NEP4DISSENT Joint Review Report

New Exploratory Phase in Research on East European Cultures of Dissent: Joint Review Report

The Joint Review Report concludes the first stage of COST Action 16213, New Exploratory Phase in Research on East European Cultures of Dissent (NEP4DISSENT), which is aimed at leveraging the power of an international, multidisciplinary, and technology-conscious research network to survey the state of the art and chart new directions in scholarship.

The JRR builds on and deepens the shared framework for the understanding of the methodological and conceptual challenges to the state of the art in this domain of research, which has brought together a large and diverse group of scholars, curators, and digital humanities practitioners . This group grew into a robust and integrated research network through the process of the State of the Art Review (SotAR), whose outcome the JRR now presents to a wider audience. The process was designed to pool together research agendas and to identify specific focus areas into which this Action will intervene in order to trigger a new exploratory phase in research on Eastern European cultures of dissent. The chapters of this report, each prepared by a different NEP4DISSENT Working Group (WG), represent the outcomes of the SotAR process.

The chapters of this report were created by the NEP4DISSENT WGs in a bottom-up process. While the necessary harmonization of the report’s structure has been achieved during the editorial stage, the WGs enjoyed far-reaching autonomy when it came to collecting information and writing strategies, reflecting each WGs’ distinctive composition, dynamics, and aims. Each chapter gives an overview of the state of the art as surveyed by Working Groups in their respective fields, as well as recommendations for further research which could contribute to a new phase in the study of dissent.

Chapter 1: Culture under Surveillance

Research on surveillance has recently received a boost due to the current preoccupation with the massive state and corporate misuse of personal data in the digital age, all of which happens with the direct involvement of masses of people who, more or less knowingly and willingly, leave their personal data at the institutions and corporations’ disposal, and for whom surveillance is at once omnipresent and invisible. In this context, new research stands out against the background of the state of the art for its bottom up approach. Rather than investigating how surveillance was imposed top-down, it focuses more on the participatory aspects of this phenomenon.

Chapter 2: Culture in the Grey Zone

The second chapter joins in aiming for a recalibration of our cognitive tools to better reflect the historically changing dynamics of socialist societies and cultures. In this respect, the concept of the grey zone is indicative, and serves as a common denominator for the larger trend emerging in current scholarship, which is to dismantle the sharp dichotomies and oppositions inherited from the Cold War paradigm between the oppressive state and dissident heroes. WG2 concludes that the concept of the grey zone, when endowed with analytical precision, becomes a handy epistemic device for undoing these dichotomies.

Chapter 3: Alternative Cultures

It is the shared view of the authors of this chapter, that the state-of-the-art representations of the alternative culture are characterized by an excess of heroic myth-making and elitism. Beyond most canonical and emblematic manifestations, which have already been thoroughly researched, there exists an uncharted terrain of cultural expressions yet to be discovered, whether (to take just two examples) that is the subversive effects of the disco club culture, which have been overlooked by the scholars of pop culture who identify cultural rebellion mostly with rock music; or the existence of queer and alternative sexual expression in the art scene, being on the margin of research on alternative culture which dealt mostly with cultural manifestations of civic, human-rights, and patriotic protest.

Chapter 4: Cultural Memory of Dissent

This chapter discusses how dissent has been memorialized in the three decades since 1989, and explores the processes (national, regional, and global) of the canonization and contestation of the post-dissident narratives of remembrance. The discussion is organized around three major focus areas: (1) concepts, actors, institutions; (2) the making of narratives and their impact; and (3) dimensions and dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. These flow into eight topical sections dedicated to key concepts: crucial actors, the main institutions, mainstream narratives, the canonization of post-dissidents and its consequences; political-ideological perspectives, gender, ethnicity, class, religious dimensions, and the role of (i.e. the transformation of) the media in the processes of remembrance.

Chapter 5: Mediating Research through Technology

This chapter probes the current and potential future role of technology in supporting and promoting research on Eastern European cultures of dissent, however, its implications have a broader relevance for practitioners of digital history. The chapter starts by offering a broad panorama of the legacy of dissent and the state of its digital readiness for advanced research use with the example of the COURAGE registry. Next, it explains the intricacies and challenges of digitizing that legacy by focusing on the case of unlicensed print culture (a.k.a. samizdat). Further, drawing on the results of the DIMPO survey, it explores the emerging trends in the propagation of digital humanities tools and methods in the European research area and in particular in Eastern Europe.

 Chapter 6: Dissent on Display

Chapter 6 is built around a review of both historical and retrospective exhibitions which have been central to putting ‘dissent on display’. The review serves to integrate within one research framework, discussion on the conceptual, curatorial, and material dimensions of exhibiting, working from the assumption that exhibitions play a generative role for both dissemination and innovation in the research on Eastern European cultures of dissent; and that investigating critical curatorial practices before and after 1989 provides a significant learning base for cooperation between researchers and curators today. To this end, the chapter offers a discussion of various curatorial approaches, organized around the key concepts of dissent, nonconformism, avant-gardism, and the underground.

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