publisher.

Please send a 2-page proposal indicating the questions raised by your research, how your contribution would fit into the volume and what sources you base your research on by 1 July 2013 to Stephanie Karmann.

Academic question and enquiries may be addressed to Thomas Lindenberger or Jan Claas Behrends



Thomas Lindenberger and Jan Claas Behrends
Am Neuen Markt 1
14467 Potsdam, Germany
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