Childhood and Schooling in (Post)Socialist Societies

Memories of Everyday Life

Edited by Iveta Silova, Nelli Piattoeva, and Zsuzsa Millei


This book explores childhood and schooling in late socialist societies by bringing into dialogue public narratives and personal memories that move beyond imaginaries of Cold War divisions between the East and West. Written by cultural insiders who were brought up and educated on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain – spanning from Central Europe to mainland Asia – the book offers insights into the diverse spaces of socialist childhoods interweaving with broader political, economic, and social life. These evocative memories explore the experiences of children in navigating state expectations to embody “model socialist citizens” and their mixed feelings of attachment, optimism, dullness, and alienation associated with participation in “building” socialist futures. Drawing on the research traditions of autobiography, autoethnography, and collective biography, the authors challenge what is often considered ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ in the historical accounts of socialist childhoods, and engage in (re)writing histories that open space for new knowledges and vast webs of interconnections to emerge. This book will be compelling reading for students and researchers working in education, sociology and history, particularly those within the interdisciplinary fields of childhood and area studies.


Special Issue in European Education 48(3), 2016

Revisiting Pasts, Reimagining Futures: Memories of (Post)Socialist Childhood and Schooling

edited by Iveta Silova, Elena Aydarova, Zsuzsa Millei, Nelli Piattoeva

Table of Contents & Abstracts

The call for papers for this special issue stemmed from a desire to both interrupt the persisting prevalence of Cold War narratives and to explore possibilities of alternative historical constructions of schooling and childhoods. The invitation included a call to engage with memories of (post)socialist pasts in order to reexamine the totalizing and monolithic accounts still present in scholarly literature and public imagination in the West (Lemon, 2008). The exploration of pasts from (auto)biographic, autoethnographic, and oral history approaches also offers resources for re-imagining how education and institutional experiences of schooling can be differently conceived, how relationships between participants in educational institutions can be understood in more complex terms, or how constructions of space and childhoods can interact with educational approaches. By re-examining, renarrating, and re-evaluating past experiences, we as historical beings not only hope to open avenues for the articulation of alternative histories but also to find paths toward differently or better understanding the present and to map out futures that are perhaps more just and more equal  PDF (305 KB)
 This article focuses on the memories of the Soviet pioneer camp Artek among camp leaders and Pioneers who visited this camp in the 1960s–1980s. The study examines the interaction between the ideology discourse of the late Soviet epoch about Artek and personal autobiographical memories. Turning to analysis of narrative structure and the pragmatic context of the memories, the article describes why Artek may be understood as a nonideological and—in some cases—non-Soviet project. Artek as a private realization of the “general” communist utopian project had features that enabled some people to perceive (and remember) it as an “exception” from the usual Soviet everyday life (distance from the center, exoticization of nature, material world) and, as a consequence, the social world. PDF (297 KB)
This article reflects on the authors’ personal experiences with schooling in China from the 1950s to the 1980s. We discuss socially salient identities at that time period and how these shaped our lives, in schools and outside. Our analytical concern is the disciplining of childhood to align children’s lives with the Party-state’s political goals, especially through the strategy of exemplars. We elaborate on our experiences with processes of constructing the model student in school, the discourse of revolution child heroes in the ideological context of class struggles, and later the discourse of the scientist child helping the modernization cause. The essay concludes with some reflective remarks about the contested remembering of socialist childhoods as a mark of the postsocialist transition in China. PDF (321 KB)
The article explores how people born in Estonia in the 1970s contextualize their memories about their Soviet childhood in the context of school. Focusing on small group of people who grew up in the Soviet Estonia, we argue that in biographical narratives, school is treated as the representative of the Soviet regime. Nostalgic reminiscences from childhood embrace both commitment and resistance to the regime. The hegemonic framework of repression discourse is often flexibly stretched, embracing sometimes ironic stories of disobedience as resistance or commitment as play. Rather than opposing the official discourse, they create playful side-meanings about the era. PDF (415 KB)
The article elaborates on the recollections of schooling under the communist rule in Poland as presented in biographical interviews with contemporary Polish migrants living in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Norway. An analysis of childhood and schooling nexus is elicited on two platforms, specifically as (1) interviewees’ first-hand experiences of school life and (2) through the picture they paint by comparing their education pathways with those of their children growing up abroad. The focus is on how the need to reflect on one’s past of an upbringing under a communist rule is necessitated by encountering the contrasting schooling systems abroad. The analysis can help deepen the understanding of Polish socialist childhood. PDF (341 KB)

Related publications and presentations

Silova, I., Millei, Z. & Piattoeva, N. (2017). Interrupting the Coloniality of Knowledge and Being in Comparative Education: Post-Socialist and Post-Colonial Dialogues after the Cold War. Comparative Education Review 61(S1), S74-S102. [PDF]

Presidential Highlighted Panel of Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) with Iveta Silova & Nelli Piattoeva presenting ‘Interrupting the Coloniality of Knowledge and Being in Comparative Education: Post-Socialist and Post-Colonial Dialogues after the Cold War,’ Atlanta, USA, 5-9 March 2017

Panel Presentation at the American Education Research Association (AERA), Towards Decolonizing Childhood: Researching Memories of Everyday Life in (Post)Socialist, New York, NY, April 13-17, 2018