Decolonizing the Non-Colonizers? Historicizing Eastern Europe in Global Colonialism

Call for Papers | American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting | Seattle, WA | April 7–11, 2021 | Virtual Session

Convened by Zoltán Ginelli and Jonathan McCombs

What would it mean to ‘decolonize’ Eastern Europe? Recent debates and political struggles around anti-racism and decolonization in the West have spawned reactions of ‘Eastern European exceptionalism’ within the colonial project and the contemporary global racial order. In a region perceived as “never having colonies,” the discourse of colonialism has recently been reimagined on a dividing line along the former Iron Curtain separating ‘colonizer’ and ‘non-colonizer’ countries within Europe. Yet, this discourse, which reaches back to the socialist era and beyond, obscures the role Eastern European countries’ played in both colonial and anti-colonial movements, and downplays their material and ideological interests in the global colonial system. This intriguing geography of converging postsocialist and postcolonialist histories inspires us to question why there is so little discussion about the region’s complex historical relations to global colonialism. We aim to answer by situating Eastern Europe within broader colonial, anti-colonial and decolonial projects, to understand how the region’s historically and geographically shifting relations to coloniality and race inform current political dynamics.

The specific role of Eastern Europe within global capitalism has been conceptualized by an important strand of critical research as occupying a persistent ‘in-between’ or semi-peripheral position within the capitalist world-system (Wallerstein 2004, Böröcz 2009, Boatcă 2010). This longue durée structural continuity of Eastern Europe, despite shifting state formations and governmental logics, forces researchers to grapple with a complex history of often antagonistic roles the region played within capitalist colonialism and racial hierarchies globally (Wimmler and Weber 2020). However, the region is seldom discussed within the global history of colonialism, despite its significant contributions in knowledge, material resources, and peoples to various global colonial ambitions, imperialist trajectories and racial (geo)politics (Mark and Slobodian 2018, Grzechnik 2019, Ginelli forthcoming). The advent of post-WWII Afro-Asian decolonization, the Non-Aligned Movement and socialist internationalism reconfigured previous colonial relations of Eastern Europe. State-socialist Eastern Bloc governments tried to leverage their relatively privileged semiperipheral positions to both aid and exploit Third World decolonization movements, and to both advance and alleviate Soviet influence in the global Cold War (Ginelli 2018, Muehlenbeck and Telepneva 2018, Mark, Kalinovsky and Marung 2020). However, despite their anti-colonialist and anti-racist alliances against the West, communists seldom questioned their own Eurocentrism and remained structurally dependent on unequal trade and Western capital.

The system change beginning in 1989 inaugurated a ‘return to Europe’ as most Eastern Bloc countries integrated into the European Union and hegemonic, West-led neoliberalism (Mark et al. 2019). This has been conceptualized as a neocolonial relation and ‘Thirdworldization’ (Frank 1994), but also a return to ‘whiteness’ and a turn away from former anti-colonial solidarities with the Third World that started already since the late 1970s. After the 2008 economic crisis, these post- and neocolonial relations provided fertile ground for nationalist political parties to win popular support for a political agenda that pits national interest against EU-led, liberal colonialism-imperialism, whilst increasingly authoritarian Eastern European governments turned towards state-centric capital accumulation and clientelistic neoliberal policies (Szombati 2018, Scheiring 2020). These policies only further entrenched Eastern Europe’s economic dependency on Western capital, while politicians continued to wage a ‘culture war’ against perceived Western multiculturalism and a ‘comprador’ left-liberal opposition. The 2015 refugee crisis reanimated government-supported racist civilizational discourses, bordering, discrimination and anti-immigration policies against the former Third World or the (now) Global South. In addition, the presumed “white innocence” (Wekker 2016) of Eastern Europeans within the larger colonial project have helped sustain austere border protection policies and racialized displacements of Roma (Ivancheva 2015; Picker 2017; Vincze and Zamfir 2019). In this political climate, condemnation from the international community only reinforces anti-globalist colonial sentiments within the political right. The left refuses to embrace a broadly decolonial politics, instead acquiescing to the Eurocentric political consensus, which entails  a denial of a colonial present.

In this current context, we believe that exploring progressive ways to decolonize Eastern European knowledge by situating the region’s relations to coloniality and race within global structural contexts is a necessary step towards devising local emancipatory projects and contributing to global discussions about decolonization (Manolova, Kusic, and Lottholz 2019). We set out to grapple with the ‘colonial complexity’ of Eastern Europe’s ‘in-between,’ semi-peripheral position within the global capitalist world-system: being both an object of and facilitator to colonial and racial relations, and being both dependent upon – often still West-governed – (post)colonial networks and purveyor of European colonialism and racism on the global scale. To this end, we seek papers that address the following topics:

  • Global histories of the political role and structural integration of Eastern Europe in global colonialism, including the region’s relations to anti-colonialism and decolonization;
  • Comparative and relational epistemologies, theories and methods on ‘whiteness,’ race, class, and gender in Eastern Europe from post-, decolonial and global historical perspectives
  • Interrelations and circulations between the ‘Second’ and the ‘Third Worlds’ that shaped the everyday lives of local citizens, migrant workers, students, artists, travellers, experts and revolutionaries;
  • Re-conceptualizing 1989 and postsocialist change through post- and decolonial perspectives within global historical change, including shifting positions and circulating concepts of coloniality and race;
  • The recent resurgence of ‘colonial discourse’ and the mobilization of colonial pasts and experiences in Eastern Europe within recent political discourse;
  • The role of Eastern Europe in ‘bordering Europe’, ‘Fortress Europe’, and post-2008 civilizational and racial ‘othering’ against the former Third World or the Global South;
  • Coloniality in anti-coloniality, continuities and contestations of Eurocentrism, colonialist and racist tropes in Eastern European knowledge and culture from a global historical perspective;
  • Placing local and regional colonialisms/imperialisms and racisms in Eastern Europe, including their current political heritage, within global colonialism;
  • Recent Eastern European perceptions, interpretations and political mobilization of or resistance against anti-racist and decolonization movements (e.g. Black Lives Matter).

Please email abstract submissions (250 words) to and by October 26th, 2020.

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Cover photo: The native American Indian feather headdress displaying the Hungarian national colors of red, white and green was given as a gift by the American scouts to the Jamboree Camp Chief and Chief Scout of Hungary, Count Pál Teleki at the 4th World Scout Jamboree in Gödöllö, Hungary in 1933.

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Boatcă, M. (2010). “The Eastern Margins of Empire: Coloniality in 19th Century Romania.” In: Mignolo, W. and Escobar, A. (eds.): Globalization and the Decolonial Option. London and New York: Routledge.

Böröcz, J. (2009): The European Union and Global Social Change: A Critical Geopolitical-Economic Analysis. London and New York: Routledge.  

Frank, A. G. (1994): The Thirdworldization of Russia and Eastern Europe. In: Hersh, J., Schmidt, J. D. (eds.): The Aftermath of ‘Real Existing Socialism’ in Eastern Europe. Vol. 1: Between Western Europe and East Asia. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 39–61.

Ginelli, Z. (2018): Hungarian Experts in Nkrumah’s Ghana: Decolonization and Semiperipheral Postcoloniality in Socialist Hungary. Mezosfera, 5.

Ginelli, Z. (forthcoming): Global Colonialism and Hungarian Semiperipheral Imperialism in the Balkans. In: Boatcă, M. (ed.) De-Linking, Critical Thought and Radical Politics. London: Routledge.

Grzechnik, M. (2019): The Missing Second World: On Poland and Postcolonial Studies. Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 21(7): 998–1014.

Ivancheva, M. (2015): From Informal to Illegal: Roma Housing in (Post-)Socialist Sofia. Intersections: East European Journal of Society and Politics, 1(4): 38–54. 

Mark, J., Iacob, B. C., Rupprecht, T., Spaskovska, L. (2019): 1989: A Global History of Eastern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mark, J., Kalinovsky, A. and Marung, S. (eds.)(2020): Alternative Globalizations: Eastern Europe and the Postcolonial World. Indiana University Press.

Mark, J. and Slobodian, Q. (2018): Eastern Europe in the Global History of Decolonization. In: Thomas, M., Thompson, A. S. (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of the Ends of Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Manolova, P., Kusić, K., Lottholz, P. (2019): Introduction: From Dialogue to Practice: Pathways towards Decoloniality in Southeast Europe. d’Versia Special Issue: Decolonial Theory and Practice in Southeast Europe, (March): 7–30.

Muehlenbeck, P. E. and Telepneva, N. (eds.)(2018): Warsaw Pact Intervention in the Third World:  Aid and Influence in the Cold War. I. B. Taurus.

Picker, G. (2017). Racial Cities: Governance and the Segregation of Romani People in Europe. London and New York: Routledge.

Scheiring, G. (2020): The Retreat of Liberal Democracy: Authoritarian Capitalism and the Accumulative State in Hungary. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Szombati, K. (2018): The Revolt of the Provinces: Anti-Gypsyism and Right-Wing Politics in Hungary. New York – London: Berghahn Books.

Vincze, E., and Zamfir, G. (2019): Racialized Housing Unevenness in Cluj-Napoca under Capitalist Redevelopment. City, 23(4–5): 439–460.

Wallerstein, I. (2004). World-Systems Analysis; An Introduction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Wekker, G. (2016): White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. Durham: Duke University Press.Wimmler, J., and Weber, K. (eds.) (2020): Globalized Peripheries: Central Europe and the Atlantic World. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Press.

Semiperipheral Empire: Hungarian Balkanism in Global Colonialism

Alexander Ritter von Bensa the Younger/Adolf Obermüller: North Camp at Mostar during the Bosnian campaign, 1878
Heeresgeschichtliches MuseumMuseum of Military History

In postcolonial studies, Eastern Europe’s colonial experiences and ambitions have been routinely silenced in the literature’s focus on (post)colonial centres and peripheries. The region remains largely absent from mainstream textbooks, which is indicative not only of Western academics’ ignorance and knowledge imperialism, but also of Eastern European authors’ relative neglect or inability to contribute. In Hungarian history, the country has been routinely positioned as colonized victim without any significant colonizer role in global history. Recently, this argument has been forcefully taken up by the (far) right-wing government’s political discourse, which has mobilized decolonial arguments to critique “Western imperialists”, while nationalism has sparked nostalgia towards Hungarian imperial “high times” and reignited racism towards the global periphery.

In postcolonial literature on Eastern Europe, the relationship between the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the Balkans is a relatively well-developed context. Nevertheless, Austria’s participation in global colonialism has been recurrently denied by expanding on the country’s neutral role during and after WWII, which was opportunistically used to develop good relations with the Non-Aligned Movement. In addition, the recent focus on Austrian colonialism has left Hungarian colonial activities and ambitions as part of the Empire unexplored. During the socialist era, the narrative of Habsburg colonialism – following anti-German sentiment – was used to position Hungary as part of the colonized world during Afro-Asian decolonization, but Hungarian historical participation in colonialist and imperialist projects, such as towards the Balkans, have been simultaneously de-emphasized. These silences still produce huge biases in current Hungarian attitudes, politics, and historical memory. In recent years, Hungarian scholars have been producing detailed accounts of the imperialist ambitions of the Hungarian Kingdom towards the Balkans, but only in Hungarian (or perhaps German), and these remained rather descriptive and unreflective of postcolonial epistemology or global structural analysis.

This paper interprets Hungarian Balkanism in a global historical and world-systemic perspective as part of global colonialism. It argues that the literature’s uneasiness of applying postcolonialism to the region relies on a false fixation on the hegemonic Western-Atlantic concept of global colonial history, which may be resolved by acknowledging the transnational nature of colonialism and examining Eastern Europe’s in-between semiperipheral position in the capitalist world-system and in global colonial history. The paper aims to critique the constructivist and relational postcolonial epistemology of Balkanism (varieties of Orientalism), and the various Eastern European typologies (“continental”, “internal”, “semi-“, “small” imperialism/colonialism) and geographical biases in postcolonial studies, to look at how Hungarian colonialism towards the Balkans from the mid-19th century served in world-systemic linking-delinking strategies, and in relieving structural dependencies. Finally, it looks at the discursive continuities of Balkanism as a form of semiperipheral imperialism: how the government’s nationalist identity politics and global maneuvering (“Eastern Opening”) affected Hungarian Balkanists’ public nostalgia for the imperial “boom era” and their contested relations to Islam.

Turkish President Reccep Erdoğan praying at the Tomb of Gül Baba in Budapest during his visit in 2018. Source: Turkish Presidency / Murat Cetin/Anadolu Agency /
Studying the Balkans Globally Workshop 
Department of Politics Faculty of Media and Communications (FMK) Belgrade – Belgrade, 3 April 2020

See a previous version of this project here.

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Ginelli Z. (2020): Semiperipheral Empire: Hungarian Balkanism in Global Colonialism. Critical Geographies Blog, 2020.02.29. Link:

The Semiperipheral Colonial Alternative: Visions of Hungarian Catholic Postcoloniality in Latin America


This paper explores the trajectories of the Hungarian Jesuit missionary Béla Bangha (1880–1940) and his priest compatriot, Zoltán Nyisztor (1893–1979) in constructing a distinctively semiperipheral strategy of positioning post-Trianon (1920) Hungary in a global colonial vision connected to postcolonial Latin America. This analysis looks at their various writings, including Bangha’s articles and South American travelogue (1934), and Nyisztor’s papers, autobiographies and travel memoirs (1969; 1971; 1973; 1975; 1978) written in emigration. In interwar Hungary, they were both important leaders of the Catholic revitalization movement and their „militant Catholicism” held staunchly racist, anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic views (Nyisztor followed Ferenc Szálasi’s national-socialist, pro-Nazi Nyilas Movement). After 1920, the Trianon trauma of loosing Hungarian imperial hegemony and 2/3 of territory led to various repositioning strategies; Bangha and Nyisztor as travelling intellectuals opened up global arguments from the non-European world. In his South American travelogue (1934), Bangha fantasized about open and spiritually fertile (post)colonial spaces in Latin America, positioning the Hungarian Jesuit heritage of Indian reductions in the 17th century as ideal foundations for national revitalization, racial brotherhood and missionary expansion. This was posed against the colonial-imperialist, racially perilous Protestant mode of spiritless North American (Western) modern capitalism, thereby countering the dominant Western/Atlantic/Protestant narrative of global colonial history by channelling Hungarian ambitions into emancipating the silenced Southern colonial history. Bangha and Nyisztor developed racial visions of a decadent Indian race, which could only be saved by a white influx of racial mixing and Catholic civilizing, supported by an organized local Hungarian colonist diaspora – consisting in part of post-Trianon emigrants – through missionary activity. This paper aims to show their inherent semiperipheral dynamics of positioning Hungary in-between the global centre and periphery via a global colonial discourse connecting racial ideas from the non-European post-colonies with local Hungarian discussions of racial struggle and white supremacy.

Keywords: semiperipheral post/coloniality, white race, global colonial history, Hungarian Catholicism, Latin America

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Ginelli Z. (2019): The Semiperipheral Colonial Alternative: Visions of Hungarian Catholic Postcoloniality in Latin America. Critical Geographies Blog. 2019.07.11. Link:

Tracing the Global History of the Quantitative Revolution: The Transnational History of Central Place Theory


Zoltán Ginelli

Book Plan

The quantitative revolution has been an epochal textbook chapter in geography’s canonical history, marking a time when the discipline transformed into a rigorous social science backed by predictive mathematical methods in the early Cold War. An iconic scientific concept of this quantitative movement, most notably related to Walter Christaller (1933) and August Lösch (1939), was central place theory (CPT), which postulated a triangular-hexagonal structure of hierarchical settlement systems based on marginalist economics and behaviourist assumptions. It was a foundational theory for the emerging field of spatial analysis, including regional science (Isard, 1956) and regional or urban economics. With the intensive globalization of the quantitative revolution after its emergence from the Second World War in the United States (Barnes and Farish 2006), location theories such as CPT became very influential and widespread in urban and regional planning across the entire world. But in the West, vigorous efforts to criticise spatial science from the 1970s onwards (e.g. Gregory, 1978) developed a revisionist narrative that stressed the influence of positivism, rationalism, technocratism, and Cold War American hegemony. This ultimately added to the already reduced view of actual historical events (Livingstone, 1992; cf. Van Meeteren, forthcoming), while recent research has only begun to unravel the variegated geographical contexts of the quantitative revolution (e.g. Barnes, 2003). Reflecting on its initial North American centres, Barnes (2002, 508) passingly remarked: “Why are places in Africa not on there, or Asia, or Australasia?” Following Barnes’s plea for a more wider interpretation, we attempt to pose a number of questions. How did quantitative spatial analysis and planning develop in different parts of the world? In what different geographical contexts were location theories like CPT read, reinterpreted, applied, and mobilized? How were these often very different contexts connected?

This book offers to fill this significant gap in geography’s twentieth century global history by following a transnational framework based on the historical geographies of scientific knowledge (Livingstone, 2003; Withers, 2007). It aims to deconstruct the mainstream Anglo-American narrative by tracing the quantitative revolution through the circulation and local applications of CPT in the “Second” and “Third” worlds and also into the pre-Cold War era (Ginelli 2018; Ginelli, in preparation). CPT was abstracted and canonized pragmatically by American-led spatial science despite originating from a much wider and more complex European interwar discourse than commonly appreciated (Radeff, 2012; Van Meeteren and Poorthuis, 2018). Antecedents reached into late 18th and 19th century ideas by German, French, and Swiss political economists, engineers, mathematicians, and geographers (Istel, 2002), and the so-called Garden City Movement across Europe (Fehl, 1992). The discussion of location theories grew rapidly in interwar Europe, as the Great Depression (192933) and world economic crisis ignited state-led interventionism and technocratism, which was embedded in a transnational discourse of rationalizing reforms by emerging administration science and regional planning, the application of functionalist and modernist ideas, Fordist-Taylorist development, mathematical economics, and long-term planning that disregarded ideological barriers. During the Second World War, CPT was intensively applied by Christaller under the “reactionary modernist” Nazi regime to plan the colonization and German resettlement of Poland by the Third Reich (Generalplan Ost) (e.g. Rössler, 1989; Preston, 2009; Barnes and Minca, 2013). Notable early applications included Estonia (Kant, 1935), the Nordoostpolder settlements in the Netherlands in the 1940s (Bosma 1993), the new settlements of expanding Israel in the mid-1950s (Trezib, 2014), research and application in regional planning in Britain (e.g. Dickinson, 1942; Smailes, 1944), introduction to the USA (Ullman, 1941; Brush, 1953; Berry & Garrison, 1958), and the regional planning of Sweden (e.g. Godlund, 1951). The yet weak American, British, and Canadian network of the quantitative movement was supported by the Swedish hub in Lund, which was also important in disseminating the application of location theories into Scandinavia and other parts of Europe in the 1960s (Barnes and Abrahamsson, 2017; Van Meeteren, in preparation). The Anglo-American impulse traversed easily into other Anglophone contexts such as Australia and New Zealand (e.g. Duncan 1955), and reached France through Canada in Francophone networks (Cuyala, 2015), while it helped legitimize the German reinvigoration of CPT in the 1960s in face of its wartime burden (Kegler, 2015).

These mostly North Atlantic and Western, Central, and Northern European cases were followed by parallel developments and were increasingly connected into a global network despite Cold War ideological tensions, especially through international organizations such as the International Geographical Union and urban or regional planning organizations. The globalization of CPT under American Cold War hegemony from the early 1960s led to the Americanization of German location theories in an economistic modernization discourse, supported by USAID, United Nations, and World Bank projects. CPT became an important instrument of state-interventionist modernization and urbanization policies in the “planning laboratories” of the Global South, embedded in existing and emerging postcolonial knowledge networks devised by important centres of the quantitative revolution (Ginelli, in preparation). Early applications in India were followed by various others in South East Asia, West Asia (Clark & Costello 1973), and also East Asia (Ullman 1956), such as China (Skinner, 1964) and Japan (Hayashi, 1973). New statistical surveys and development projects made possible mostly American or British initiatives of applying CPT in African countries, such as Ghana (Grove & Huszár, 1964; Gould; McNulty 1969), Nigeria (Mabogunje, 1968), Kenya (Soja, 1968), South Africa (Carol, 1952; Davies, 1967) amongst many others. In South America, development projects in Peru, Chile (Berry, 1969), Colombia, or Bolivia also applied CPT, and the quantitative revolution spread through modernizing regimes as the case of Brazil suggests (Lamego, 2015; 2016). A number of comparative and critical works of applying CPT in the Global South appeared (e.g. Kuklinski 1978). In the socialist world, after the Stalinist purge of internationally renowned mathematical economics during the 1930s and 1950s, there developed a parallel “mathematical thrust” and growing East-West exchange during the détente of the 1960s (Jensen & Karaska, 1969; Saushkin, 1971). Soviet and Eastern Bloc reformism and the institutionalization of urban and regional planning in the mid-1950s summoned CPT in the service of centralized and long-term state planning, which ignited debates of adaptability between “socialist” and “capitalist” contexts, and also between domestic industrial or welfare policies (Ginelli, forthcoming). CPT strongly influenced the national urban and regional planning concepts of Eastern European countries, where it was already well known, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania (e.g. Perczel & Gerle, 1966; Vrišer, 1971). Apart from diffusing through Comecon plan coordination, socialist planning discourse borrowed from a transnational pool of knowledge. Quite remarkably, the seemingly “neutral” mathematical-geometrical language of CPT and the political demand for national development plans interweaved “socialist” and “capitalist” contexts, which held important continuities into the postsocialist era (Ginelli, forthcoming; in preparation). With the “new economic geography” emerging in the 1990s, the already developed canon of location theories such as CPT were solidified in neoclassical economics and neoliberal policies connected to a new regionalism.

Drawing on a number of such case studies, this book project aims to connect, contest, and contribute to various fields in the history of scientific knowledge. First of all, it explores the global histories of geography, regional science, urban studies, economics, and related fields in a period marked by geopolitical transitions such as the Second World War, decolonization, and the end of the Cold War. Arguing for a global discourse of CPT, this book contests current disciplinary accounts by re-addressing issues of narrativity, historical periodization, and geographical foci. It aims to broaden the fields of intellectual history and the sociology of science by connecting to the approach of science and technology studies to trace the spatial biographies of various actors, including people, ideas, theories, data, practices, technologies, or capital (e.g. Daston 2000). The yet unwritten transnational history of CPT and spatial analysis fits into the burgeoning literature on the transnational histories of Cold War technosciences, such as mathematical economics, statistical analysis, cybernetics, ekistics, systems theory, linear programming, game theory, or diffusion analysis (e.g. Andersson & Rindzeviciute 2015). This book also contributes to the growing studies of architectural history and policy mobilities, and the history of urban and regional planning with the aim to rethink postwar planning history (Ward, 2010; Wakeman 2014). On a further account, the book reveals the uneven power relations in global knowledge production and thereby adds to postcolonial and decolonial studies by decentering dominant Anglo-American knowledge production by focusing on interconnectivity and peripheralized contexts.


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Radeff, A. (2012): Hexagones sans centre, centres sans hexagone. Géographes de langue allemande et système christallérien, 1933-2010. [Hexagons without center, centers without hexagon. German speaking geographers and Christallerian system, 1933–2010.]

Rössler, M. (1989): Applied geography and area research in Nazi society: Central place theory and planning, 1933–1945. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 7: 419–431.

Saushkin, Y. G. (1971): Results and prospects of the use of mathematical methods in economic geography. Soviet Geography, 12(4): 416–427.

Skinner, G. W. (1964): Marketing and social structure in rural China. Journal of Asian Studies, 34.

Smailes, A. E. (1944): The urban hierarchy in England and Wales. Geography, 29(2): 41–51.

Soja, E. W. (1968): The Geography of Modernization in Kenya: A Spatial Analysis of Social, Economic, and Political Change. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Trezib, N. (2014): Die Theorie der zentralen Orte in Israel und Deutschland: Zur Rezeption Walter Christallers im Kontext von Sharonplan und “Generalplan Ost”. Oldenbourg: De Gruyter.

Van Meeteren, M. (2018, forthcoming): Statistics do sweat: Situated messiness and spatial science. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Van Meeteren, M. & Poorthuis, A. (2018): Christaller and “big data”: recalibrating central place theory via the geoweb. Urban Geography, 39(1): 122–148.

Van Meeteren, M. (in preparation) Writing blue notes in the march of geographical history: Revisiting the 1960 Lund Seminar in Urban Geography.

Vrišer, I. (1971): The pattern of central places in Yugoslavia. Tijdschrift voor economische sociale geographie, 62: 290–300.

Wakeman, R. (2014): Rethinking postwar planning history. Planning Perspectives, 29(2): 153–163.

Ward, S. (2010): Transnational Planners in a Postcolonial World. In: P. Healey & R. Upton (eds.): Crossing Borders: International Exchange and Planning Practices. London & New York: Routledge. 47–72.

Withers, C. W. J. (2009): Place and the “Spatial Turn” in Geography and History. Journal of the History of Ideas, 70(4): 637–658.

Why is the decolonization of the history of modern science and technology important in Eastern Europe?

Why is the decolonization of the history of modern science and technology important? So that we can understand why Francis Bacon’s iconic title page image of a European caravella navigating through the pillars of Hercules in his book Instauratio Magna (Great Instauration, 1620) or Novum Organum Scientiarum (“new instrument of science”), which indicated the new program for modern empirical (colonial) scientific development, was actually taken from Andrés García de Céspedes’s book, Regimiento de navegación (Madrid, 1606). This shows the Northwestern European (Dutch, British, German), Protestant hegemonic shift, which stigmatized the downfall of “luxurious”, “inefficient”, “rapacious”, “unindustrialized”, “state-led capitalist” Spain, the Iberian or Southwestern European imperial-colonial project, against the “industrial revolution” and “scientific revolution” of the Northerners, the latter of which the image became a symbol. The deconstruction of this narrative is important in revealing the concealed global histories of colonial scientific and technological development, which was partly a precondition for the development in the new hegemonic centre in Europe. The South American decolonialist approach might be an important influence in decolonizing Eastern European knowledge production, since the Northwestern-Atlantic-Protestant narrative of scientific development, largely present in social scientists’ work such as Max Weber or Karl Marx, was dominantly diffused in Eastern Europe as our Eurocentric understanding of global scientific and economic development. I was educated according to this narrative already in primary school. This story will be included in my chapter on decolonizing Eastern European history of science and technology in the book Technosciences of Post/Socialism planned to be published somewhere in 2018.

Credit goes to Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra‘s work in which I’ve read about parts of the argument I am making. Read a brief overview on William Eamon’s blog.

For those more professionally engaged in the history of science, find a superb overview of annotated literature here.

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”.

Speaking from the Semi-Periphery: Decolonizing Geographical Knowledge Production in Socialist Hungary, 1960s to 1980s

In recent months I’ve prepared a new research plan/paper on the stuff I’ve been doing, connected to my work in the 1989 After 1989 project:

The “spatial turn” in the history of scientific knowledge has called into question abstract notions of scientific development and specifically national disciplinary and institutional narratives. The past two decades has seen a growing number of studies in the historical geographies of scientific knowledge (HGSK), aiming to understand where knowledge is produced and disseminated, and how the content of knowledge changes in motion and adapts to local contexts and social interests (Livingstone 2003; Powell 2007; Withers 2009). Recently, increased globalization has summoned an upsurge of research focusing on interconnectedness through knowledge networks and circulations, transnational histories and global comparative studies, arguing against the “methodological nationalism” of previous research in favour of alternative transnational concepts (Keim et al. 2014; Conrad 2016).

On the other hand, postcolonial and decolonial approaches have contested Eurocentric or Westcentric epistemological frameworks and discursive formations, providing a reassessment of multiple or alternative modernities and elucidating the hierarchical orders of knowledge regimes (Chakrabarty 2007; Boatca and Costa 2012). However, much of this original literature on postcolonialism focused either on the global centre or the former colonial world, silencing in-between semiperipheral contexts such as Eastern Europe under transitory and provincialised terms such as “postsocialism,” while there has been little theorizing between the “posts” (Chari and Verdery 2009). This marginalization process has also led to the concealment of Second-Third World relations and the interdependency of centre and periphery contexts in an interconnected global context (Ward 2010; Mark and Apor 2014).

While the perceived non-colonial background of Eastern Europe provided excuses for many in the region to distance themselves from postcolonial studies (Moore 2001), historical studies have nevertheless shown the existence of long-term structures of hierarchical dependency and East-West “civilizational slopes” even since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment (Wolff 1994), which have well endured into socialist and postsocialist times (Melegh 2006). This continuity is well captured by the self-Orientalizing development and geographical concepts in social science, geography and economic history (Petrovici 2015). These can be exemplified by various contexts: the enduring dichotomies of “Eastern” and “Western” development (Éber et al. 2014), the “catching-up” neoliberalist transitology (Stenning and Hörschelman 2008), the “civilizing mission” of European Union accession (Böröcz and Sarkar 2005), the subaltern adaptation of development policy models, and the uneven reproduction of Western academic hegemony.

This research argues for “decolonizing” diffusionist and neoevolutionist theories that have been appropriated as the dominant narrative of the global centre and imposed upon the Eastern European context (Boatca and Costa 2012). Simultaneously it argues for a global perspective of transnational interconnectedness in understanding Eastern European developments in the production of geographical knowledge. It does so by using contemporary literature in critical geography and international relations, and specifically in postcolonial, decolonial theory and world-systems analysis to deconstruct internalised structures of dependency and global hierarchies inherent in Eastern European geographical epistemologies. By “speaking from the semiperiphery,” it aims to reassemble local knowledge production on global geographical concepts, in light of overlooked global historical interconnectivity between “East” and “West.” The research aims to apply these theoretical insights to understanding how Hungarian reform economists tried to position the country in various global imaginations between the 1960s and 1980s in the context of integrating into the world economy and thus breaking away with Cold War concepts amidst increasing global competition and economic restructuration due to crises.

After World War II, the imperialist and nationalist-revisionist ambitions of the Hungarian state elite crumbled with the demise of the previous “high imperialist” era. The Communist takeover and the process of Sovietization created a new setting under the imperial and colonial influence of the Soviet Union, and a rise of economist experts succeeding the pre-WWII primacy of geographers. Stalinist orthodoxy summoned a dichotomous Cold War imagination of separate “capitalist” and “socialist” worlds, soon to be called “world systems,” while the production of geographical knowledge and textbooks on regional geography also followed this essential dichotomy. But the détente period after de-Stalinisation and the gradual opening up of diplomatic and trade relations due to an economic upturn in the world economy and the process of decolonisation led to reconfigurations in global geographical and development imaginations.

The maintaining of the Eastern European “buffer zone” necessitated the Soviet Union to foster trade relations both with the West and the so-called Third World. Eastern European reformers in Poland and Hungary pushed towards “market socialism”, as acquiring advanced technology and foreign currency from the West implied finding ways to finance development either through foreign loans or export-oriented growth, and facilitated exporting expertise and investments into the Third World and searching for state-led development models abroad, such as in Spain, South Korea and Chile (Bockman, Feygin and Mark forthcoming). These reformist ambitions generated a virulent debate and the emergence of new geographical concepts connected to the country’s shifting foreign trade policies and lobbying activity in international organizations (UN, UNCTAD, GATT) in order to manoeuvre between “East” and “West.”

While the concept of the “Third World” was disregarded by Eastern European socialist countries, they aimed to reposition themselves between “developed” and “undeveloped” countries in an urge to “catch up” with the West. By the 1970s in Hungary, some new concepts such as “semi-periphery,” “small economies” (Kádár 1971), “open economies” (Kozma 1980) had emerged in the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (1965-) and the Institute for World Economy (1973-) at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which consequently developed the new field of area studies. In turn, some Western concepts, such as Wallersteinian world-systems analysis and the concept of “semiperiphery” were influenced by Eastern European economic historiography. In later developments, the series of Fejlődés-tanulmányok [Development Studies] published in 1978–1989 and journals such as Világtörténet [World History] introduced the new fields of development studies, world-systems analysis, centre-periphery thinking and postcolonial theory into the fields of area studies and international relations.

This research thus aims to understand through historical materials of scientific publications and policy papers connected to these institutions how alternative geographical conceptions of socialist globalization emerged and permeated global imaginations in area studies. The theoretical-methodological novelty of this research lies in connecting the approaches of transnational or global history, political economy and the history of ideas: Hungarian semiperipheral knowledge production is conceptualised in the interconnected contexts of centre-periphery relations.


Boatca, M., Costa, S. (2012): Postcolonial Sociology: A Research Agenda. In: Rodríguez, E. G., Boatca, M. (eds.): Decolonizing European Sociology: Transdisciplinary Approaches. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing.

Bockman, J., Feygin, Y., Mark, J. (forthcoming): The Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Alternative Globalisations 1950s–1980s. Manuscript.

Böröcz, J., Sarkar, M. (2005): What is the EU? International Sociology, 20(2): 153–173.

Chakrabarty, D. (2007): Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chari, S., Verdery, K. (2009): Thinking Between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 51(1): 6–34.

Conrad, S. (2016): What is Global History? Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Éber, M., Gagyi, Á., Gerőcs, T., Jelinek, C., Pinkasz, A. (2014): 1989: Szempontok a rendszerváltozás globális politikai gazdaságtanához. Fordulat, 21.: 10–63.

Gille, Z. (2010): Is there a Global Postsocialist Condition? Global Society, 24(1): 9–30.

Kádár, B. (1971): Kis országok a világgazdaságban. Budapest: Közgazdasági és Jogi Könyvkiadó.

Keim, W., Celik, E., Erche, C., Wöhrer, V. (eds.)(2014): Global Knowledge Production in the Social Sciences: Made in Circulation. Corchester (UK): Ashgate.

Kozma, F. (1980): A nyitott szerkezetű gazdaság. Budapest: Kossuth.

Livingstone, D. N. (2003): Putting Science in its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mark, J., Apor, P. (2014): Socialism Goes Global: Decolonization and the Making of a New Culture of Internationalism in Socialist Hungary, 1956–1989. The Journal of Modern History, 87: 852–891.

Melegh, A. (2006): On the East-West Slope: Globalization, Nationalism, Racism and Discourses on Central and Eastern Europe. Budapest: CEU Press.

Moore, D. C. (2001): Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet? Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique. PMLA, 116(1): 111–128.

Petrovici, N. (2015): Framing Criticism and Knowledge Production in Semi-peripheries: Post-socialism Unpacked. Intersections, 1(2):

Powell, R. C. (2007): Geographies of Science: Histories, Localities, Practices, Futures. Progress in Human Geography, 31(3): 309–329.

Stenning, A., Hörschelman, K. (2008): History, Geography and Difference in the Post-Socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-Socialism? Antipode, 40(2): 312–335.

Ward, S. (2010): Transnational Planners in a Postcolonial World. In: Healey, P., Upton, R. (eds.): Crossing Borders: International Exchange and Planning Practices. London and New York: Routledge. 47–72.

Withers, C. W. J. (2009): Place and the “Spatial Turn” in Geography and in History. Journal of the History of Ideas, 70(4): 637–658.

Wolff, L. (1994): Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford University Press.

Quote from “What is Global History?”

I’ve just skimmed through this new book on global history by Sebastian Conrad (2016, Princeton University Press). It seems to me a very clean, careful and useful book, and I immediately found some great passages and quotes for digestion. Here’s one on balancing Eurocentrism, pages 168-169 from the chapter “Positionality.”





“Let us, therefore, move to the third aspect that we wish to explore, conceptual Eurocentrism. On this level, Eurocentrism means the projection of a particular set of concepts, values, and chronologies onto the past. Dipesh Chakrabarty has argued that “insofar as the academic discourse of history—that is, ‘history’ as a discourse produced at the institutional site of the university—is concerned, ‘Europe’ remains the sovereign, theoretical subject of all histories, including the ones we call ‘Indian,’ ‘Chinese,’ ‘Kenyan,’ and so on. There is a peculiar way in which all these other histories tend to become variations on a master narrative that could be called ‘the history of Europe.’” Ironically, even accounts that try to bracket the historical influence of Europe and to emphasize in its place indigenous dynamics and trajectories, can be Eurocentric in their vocabulary, and in their general logic. For example, recent popular works that see a Chinese fleet under Admiral Zheng He reach California in 1421 and Florence in 1434 stake a claim to Chinese priority, but they identify as stepping-stones to modernity the same events as do traditional Eurocentric accounts—namely, the discovery of the Americas and the Renaissance, both of which they now attribute to China. Among academic works, Andre Gunder Frank’s invitation to ReOrient already in its title indicates a shift from Eurocentrism to an emphatic Sinocentrism. While Frank reduces the dominance of Europe to a brief interlude, his account is based on the same parameters—markets, trade, and economic growth—that also governed Eurocentric orthodoxy. The result here is a simple reversal, minus any profound challenge to the underlying concepts and historical narratives.
In essence, the reason for this is that the modern disciplines that originated in Europe were soon adopted around the world. Over the course of the nineteenth century, under the pressures of global integration and Western hegemony, the parameters and concepts of European academic fields assumed hegemonic status beyond the societies for which they were originally devised. European history was treated as the model for universal development in places like Argentina and South Africa, India and Vietnam. This view was engrained in the conceptual tools of the modern social sciences and has thus been reiterated and reproduced constantly, and frequently unconsciously. Ostensibly analytical terms such as “nation,” “revolution,” “society,” and “civilization” have transformed a parochial (European) experience into a (universalistic) theory that pre-structures the interpretation of all local pasts. “Only ‘Europe’, ” as Chakrabarty has summarized this logic, “is theoretically [. . .] knowable; all other histories are matters of empirical research that fleshes out a theoretical skeleton which is substantially ‘Europe’.” In historiographical practice, the use of European terminology and the underlying philosophy of history developed in and for Europe have resulted in narratives of a long progression from feudal to civil society, from tradition to modernity. The historical differences and particular trajectories exhibited by non-Western societies are typically described in a language of lack and failure, in a rhetoric of “not yet,” and treated as deficits.”