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International Conference: Beyond 1989: Childhood and Youth in Times of Political Transformation in the 20th Century

Beyond 1989: Childhood and Youth in Times of Political Transformation in the 20th Century

Institute of Advanced Studies at the Central European University, Budapest

5-7 June 2019

Conference Outline:

“Memories of Childhood are folded into the present of the adult person remembering,”1 Silova, Plattoeva and Miller observed in their 2018 study of post-socialist childhood. In the past years not only in Germany the so-called “Children of the Transition” have come to raise the question of how 1989 and its aftermath affected children’s lives in the past and how their memories still shape their individual and collective biographies up to today. This new perspective on the years of post-socialist transformation allows for examining the historical moment of “1989” not primarily as a political rupture but rather as a social transformation which altered the (everyday) lives of the young. Indeed, when it came to children’s everyday lives, massive privatization, high unemployment, new housing and living conditions/ standards, migration to the West, and new pedagogic ideas of children’s care and education brought about fundamental change to children’s upbringing.

But how unique was the post-communist transformation actually in terms of its short- and long-term impact on children’s lives, when compared to other political watersheds of the 20th century? And in what way does the history of childhood contribute to a better understanding of the social implications of political transformations, both for the concerned societies in the past and their remembrance up to today? Throughout history children were seen as a “political tabula rasa;”2 thus, they literally embody systemic changes and political and social transformations. Hence, this conference proposes to approach the study of childhood and youth as a means to scrutinize how political transformations affected and brought about distinctive childhoods and even particular ‘generations’.

Departing from these assumptions, this international conference aims to shed light on a series of political transformations in the twentieth century and their impact on ideas and everyday realities of childhood and youth. The organizers are interested in innovative contributions which tackle historical and anthropological case studies of post-imperial, post-war, post-dictatorial and post-socialist childhoods. The conference goes explicitly beyond the East-West binary and invites proposals that deal with case studies on political transformations in Central, (South-)Eastern, and Western Europe (focusing for instance on political ruptures such as 1917/18/20, 1933, 1939, 1945, 1968, 1974, 1975, 1989/1991, post-Yugoslavia). Studies that provide comparative analysis of various transformations and/or offer transnational/transregional perspectives are most welcome. We are seeking contributions that engage with the lives of ‘ordinary’ children whose everyday lives witnessed and adapted to the aftermath of political ruptures. We also invite applications that shed light on the ‘extra-ordinary’ lives of
children: for instance, of displaced, orphaned, disabled or disadvantaged children, of children born of war, of borderland children, of children of occupation and rape, of young survivors of ethnic cleansing or forced migration, of Jewish child survivors after the Holocaust, of Spain’s “stolen children”, of children of ‘class enemies’, of “Ceaușescu’s children”, of the winners and losers of transition, of the offspring of the new rich/new poor, of the children of post-communist labour migrants, of children of ethnic minorities in past and present.

Exemplifying the life stories and experiences of these and other groups of children and adolescents, this international conference engages with changing conceptions of children’s education and upbringing; children’s institutional care and entertainment (infant care, kindergarten, schooling, after-school care, orphanages, children’s vacation programs, child and youth organizations); everyday spaces and places of childhood (home, family, street, playground); children’s consumer culture and material “things” (foods, toys, children’s rooms); family dynamics and children’s social relations (friendship); children’s bodies and health, new gender roles and their everyday implications; children’s emotions, needs and identities. Uncovering how children lived through and experienced periods of abrupt political change this conference proposes to uncover the lasting impact of historical caesuras on historical subjects. In this way, this conference offers to identify causes of social disintegration, which still shape
today’s societies.

We welcome papers that address (among others) the following questions:

  • How did political change foster new conceptions of (ideal) childhood, children’s upbringing and education?
  • In what way did political ruptures affect and alter children’s (everyday) lives?
  • In which ways did children adjust/resist to the repercussions of political rupture? What does their resilience/adaptability tell about the quality of the political rupture itself?
  • What agency did children have in times of political transformation? How did children impact and possibly even trigger political change?
  • Can we identify specific generations that embodied political change in a unique way?
  • To what extent does the analytical concept of ‘generation’ help us to grasp the reciprocal relationship between political change and the different stages in childhood and youth?
  • What kind of historical continuities can we identify–through the lens of children’s lives–that persisted beyond political ruptures?
  • What are the long-term implications and repercussions of growing up in times of political transformation?
  • How were/are those childhoods that witnessed and lived through political ruptures remembered in past and present?

We are seeking proposals for 15-minutes papers in English in the form of a 300-word abstract, plus a short descriptive CV (including reference to 2-3 selected publications) of no more than 150-200 words until January 31st 2019 to Proposals should include paper title, the presenter’s name, contact information, and institutional affiliation. We explicitly encourage young doctoral and postdoctoral researchers from the field of history, social anthropology, sociology, literature, educational sciences and psychology to present recent findings from their empirical research. Final decisions about the submitted proposals will be made by 15th of February. As we plan to have commentaries for each session, papers of 2000 words are required to be pre-circulated on 22nd of May. Selected papers may be considered for a special issue for an English-language peer-reviewed journal.

Dr. Friederike Kind-Kovács
Hannah-Arendt-Institute for Totalitarianism Studies at the TU Dresden
Helmholtzstraße 6
01069 Dresden

PD. Dr. Machteld Venken
Fellow at the Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena
Leutragraben 1
07743 Jena

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