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CAS Discussion Series: Existential Policies under Socialism

Duration: 2011 – 2018

CAS new seminar Existential Policies under Socialism is based on the presumption that despite the propaganda and repressive apparatus available to the totalitarian state, the latter has been unable to fully implement the matrix of its social-engineering project because of numerous reasons, ranging from faults within the very design and methods of execution, to the presence of different types of resistance  alternative ideologies, traditions, everyday tactics). Following a post-revisionist approach, it attempts to capture the junctions and discrepancies between the ideological models and real-life experience, and investigates the points of tension between the public and the private, between the collective and the individual, between ideology and practice by visualising the tension between the system and everyday life. These dichotomies are additionally problematised and subjected to scrutiny as the practices turned out to be ideologically informed.

Taking on board some of Ulrich Beck’s and Anthony Giddens’ insights, the seminar delves into the field of existential situations that cross the border between formal systems and real life, and highlight concept of the self in late modernity. The interest is focused on topics related to childhood, old age, intergenerational relations, sexuality, death, mourning, illness and physical disabilities, deviance, marginality and otherness, or to issues absent from the ideological models and alien to people’s everyday practices. The seminar builds upon the presumption that the above mentioned situations do also constitute the individual as an agent in a society that, by textbook, resolutely favoured the collective over the personality. The numerous microscopic activities of the individuals (re-)define the situations, appropriate the ideologically underregulated spaces, navigate in or amongst them, and renegotiate them in order to reconcile them with other, divergent interests. Simultaneously, they need to be researched in the context of their political legitimation via their social and moral meanings. Hence the study of the existential practices in the recent East/Central European past does not approach the grand narrative of Socialism as yet another form of modernisation, but it also illuminates the less visible side of the historical drama, namely the administrative utopia to achieve full control over the everyday practices of the population. By contrasting ideological, institutional and biographical perspectives, and focusing on the topics of Death, Love, the Body, Sexuality, and Ageing, Existential Policies under Socialism seeks to decode the ways, in which the ideological scripts were recreated and lived by the individual actors in Bulgaria’s recent history, and shed more light onto the conflicting or harmonizing interactions between the people and its political elite.