The Study of the People in the People's Democracies
Joseph Grim Feinberg
(Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences)
Paper short abstract:
I look at the tradition of ethnology and folklore studies in the Communist-led countries of Eastern Europe. I argue that instead of rejecting the tradition's Communist legacy, we should seriously investigate the contributions it made to the region's history of cultural-political thought.
Paper long abstract:
In this presentation I look at the tradition of ethnology and folklore studies in the Communist-led countries of Central and Eastern Europe. With an emphasis on Czechoslovakia, but with reference to research elsewhere that influenced and was influenced by Czechoslovak discussions, I draw out the theoretical and political stakes of this extensive body of work. I argue that these stakes have been obscured by two opposing tendencies that have dominated Western and post-Communist approaches to Communist-era ethnology and folklore studies. On the one hand, much research has focused on how ethnology and folklore studies lent support to ruling regimes; this focus has presented the political stakes of the tradition in a limited, negative sense as an instrument of domination. Other research, meanwhile, has come to the defense of Communist-era ethnology and folklore studies by removing them from their political context and pointing to an apolitical, scientific core that can be rescued from Communist politics. I argue that we might instead take seriously the Communist intellectual context and examine the role of ethnology and folklore studies in the region's history of leftist cultural-political thought. From this perspective we can see, in particular, that ethnology and folklore studies were able to address a theoretical question that the socialist movement had raised, but which classical Marxism did not have the tools to answer: how to conceptualize and analyze the conditions of possibility of collective, communal, popular creativity in the context of a modern, industrialized, socialist society.
'Peripheral' anthropologies of Europe. Their histories and intellectual genealogies [Europeanist network]