Socialist Cultural Diplomacy of the ХХth century: institutes, actors, discourses

Socialist Cultural Diplomacy of the ХХth century: institutes, actors, discourses

Project research group “Soviet Cultural Diplomacy in the Cold War (1949-1989)”, South Ural State University, in collaboration with the Russian Scientific Foundation (RSF) and German Historical Institute in Moscow
Vom - Bis
09.10.2018 - 10.10.2018
DHI Moskau

Last summer the Olympic city of Sochi hosted the XIXth World festival of young people and students that was held under the motto “Standing for peace, solidarity and social justice, we fight against imperialism!”. Leaving apart the government supervision, the expectations of the organizers and the public response to this get-together, the very program of the event and its symbolic design has demonstrated Russia’s commitment to the rhetoric and representational practices of the bipolar world so much nourished in the Cold War. The range of countries represented by their delegates, the insistent “friendship” rhetoric, the visual patterns and slogans – all this served to make an intentional analogy to the events of the Moscow Youth Festival of 1957, a clear reference to the era of Soviet “cultural expansion”, an attempt of re-enactment of imagined breakthrough of the international isolation.

It is hardly surprising that the current state of the East-West relations which is often portrayed as “the new Cold War” has sparked a new wave of interest to various dimensions of global rivalry of the second half of the ХХ century, including its communicational and symbolical levels. As it appears, in spite of intense ideological confrontation, it was permeability of the “iron curtain”, enjoyed by the institutes and actors of cultural diplomacy, that added flexibility to the overall system and helped to preserve not only military and strategic but also cultural and symbolic balance in a split world.

Since mid-twentieth century, when Frederick Barghoorn released his pioneering book on Soviet propaganda abroad, the issue of cultural diplomacy has become a dynamic field of research. The scholarly agenda of cultural diplomacy studies embraces the analysis of culture, diplomacy, history of trans-Atlantic and socialist integration, intra- and inter-bloc communication, transnationalism, cultural confrontation and dialogue of the two seemingly incompatible and hostile worlds. However, until the recent decade, the studies were mainly focused on the USA and its absolute domination in the sphere of international relations, diplomatic history and culture of the Cold War. Exploring and problematizing both the most debatable and most underestimated aspects of cultural diplomacy in the socialist camp, the conference seeks to rectify this imbalance and provide better insights into many issues that still stay unexplained: the relative stability of the opposing blocs’ structures and factors of socialist integration, the phenomenon of “n(ost)algia” for socialist past, survivability of certain socialist brands and communicative networks, over the crush of the bipolar world.

In order to discuss the multidimensionality of cultural diplomacy and emphasize its role as a means of transnational communication in terms of oscillating political and ideological confrontations, the conference intends to approach it from several angles:
- Institutional (the channels and institutions of production, preservation and export of culturally and politically infused meanings; the agencies, techniques and spaces of transnational and trans-cultural contacts; the level and limits of state control over the repertoire of the images to be spread out; the resistance and subversion of the institutional pressure)
- Subjective and subjectifying (cultural diplomacy’s addressers and addressees; professionalization of cultural diplomacy; the trans-border biographies of the “cultural envoys” and intermediaries, their generational, age- and gender profiles; cultural diplomacy as collective and individual career strategy; official and unofficial transnational cultural networks)
- Media (representations of the opposing social models; specific aspects of exploiting cultural influence in 1917-1991; cultural (re)branding and adjustment of certain personalities, events and phenomena to the demands and expectations of the targeted audience

Taken within a wider chronological framework, these prospects allow to explore the complex trajectories and cycles of the cultural and political interactions of the two sides of divided world during the “first” and “second” Cold Wars and their close connections with global economical, political, media and existential trends, as well as with internal and external crises.

Willing to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of the processes and phenomena to be discussed the conference team welcomes applications from scholars specialized in history, political studies, sociology, cultural anthropology and “new cultural history”, memory studies, social psychology, transnational economics, discourse analysis and other contacting disciplines

Tentative points for discussion:
- Cultural diplomacy: definitions, concepts, methodological approaches
- Institutional backgrounds, channels and instruments of cultural diplomacy in the Eastern block
- Socialist meta-discourse of international collaboration and peace-making
- ”Plenipotentiaries without mandates”: stakeholders and contact groups of Soviet cultural diplomacy
- Mega-events and celebration activities in the context of socialist cultural diplomacy
- The military and political crises of the second half of the XX century as challenges for the system of soviet cultural diplomacy (50-th anniversary of Czechoslovakia events of 1968, Hungary of 1956, DDR of 1953)

Conference languages: Russian and English

Proposals accompanied by brief CVs, both no longer than 300 words, should be delivered to by April 30, 2018.

The organizers are endeavoring to cover (or refund) travel costs, but do encourage applicants to secure their own funding if any such available. The selected participants will be informed in due time on available options.



Oxana Nagornaja

DHI Moskau Voroncovskaja ulica 8/7 109044 Moskau