Social Sciences in the Other Europe since 1945
Adela Hîncu, Victor Karády, Social Sciences in the Other Europe since 1945, Pasts Inc., Central European University, Budapest, 2018, 526 p.
What we can find under this title is a 521 pages book that gathers sociologists from Poland, Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria and Romania, which tries to offer us a more nuanced and better documented account on the way sociology as a science, as a method of research and as an ideological tool, evolved in the Eastern Block during the communist regimes.
This volume brings in the perspective of the ”Other Europe”. It contributes a series of ”peripheral observations”, on and from the margins of the field, which reflect on the condition of knowledge and research on what is perceived as the (semi-)periphery by the observers themselves. (Adela Hîncu, p. 3)
Adela Hîncu and Victor Karády, the editors of this ambitious volume both by its scope and by its scientific complexity, have attempted to map a different story of the South Eastern sociology than the mainstream narrative served to us by the Cold War rhetoric – there was the ”good” sociology, the ”professional” sociology, that is the sociological research conducted in the Western countries, and the ”Stalinist”, ”censured” sociology mainly done in Eastern Europe.
This extensive volume has four parts. In the first part, Agata Zydiak, Zoltán Ginelli, Ana Birkás, Zoltán Rostás and Eva Laiferková discuss the political status of sociology as an independent discipline and research program and the way it was influenced after the Second World War by challenging the common narrative of a homogenous process. The Stalinization and the reverse of its effects had been entirely different in Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia or Romania.
The second part of the volume, Sociology in the Long 1960s and the 1970s, Matthias Duller, Jarosꬷaw Killias, Adela Hîncu and Bruno Monteiro debate the interesting power and research relations between Polish and Czechoslovak Sociology, the very interesting case of Yugoslav sociology which, contrary to most Eastern countries, had a remarkable development during the socialist rule, the common project of Eastern countries of developing their own research methodology, and the way Portuguese sociology evolved.
Part three of the volume is composed of texts analyzing the relations of sociological research and the relation between sociologist in Eastern countries and their peers in the West. Eszter Berényi, Lászlo Gergely Szücs, Jan Levchenko, Corina Doboș and Bogdan Iacob try to pinpoint the intricate ways and loopholes of the knowledge circulated between the Eastern and Western Block.
Finally, part four of the volume puts forward interesting aspects regarding the way sociology and sociologists were conducting their research in late socialism. Ágnes Gagyi, Aliki Angelidou, Emese Cselényi, Zsuzsanna Hanna Biró and Kinga Pétervári discuss the late socialist times and the post-socialist period in terms of the sociological research.
The volume is important for several reasons. First of all, as stated earlier, it challenges a very simplistic narrative regarding the process of Stalinization and the influence of the political regimes on sociological research. Secondly, it helps us become more aware of important sociologists that worked in nearby countries. In some sort of self-colonizing reflex, we tend to look up to the western sociology with almost no critical stance, while disregarding important sociological schools and research conducted so close to us. Thirdly, it shows just how uneven and sometimes even difficult were the relations between the sociologists across the Soviet Block since there are so important disparities between their institutional, economic and political status. And, finally, the volume is important in itself since it is a courageous act in the power struggle of knowledge production giving a necessary voice to the researchers that are far too easily thrown together in a single basket case of ”Stalinist sociology”. I shall develop these ideas in the following sections of my review.
The Cold War narrative has imposed a clear cut divide between East and West in terms of scientific research. The arms race, as well as the economic and political competitions, made it impossible to have a nuanced and balanced perspective and debate. While Western sciences, sociology included, always faced the risk of being labeled as ”bourgeois” and therefore prone to censorship and even involve exclusion from the academia – such was the case of Romanian sociology in the seventies, the Eastern sciences were considered ”underdeveloped”, ”lacking maturity”.
As has already been shown, a severe dichotomization of socialist and capitalist countries characterized the first phase of the journal’s international relations, and socialist countries were consistently referred to as potentially fruitful terrains that would play a key role in sociology’s future as a discipline. On one hand, this conceptualization helped legitimize sociology as an important and useful science. On the other it affirmed the discipline’s lack of professionalization and maturity in socialist countries. However, these debates overlapped with the sometimes hidden, sometimes explicit acknowledgement of the advanced level of sociology in the United States. (Eszter Berényi, ”«Good» and «Bad» sociology?”, p. 272)
The political parties encouraged and even imposed a triumphalist perspective attempting to mask the fact that sociologists were often the victims of censorship and even imprisonment, but sociologists themselves were far more reluctant in accepting this naïve perspective. However, in contrast to this general perspective that all sociologists suffered under socialist ruling, we have the remarkable case of Yugoslavia. Mathias Duller puts forward courageous and original arguments that help us develop a far more nuanced perspective on this East-West artificial dichotomy. He has thought up some criteria by which we could analyze the autonomy of a research field. First of all, there is the criterion of institutional stability. Secondly there is the possibility of researchers of pursuing their own intellectual interests and research objectives. According to these criteria the sociology could become some sort of social conscience and a vehicle of change and progress since it would have the ability to challenge political power. But is it true that sociology has developed into a critical voice, touching on the most crucial and sensitive issued of social and political life in a distant but engaged relationship with political power in all democracies? And conversely, is it true that all authoritarian regimes have prevented sociologists from exerting these functions altogether? As we can easily imagine looking at Europe in the first decades after the Second World War, the answer to both questions is no. (Mattias Duller, ”Yugoslav Sociology: Political Autonomy under Single Party Regime”, p. 161). He offers the examples of Austria and Ireland, where important resistance toward sociology made it a marginal discipline. At the same time, Poland and Yugoslavia saw a very important sociological development during socialist regimes.
The reason I think it is important to talk about the efforts of Duller of challenging the dominant narrative is that far too little attention is being paid to the way the secret services of Western countries got involved in censoring critical voices: Intervention and control are not only exercised by non-democracies but by democratic governments as well. The FBI watched over many of the most prominent sociologists in the United States for decades during the Cold War, helping to create an atmosphere that was, at times, extraordinarily hostile to all versions of the Marxist sociological tradition, but we would refrain from characterizing the US sociology as essentially conditioned by intelligence agencies. (Duller, 165)
By focusing on the remarkable achievements of Rubi Supek (1913-1993) and on the evolution of an important sociological academic journal (Sociologija), and on the way one of the most important sociological summer schools evolved, Duller is proving that the case of Yugoslavia is a very interesting case where socialist ruling was not necessarily linked to the death of the discipline. And this was true for the whole scientific research and academia. Higher education saw a massive expansion in Yugoslavia after the Second World War. Measured by the relative number of university students in the thirty countries in the twentieth century, Yugoslavia rose form one the lowest ranking countries (twenty six) in 1921 with ninety-three students per 100,000 inhabitants, to eighth rank in 1971 (1,272 per 100,000). (…) social sciences and humanities accounting for almost half (forty-six percent) of the student population. (Duller, 173)
The situation in Poland was also a good example of challenging the Cold War narrative. By focusing on the work and professional achievements of Jósef Chaƚashiṅski, the one who ended up being called a sociologist from a barn for writing about Polish peasants, Agata Zysiak is showing how the University of Lódsź in Poland was truly a model of socialists ideas put in place to the benefit of the citizens.
The case of Romania was, unfortunately, far worse. As Zoltán Rostás is showing, the Romanian sociologists formed by Dimitrie Gusti were subject to prosecution and imprisonment: Among the former members of the Bucharest school of sociology, many were arrested with or without any pretext, including Anton Golopenția, Victor Rădulescu-Pogoreanu, Mircea Vulcănescu, Traian Herseni, Octavian Neamțu, Lena Constante, Harry Brauner and Gheorghe Retegan. (Rostas, 117). Sadly enough, at least three of them found their death due to prison conditions.
Zoltán Rostás is showing two important aspects: the process of rehabilitation cannot be attributed to a single person or to a single moment. And, secondly, the process of rehabilitation of the Romanian sociology as a legitimate discipline and that of Dimitrie Gusti as a key figure of Romanian sociological research have proved to be two different things.
These three cases show just how difficult it is to judge what happened behind the Iron Curtain with a single conceptual tool. The sociological landscape is diverse form the point of view of institutional evolution as well as the agency of researchers.
These extremely different paths the sociological research took during socialist ruling are proved also by Adela Hîncu. She highlights the way Romania was forced after 1974 to take part in a common research program meant to prepare the Eastern countries sociologists for an international congress in Toronto. Romania had the very difficult task of presenting quality research and not offending its partners. This proved a very difficult task, since funds for sociological research were almost non-existent since the early 1970.
Nonetheless, interesting relations have been developed not only among the member states of the ex-Soviet Block, but also between western and eastern sociologists since, as Corina Doboș cogently shows, ever since demography became a very interesting research subject in the seventies.
As stated earlier, I consider this volume of very high academic and intellectual importance, because it helps us question the current ideological perspective, increase our awareness of the nuanced sociological research field, keep us more connected to researchers from neighboring countries and, last but not least, develop important basis of knowledge that is critical to the mainstream narrative.