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Call for Applications [expired]: Lost in Transition project seeks to enroll Junior contributors


Lost in Transition: Social Sciences, Scenarios of Transformation, and Cognitive Dissonances in East Central Europe after 1989

Research project of the Centre for Advanced Study Sofia

With the support of Porticus Foundation

The project seeks to enroll three to five Junior Fellows for the period from March 2021 till March 2022. They should be late-stage PhD Students, Post-docs or Junior faculty from the fields of the human and social sciences, especially history, political science, legal studies, economy, sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies.

The fellowship will provide support to pursue individual research within the general thematic scope of the project (detailed description can be found further below).

The “Lost in Transition” fellowship for Junior Fellows includes:
• A monthly stipend of 1,300 Euro (liable to 10% income tax) for a period of six months;
• Accommodation for a two-month research stay at the Centre for Advanced Study, Sofia;
• Travel costs for all project related workshops and final conference.


Candidates must:

  • Be PhD students in final stage, post-docs or junior faculty;
  • Have adequate research track record in one or some of the covered disciplines;
  • International research experience and publications in peer-reviewed academic editions are strong advantages;
  • Have good command of English.


Candidates should submit:

  • An academic CV (max 1,000 words);
  • Research proposal (max. 1,000 words) specifying interest to one or more of the five thematic foci (see below under project description).

Submission deadline: 15 October 2020

Short-listed candidates will be invited to join an on-line workshop of the project where they will be able to present their individual research proposal. The workshop will be convened at the end of October 2020. Exact dates are to be confirmed.


Mr. Dimiter Dimov, e-mail: [email protected]
Centre for Advanced Study Sofia; Sofia 1000, 7, Stefan Karadja Str, vh. 3
tel.: + 359 2 9803704


The project seeks to place the current anti-liberal and anti-democratic backlash in Eastern Europe, arguably manifesting the all-European socio-political and ideological crisis in its most acute form, into a comparative historical perspective. It begins with the striking contrast between the optimistic expectations of a quick socio-economic and cultural harmonization with “the West” around 1989, and the ensuing complex process of adaptation and adjustment of conceptions, aspirations and procedures. While the process of “Europeanization” led to convergence in certain areas, it also raised dramatic questions about the position of these societies in the new European order and about the long-term legacies of authoritarian–pre-communist and communist–regimes. In order to tackle this vast problem area, the project sets out critically to reconsider the various scripts of post-socialist social, economic and cultural transformation, focusing especially on cognitive dissonances among the different actors (Western political elites, international expert communities, local political and technocratic elites, civil society, etc.), which shaped the process of transition and led to increasing gaps between spaces of experience and horizons of expectation. The intention is to grasp why and how such cognitive dissonances resulted in increasing resentment on all sides, precipitating the collapse of the “liberal democratic consensus” that seemed to underpin the transition process. In order to study these problems, we have identified five thematic foci: 1) the interplay of economic liberalization and political democratization; 2) the relationship of civil society to the state and the problem of the rise of “uncivil society”; 3) the relationship between “old and new” elites and the debates and policies concerning the predominance and/or weakness of the state; 4) the formal and informal networks of social solidarity and the concomitant dynamics of emancipation and marginalization, with a special eye on the interplay of social and ethnic categories; and 5) the competing models of Westernization/modernization and attendant negotiations related to “identity politics” and the “politics of history.” The project is rooted in the long-term cooperation of five leading institutions dealing with Central and Eastern European history and politics, based in Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. The thematic teams will be hosted by these institutions, but the research framework envisioned is designed to create a multi-level inter-disciplinary and cross-team interaction, thus securing the cohesion of the project.


Our aim is to rethink the post-socialist experience in East Central Europe by way of historicizing the recent past, allowing the identification of cognitive dissonances which lie at the root of current backlashes. There is an obvious urgency to such reflection spurred by the rise of illiberalism and authoritarianism in many countries of this region during the last few years, which can no longer be conveniently classified as “post-accession hooliganism,” but call for a radically different descriptive and interpretative framework.

After 28 years of changes and transformation, this region looks very different to what was envisioned in the euphoric moment of 1989. The accession of many countries to the EU and a series of crises since 2008 provide a caesura which makes it possible and imperative to historicize the post-1989 period as an historical period in its own right and, at the same time, to tackle it from the point of view of broader European, Euro-Atlantic and global developments. After 1989 the “Westernization” of social sciences in the region implied a turn to ahistorical systemic approaches (such as normative theories of distributive justice or game theory), which downplayed the need for contextualization and claimed to offer universally valid frameworks of interpretation. The failure of these approaches to predict and explain the developments of the last decade opened up a demand for a more context-sensitive analysis of the ways different countries and societies responded to unfamiliar challenges and predicaments. The robust social-scientific research on the transition begs re-examination in a historical key, as the representation of the transformation itself became part of the “historical reality,” shaping the thinking and actions of the international and local actors.


A guiding intuition of the project is that a more comprehensive explanation of the current situation in post-socialist Europe needs to focus on the cognitive dissonances between horizons of expectation and spaces of experience. These can be seen on various levels of agency, from new political elites seeking to implement various scripts of economic and institutional reforms to ordinary citizens adjusting their life plans to their expectations of the outcome of the transition. Several major questions stand out thereby concerning:

  • the relationship of discourses (e.g. of change, “Europeanization,” “privatization,” “coming-to-terms with the past,” etc.) to practices (political and social mobilization, etc.);
  • the way divergence between expectations and realities was articulated by various social and political actors;
  • the way regional and non-regional actors, such as political and economic advisors, NGOs, think tanks and political elites framed their understanding of these developments.


Devising such an innovative research framework, going beyond the duality of nationally focused “thick descriptions” and normative, typically highly decontextualized meta-narratives, poses unusual challenges to organization. Needless to say, our intention is not to cover each and every country in the region, but to offer a comprehensive picture, taking into account the divergence of experiences in the various areas, such as the Baltic states, the Visegrad countries, or the post-Yugoslav zone. Given the obvious similarities, we also plan to keep an eye on the former GDR, which has been studied thoroughly in its own right but rarely put “back” into the broader transnational post-socialist context.

We have identified five thematic foci around which we intend to organize the research teams:

  • “Going to the Market”: Central here are the debates on the relationship between economic liberalization and political democratization and the question whether the process of political and socio-economic transformation can be meaningfully described in terms of (neo-)liberalization. The key actors to be studied are the experts who developed the scripts of market reforms before 1989, who often played a central role in the formation of the new political, administrative and economic elites. At the same time, the impact and legacy of “market socialist” experiments also need to be assessed.
  • “The Limits of Civil Society”: Civil society has often been perceived as an inherently democratic agent, but the rise of “uncivil societies” actively engaged in dismantling the liberal democratic order seems to contradict this “idealistic” conception. The very concept, as it was used in the region entailed a paradoxical inversion: whereas in Western Europe civil society has been traditionally seen as strengthening the state, in ECE the democratic opposition understood it as an agent acting against the state. While after 1989 the path was set up for the “Western” model of state-civil society cooperation, the confusion around the concept continued, accompanied by an ambiguous relationship between internal and external NGOs, which resulted in a crisis of the initially booming “civil” sector in the region.
  • “Bringing the State back in”: A central theme here concerns the way the relationship between “old and new” elites and the role of the state was imagined, catalyzing a variety of contradicting expectations with regard the duties and competences of the state, taking into account also the specific dynamic of nation-state building in countries which emerged after the collapse of supra-national federations. The liberal transformation efforts attempting to render the state institutions more effective and reduce them to what was in this register taken as their core tasks was accompanied by powerful historical reasoning on the need to deconstruct the legacies of the omnipresent “totalitarian” state. Yet the welfare expectations of the population as well as the rising globalization threats encouraged contrary demands for a stronger state and its security provisions using a similar language of rights and entitlements. This, eventually, resulted in the concomitant paradox of the East European citizens demanding both more and less state interference.
  • “Visions and Practices of Inclusion and Exclusion”: A key question here is the permanent tension between the scripts of social transformation vs. resilience of deep structures. Is the collapse of structures of solidarity triggered by the traumatic transition experience of these societies or is it rooted in pre-existing practices of social and ethnic differentiation? When rethinking the dynamics of emancipation and marginalization in these societies, a paradigmatic dilemma to be studied is the interplay of social and ethnic categories and the ensuing ethnicization of certain social conflicts.
  • “Crises of Identity”: We want to assess the impact of home-grown and imported models of Westernization/modernization and the related complex negotiations concerning “identity politics” and “the politics of history.” The question of resurgence and/or continuity of nationalism will be reassessed by looking at various projects of representing the past and the nation. A striking example here is the multi-level politicization of nostalgia, serving as an ideological backup for both the post-communist left and the ethno-populist right, but we also seek to look at the politicization of other layers of identity as well, such as gender or (sub)cultural belonging.


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