Historicizing “Whiteness” in Eastern Europe and Russia


Venue: Institute for Political Research, Spiru Haret street no 8, Bucharest, 010175

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Tuesday, June 25

9.15–9.30 – Welcome remarks

9.30–10.45 Keynote – Anikó Imre (University of Southern California)
Colorblind Nationalisms

10.45–11.00 – Coffee break

11.00–12.40 – Colonialism and Imagining the Self in Eastern Europe

Chair/Discussant: Steffi Marung (University of Leipzig)

Monika Bobako (Adam Mickiewicz University)
White Skin, White Masks. Re-reading Frantz Fanon from Eastern European Perspective

Zoltán Ginelli (Open Society Archives)
Hungarian Indians: Racial and Anti-colonial Solidarity in Post-Trianon Hungary

Marianna Szczygielska (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science)
Engendering Wildlife and Whiteness: Elephants, Ivory and Zoos (1870s–1940s)

12.45–14.15 – Lunch

14.20–16.00 – Eastern European Whiteness and the Other: Race, Religion and Gender

Chair/Discussant: Agnieszka Kościańska (University of Warsaw)

Kristína Čajkovičová (Museum of Romani Culture in Brno)
Shifting to the Gadžo Question: The Role of Racialized Sexuality in the Process of Czechoslovak Collectivity

Bolaji Balogun (University of Leeds)
Whiteness: A Mechanism that Sustains Polishness

Cătălin Berescu (Romanian Academy)
White Savior, Black Savior: Pro-Roma Activists in Search of an Identity

16.00–16.15 – Coffee break

16.15–17.35 – Anti-Semitism and Whiteness in Eastern Europe

Chair/Discussant: Emily Gioielli (Missouri Western State University)

Paul Hanebrink (Rutgers University – New Brunswick)
Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the Anti-Communist Legacy in Contemporary Eastern Europe

Raul Carstocea (Europa Universität Flensburg)
Ambiguous Whiteness and the Anti-Semitic Imagination: Jews in Eastern Europe between Colonised and Colonisers

20.00 – Film Screening, Cinema Union (Ion Câmpineanu 22, Bucharest, 030167)
Guardian of the Frontier (intro Catherine Baker)


Wednesday, June 26

9.30–11.10 – Eastern European Whiteness in Global Perspective

Chair/Discussant: Monika Bobako (Adam Mickiewicz University)

Dušan I. Bjelić (University of Maine)
Transnational Analysis of Mexico and the Balkans: Racial Formations of Nations

Catherine Baker (University of Hull)
The Yugoslav Wars and Transnational White Nationalist Historical Narratives

Špela Drnovšek Zorko (University of Warwick)
Re-routing East European Socialism, Historicising Diasporic Whiteness

11.15–11.30 – Coffee break

11.30–13.10 – Socialism as Ambivalent Whiteness

Chair/Discussant: Kristin Roth-Ey (University College of London)

Irina Novikova (University of Latvia)
‘White Gaze’ in the USSR?: ‘Race’ and Technology in the Soviet Films of the 1920s–1960s (from Lev Kuleshov to Mark Donskoi)

Zsuzsanna Varga (Central European University)
Hungarians and White Privilege in Africa: The World Hunting Expo of 1971

James Mark (University of Exeter)
A Revolution of Whiteness? 1989 and the Politics of Race

13.10–14.40 – Lunch

14.45–16.25 – Liminality, Post-Socialism, and Eastern European Whiteness

Chair/Discussant: Ivan Kalmar (University of Toronto)

Bogdan G. Popa (University of Cambridge)
“We Belong to a Great Race, the Dacian Race”: Slavery and the Construction of an Anti-colonial White Race in Romanian Historiography

Chelsi West Ohueri (University of Texas at Austin)
The Jevg Factor: An Exploration of Whiteness, Blackness, and Racialized Identities in Albania

Kasia Narkowicz (University of Gloucestershire)
The ‘Muselmanner’ as the Ultimate Other

16.25–16.40 – Break

16.40–17.15 – Concluding roundtable

20.00 – Film Screening, Cinema Union (Ion Câmpineanu 22, Bucharest, 030167)
Oktyabr and Rostov-Luanda (intro Kristin Roth-Ey)


Placing Polányi after 2008: The Double Movement of Social Embeddedness in Eastern European Economies

Karl Polányi and the Double Movement: Introductory Lectures and Roundtable Discussion

Roundtable Discussion

Corvinus University of Budapest, Building E, Lecture Room III
2 May (Thursday) 5:20 PM – 6:40 PM

Facebook event

Chair: Zoltán Ginelli


Ilya Budraitskis (The Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, Russia)
Mariya Ivancheva (University of Liverpool, UK)
Brigitte Aulenbacher (JKU Linz, Austria, International Karl Polanyi Society)
Balázs Krémer (University of Debrecen, Hungary)

Polányi’s legacy has been variously forgotten and selectively rediscovered. On the one hand, a holistic reconstruction of his life work would wrongly suggest a return to an “essential” Polányi, but on the other hand, selective rediscovery is not necessarily “wrong”, since everyone finds an own situated interest or influence in Polányi’s rich pool of ideas. On a further note, his own ideas changed over time and were later put to use in different contexts by different interpreters, and have influenced various fields and disciplines, ranging from political science, institutional economics, economic anthropology, economic geography, regulation theory to new economic sociology. During the 1990s, Polányi gained mainstream readership as a critic of neoliberal global capitalism, but was also read in the 1960s socialist bloc due to his ideas of controlled markets.[1] However, Gareth Dale has differentiated between the “soft” Polányi as the “institutionalist” theorist of the social embeddedness of economies, whose ideas have passed into mainstream conceptualizations; and the “hard” Polányi, the prophetic critic of free-market globalization and capitalist commodification, and the advocate of an alternative socialist transformation. In other words, we may distinguish between a “reformist” and a “radical” Polányi.[2] But whichever of his sides we may accentuate, Polányi’s “legacy” remains to “place economies” in a substantivist, comparative and global historical socio-economics.

Like all readings, ours will also be also situational. Polányi may have perhaps too optimistically thought before he passed away in 1964 that laissez-faire capitalism and market fundamentalism are gone for good. Today, he might be puzzled by the successful expansion of East Asian “small tigers” and “communist neoliberal” China, the protectionist turn of the United States, and the rising tide of so-called “illiberal”, state-centralized and nationalist authoritarian regimes from North to South and East to West, with their curious recallings, reinventions or reformulations of what we used to call “neoliberal capitalism”. The aim of this roundtable is to revisit some of Polányi’s key ideas and themes in order to understand how and why recent global capitalist restructuring and hegemonic shifts in the world economy after the economic crisis in 2008 affected the rise of these new authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe. 

Polányian ideas as point of departure: double movement, embedded economies, and modes of integration

 In his seminal book, The Great Transformation, published during the war in 1944, Polányi introduced two of his perhaps most influential and closely interrelated concepts: the double movement and the embedded economy. These encompassed two wider propositions, which may be in conflict with each other:

1. Historical and progressive proposition

Polányi starts by presenting the evolution of 19th century modern capitalism as a process in which market relations were “disembedded” from social relations. This proposition was born from his debates with neoclassical economists, who envisaged the unilinear development of capitalism leading to an autonomous and self-regulating market, against which he posed his own normative vision of a socialist economy that may transgress the socially disembedded economy with a promise of a socially embedded one. Polányi ultimately believed in a social democratic world where the vicissitudes and inequalities generated by uncontrolled market conditions may be resolved and regulated by democratic planning and a new global order of redistribution.

For Polányi, the double movement represents a dialectical process of emergence: the socially destructive overreach of marketization and the commodification of land, labor and money triggers various forms of “protective” socio-institutional reflexes and counteractions. But Polányi saw in economic crises not only moments of social and institutional change, but also historical opportunities embracing a gamut of alternative political trajectories from revolutionary class struggle to new class compromises between labor and capital, and to political regimes ranging from socialism to fascism.

2. Epistemological and comparative proposition

In a general sense, the embeddedness of the economy means for Polányi that markets and economic activity are constituted through “instituted” processes embedded in social forms, behaviors, and relations. On the one hand, markets are inescapably formed politically and are subject to political contestation and manipulation or management; on the other, markets overflow into social spheres and generate institutional frictions, which create new local articulations or resolutions of economic crises.

Polányi worked with the tensions between holistic modes of analysis and qualitative difference-finding methods. For him, economies are substantive, situated in time and place, in heterogeneous socio-institutional contexts. Since all economies are socially embedded, what matters from a comparative view are their modes of embeddedness or integration. The Polányian economy is multilogical along at least three modes of economic integration: reciprocity, redistribution, and market exchange (according to Jamie Peck, a fourth may be householding).[3] Reciprocity is based on symmetrical relations and mutual sociality as seen in gift-giving economies; redistribution is based on central authority, regulated by custom or law and tax or tribute; exchange is driven by individual gain from priced commodities in an instituted market. Altogether, these different modes of economic integration establish the basis for (re)productive and (re)distributive capacities in societies, which are stabilized through culturally and politically institutionalized forms of regulation.

Questions to roundtable participants

In the current academic “regime debate” we can see rivaling political-institutional typologies of “illiberal democracies”, “populist conservatism”, “soft authoritarianism”, “semi-authoritarian regimes”, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Wray’s “competitive authoritarianism” or “hybrid regimes”,[4] world-systems analysts’ “semi-peripheral dependent development”, or the Varieties of Capitalism School’s typology of national and elite strategies on the different roads to capitalism in the postsocialist “transition”. It is still debated to what extent these new regimes are path-dependent on their local modes of postsocialist development, and whether they actually constitute new forms of neoliberal capitalism or protectionist counter-movements against a liberal capitalist order. But a Polányian explanation would start not with the “disfunctionality” of institutions compared to “democratic” societies, but with their new and comparative modes of socio-institutional integration into an evolving capitalist world order.

Reaching to Polányi’s ideas, we may ask the following questions:

  1. In many Eastern European countries, the 2008 global economic crisis seemed to signal the political failure of the promises of postsocialist “transition” to liberal market economies and democracies (“catching up to the West”). How can we understand the recent dialectic dynamics between the commodifying market-impulses of global capitalism and its local Eastern European social embeddedness: what comparative political-institutional strategies of integration into the capitalist world economy emerged since 2008?
  2. What new modes of social integration have developed under post-2008 political regimes regarding reciprocity, redistribution, or market exchange – new informal economies, new redistributional politics, and new market-regulation by the state and the political elite?
  3. Considering Polányi’s ideas about the double movement, how can emerging nationalist “illiberal” authoritarian regimes be regarded as local socio-political (protectionist) reactions to recent processes of neoliberal global capitalism, and what potentials or challenges remain for counter-movements of progressive politics, social movements or social policy?

[1] Lengyel, György (2016): Embeddedness, Redistribution and Double Dependence: Polányi-reception Reconsidered. Intersections, 2(2): 13–37.

[2] Dale, Gareth (2010): Social democracy, embeddedness and decommodification: On the conceptual innovations and intellectual affiliations of Karl Polanyi. New Political Economy, 15: 369–393.

[3] Peck, Jamie (2013): For Polanyian economic geographies. Environment and Planning A. 45: 1545–1568.

[4] Levitsky, S., Wray, L. A. (2010): Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Two new abstracts sent to ICHG2018 and AAG2018

My latest plan is to send two abstracts to the 17th International Conference of Historical Geographers in Warsaw, July 15-20 and one – the latter abstract here provided – to the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in New Orleans, April 10-14 in 2018. In the first case, the first abstract will hopefully be part of the following session:


Global Histories of Geography 19301990

Convenors: Ruth Craggs (King’s College London) and Hannah Neate (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Reflecting on the key centres associated with the emergence of geography as a spatial science in the 1960s Barnes (2002, 508) remarked: “Why are places in Africa not on there, or Asia, or Australasia?” thereby highlighting significant gaps in disciplinary histories and accounts of geography’s development in the second half of the twentieth century. By way of response, this session aims to highlight work into the ‘global’ histories of geography in the period 1930-1990, a period marked by geopolitical transitions including WWII, decolonization and the end of the Cold War.  We are looking to make links with scholars who are carrying out research on the history and practice of geography, specifically in submissions that explore scholarly communities of geographers whose contribution to the development of geography in the twentieth century often goes unrecognised in the ‘canon’ of geographical research.

Possible themes for papers:

  • Papers focusing on geographers from the global South, Indigenous geographers in settler states, Asian geographies and geographers, geographers from the former Eastern Block
  • Biographies of individuals or groupings of geographers
  • Accounts that highlight how geography was being pursued in other ‘centres’
  • The role and development of national and international disciplinary associations and networks
  • Geographical knowledge, expertise and intersections with decolonization and the end of the Cold War


Historical geographies of the “quantitative revolution”: Towards a transnational history of central place theory

Geography’s “quantitative revolution” has been a true textbook chronicle in the discipline’s canonical history. However, historical research has only recently seriously begun to unravel the geographical contexts of its emergence, which is complicated by the simplified narratives that emerged in critical revisionism from the 1970s. This paper offers an interpretative framework from the perspective of the historical geographies of scientific knowledge (HGSK), by focusing on Christaller’s central place theory (CPT) to deconstruct the common Anglo-American narrative, arguing that it has concealed other contexts in the “Second” and “Third” worlds. Early applications (especially in Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Israel) and the wider European discourse of “central places” call for a reevaluation of the canonized narratives of CPT. The globalization of CPT is interpreted through the rising American hegemony in the early Cold War era, which led to the Americanization of German location theories in modernization theory discourse. Networks behind the American, British and Canadian centres show the importance of European locations, such as the Swedish hub in Lund, and the “planning laboratories” of Asian, South American and African contexts after decolonization. Soviet and Eastern Bloc reformism and the institutionalization of regional planning from the late 1950s summoned CPT in the service of centralized state planning, and ignited debates of adaptability between “socialist” and “capitalist” contexts. By reflecting on some of these cases, this paper argues for a transnational history of CPT by readdressing issues of narrativity and historical periodization, and shows the need for provincializing and decolonizing dominant Anglo-American geographical knowledge production.


“The Ghana job”: Opening Hungary to the developing world

Based on interviews, archival and media sources, this paper looks at how post-WWII socialist Hungary developed foreign economic relations with decolonized countries, by focusing on the emergence of Hungarian development and area studies and development advocacy expertise towards developing countries. The paper’s case study is the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (CAAR) founded at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1963 – from 1973 the Institute for World Economy (IWE) – parallel to similar institutions founded in the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc states. CAAR was established as a government think tank by József Bognár, a close friend to Prime Minister János Kádár and perhaps one of the most important figures in socialist era Hungarian reform economics and foreign policy-making. The institute rose as a consequence of the “Ghana job”: Hungarian economists led by Bognár developed the First Seven-Year Plan of Ghana in 1962. The associates of CAAR and IWE promoted export-oriented growth against import-substitution industrialization and summoned geographical development concepts such as “poorly developed countries”, “dependency”, “semiperiphery”, “open economies”, or “small countries” as alternatives to the Cold War categories of “capitalist” and “socialist” world systems. This shift in geographical knowledge production is connected to the geopolitical contexts of the Sino-Soviet split, the Khrushchevian “opening up” of foreign relations, the emergence of the “Third World”, and also the 1956 revolution in the case of Hungary. The role of Ghana and the Eastern Bloc is connected to the 1960s wave of transnational development consultancy and strategies of “socialist globalization”.