Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Anthropology

Supervisor

Dr. Randa Farah

Abstract

This work examines people’s experiences of the postsocialist transformation in Poland through the lens of memory. Since socialism’s collapse over two decades ago, Poland has undergone dramatic political, economic and social changes. However, the past continues to enter into current politics, economic debates and social issues. This work examines the changes that have taken place by looking at how socialism is remembered two decades after its collapse in the Polish former “model socialist town” of Nowa Huta. It explores how ideas about the past are produced, reproduced and contested in different contexts: in Nowa Huta’s cityscape, in museums, commemorations, and the town’s steelworks (once the cornerstone of all social life in town), as well as in the personal accounts and recollections of Nowa Huta residents of different generations. Through this, it links together memory, place and generation in postsocialist East-Central Europe.

This work shows that the process of remembering at times of major political, economic and social changes always entails contestation. It argues that the postsocialist period in Poland has been characterized by a complex and paradoxical relationship to the socialist past. On the one hand, there are attempts to delineate the socialist past as distinct and radically different from the present, and to set it aside in favour of present concerns. For example, a generational divide is perceived between people who have experienced life in socialist Poland and those who have not. On the other hand, the past is deployed to validate the political and economic reforms that ensued. Hegemonic accounts thus characterize the socialist period as a time of repression, resistance and inefficiency, although these representations do not go uncontested.

Nowa Huta is a site that embodies these contradictions in memory and representation. In Nowa Huta, there are presently two major trends in representing the past: one seeing to downplay the town’s association with socialism by highlighting its legacy of resistance against the socialist system, the other enumerating its socialist-era accomplishments such as architecture, an industrial tradition, and a legacy of work.


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