Through autobiographic, autoethnographic, and collective biography studies of our’ own childhoods and schooling in (post)socialist spaces, this project aims to write alternative histories to inform current research and thinking about the (post)socialist pasts, presents, and futures in different geographic locations.
In the history of modernity, children have commonly embodied societies’ hopes and desires for the future, central to the political, economic, and social (re)making of societies. In recent history, the socialist modernization project has stood out for its particular preoccupation with childhood as a construction related to the socialist utopian ideal, and children as an embodiment of a new social order. This utopian ideal and real children were often confused in socialist societies, which viewed children as icons of the revolution and model socialist citizens actively engaged in building a bright socialist future.
Studies on education in socialist societies often ignored social, economic, political, and cultural formations and everyday spaces where dissent, transgression, and resistance took place against official ideologies and mandates. They also obscured internal differences within the region and overlooked connections to and similarities with the West across different spheres of life, thus (re)producing a familiar yet inevitably one-sided image of the Cold War world through dichotomies such as capitalism/socialism, religious/atheistic, imperialist/liberationist.
In addition, political socialization literature saw children as manipulated or instructed by adults. Ironically, this blindness to children’s agency was common to post-war academic research about children on both sides of the Iron Curtain even though state socialism regarded children as political actors in Pioneer organizations or socialist camps. Political socialization research and the related pedagogies left out the politics of everyday life in which children led their lives.
Writing against this historical and epistemological background, our project seeks to decenter the ‘master narratives’ of both (post)socialism and modern childhood in order to open spaces for sharing more complicated and varied accounts. On the one hand, by moving beyond the implicit or explicit reproductions of Cold War binaries – perhaps most vividly captured in the spatial partitioning of the world according to the three-worlds ideology – we attempt to create spaces for sharing untold stories, giving new meanings to (personal) histories, and revisiting forgotten relations between space and time, while trying to avoid romanticization and nostalgia. On the other hand, by decentering narratives that constituted a binary of ‘Western’ and ‘socialist’ childhoods and the socialization frameworks that constructed children as passive receivers of societal norms, we aim to better understand our lived experiences re-narrated through memories.
Through this website we would like to share our ongoing research and invite contributions that offer new perspectives on childhoods in (post)socialist societies, memories of children’s everyday lives, as well as child-adult, child-state, and child-nature relations.
Zsuzsa Millei, Senior Researcher, Institute for Advanced Social Research and Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education, Faculty of Education, University of Tampere, Finland
I was born and earned my Masters degree in Hungary. After migrating to Australia in 2000, I enrolled in a PhD program. My PhD thesis focused on the history of early childhood education and care in Western Australia and the ways in which children were and are being governed as liberal citizens through their care and education. I was persuaded to compare the historical and present Australian system to the socialist Hungarian kindergarten system, which I undertook as part of a project in 2010-2014. My upbringing in a socialist country was characterised with an explicit official ideology. My upbringing together with my own participation in official politics in socialist Hungary as a pioneer fuelled my interest in researching children as political subjects and their participation in politics. This fascination ties in well with my general interest in the politics and biopolitics of childhood, and early childhood education and the preschool as a political and intergenerational space. Currently, I explore everyday nationalism in children’s preschool lives, and (post)socialist childhoods and schooling through auto-ethnography and collective biography and from a de-colonial perspective. This project is part of this current interest, and is located at the interdisciplinary fields of early care and education, childhood studies, children’s geographies, socialism and nationalism.
Nelli Piattoeva, University Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Tampere, Finland
I was born and raised in the Westernmost part of the USSR and continued my education across the border in Finland where I currently live and hold an academic tenure. I come from an ethnically mixed family and I have always experienced my identity as multi-layered, unstable, and vulnerable due to frequent questioning by the outsiders. Despite my multicultural background and the fact that I have lived in Finland for most of my life, I am perceived as uniculturally Russian, while in Russia, where I do most of my fieldwork, my living abroad and affiliation with a “Western” university may cause uncertainty and discomfort as people are unable to position me clearly as either Russian or foreign. It is perhaps due to this feeling of “out-of-placeness” that I became interested in the questions of citizenship and national identity, and their changes in the aftermath of the disintegration of the USSR.
As a child growing up during perestroika, I remember personally how the opening up of the Soviet society – particularly the removal of taboos on the discussion of the crimes committed by the Communist Party – caused collision among students and school teachers. That is perhaps when my overall interest in the relationship between schooling and society was seeded. I remember my childhood as happy and carefree (even though I had to accompany my Babushka in long cues for dairy and meat products!). I remain puzzled about the intellectual wealth of my proximate environment. I grew up with incredible books, frequent visits to theatres and concerts; I overheard my parents’ political discussions and observed them developing the most incredible ties of friendship devoid of any hint of ideological content. It is the complexity of these personal experiences, mine and others’, that I want to shed light on by working on this project. Moreover, I am interested in the question of how understanding (post)socialism could help us understand life under neoliberalism, and how theoretical insights developed in the context of socialist societies could be helpful in understanding contemporary developments. My other research interests are focused on the transnationalization and datafication of education policy, and I am interested in national and international large-scale assessments as sources of evidence for policy-making and new technologies of governance at a distance. In the context of post-socialist transformations, I also examine Russia as a re-emerging aid donor, ongoing changes in the aid donor architecture and the role of international organizations in these processes.
Iveta Silova is Professor and Director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I was a high school student in Stuchka, a small Soviet town in the middile of Latvia named after Lenin’s colleague Petr Stuchka, who founded the Marxist Party in Latvia, served as the head of the Bolshevik government during Latvian War of Independence, acted as editor of major Latvian and Russian communist newspapers, and was the first president of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union, among many other duties. His statue, once proudly towering near the House of Culture in my hometown, was hurriedly removed and the town renamed Aizkraukle, the historical local name of the hill used by the German knights in the Middle Ages. The changes that followed put everything in flux. I especially remember the year when our high school leaving examination in history was cancelled, because everyone then officially knew that the history we learned was wrong but the new history was yet to be written. This moment of “in-betweenness” was both intimidating and exhilarating, and it was ultimately the moment that set the course for my academic and professional career. Straddling both Soviet and post-Soviet experiences, I became fascinated with observing, understanding, and reflecting on post-socialist transformations and their impact on our past, present, and future.
Growing up in Soviet Latvia, I was a part of an ethnically diverse and bilingual family. I quickly learned to function in the “border zone” of different political, linguistic, and ethnic identities, easily moving in and out of spaces depending on particular circumstances and contexts. My identity became more complicated when I moved to the US to complete master’s and PhD degrees and then moved again to Central Asia and the Caucasus to begin my academic and professional career there. I found myself in a much broader “border zone,” which now expanded to include global, national, and subnational identities. In Central Asia, I was perceived as “one of ours” by my local colleagues because of our shared Soviet history and, at the same time, as a legitimate member of the international development community by “Western” colleagues because of my degree from an American university. As I moved “West” to become a university professor in the United States, my previous academic and professional experiences were quickly discounted as not “Western enough” so my tenure clock had to start from zero and my academic identity had to be rebuilt from scratch. Shifting between these different roles has been both fascinating and complicated. I always felt fortunate to be a part of the different “worlds” even though I knew that I never fully belonged to any of them. I always have been and continue to be at the “borders.”