CfP: Trust and Distrust in the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union

Trust and Distrust in the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union, 1956-1991

School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, 4-5 July, 2013

Deadline for submission of proposals: 15 September 2012

Trust is an essential part of individual lives and the workings of modern society. Not only democracies, but also dictatorships like the Soviet state and authoritarian regimes like post-war European socialist societies needed trust as a crucial resource for social integration and the stability of the political order. What did this most basic of emotions, a requisite for social relationships, look like in the Soviet Union and other communist European states, which are usually described as a societies of distrust? How did “ordinary people” in these countries act, speak and experience themselves in the insecure, risky, and untrustworthy circumstances of everyday life? And, of course, how did the socialist states manage distrust and produce the trust necessary to legitimate themselves and preserve the existing political order?

These questions are the basic issues for discussion at a workshop that will probe new ways of approaching the history of trust and distrust in studying states and societies in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. More specifically, our goal is to analyse the establishment, functioning, stability and vitality of political regimes and societies in the Soviet bloc through the terms, concepts and meanings of trust and distrust. Our hypothesis is that authoritarian societies in Europe also had their own “habitus of trust” (Barbara Misztal ) and developed their own “culture of trust” (Piotr Sztompka ). Applying sociological concepts of trust to post-war authoritarian regimes in Europe, we may speak about the establishment of socialist cultures of trust based on a mixture of pre-modern and modern forms of trust and distrust: 1) the production of personified, pre-modern form of trust, generated through leader cults and by creating broad categories of friends and enemies; 2) the promotion of modern forms of institutionalized trust that offered more normative coherence and stability to the social order, more predictability as well as accountability of persons and institutions, and the very limited but possible and tolerated possibility of openness, plurality and mobility. Taken together, all of this allowed communist regimes, especially in 1960s and 1970s, to mobilise people politically, to energize daily life and to produce generalized trust and manage distrust more specifically. In doing these things, socialist states created a sense of the stability, normality and inviolability of their political orders.

Our starting point is the process of destalinization in 1956. Destalinization marked a break with terror and violence and a move towards a politics of trust and empathy geared to the needs, interests and expectations of the population. In our view, promoting trust (‘stavka na doverie’) led to the “normalization” of the structures of trust, of everyday life and stabilization of communist regimes in Europe. This normalization developed from the intensification of political communication as a space of negotiation—between people and state, the individual and the system—over the possibilities and limits of collaboration, tolerance and coexistence under a socialist dictatorship.

The workshop will contribute to the development of a cultural history of trust and distrust that can shed new light on several important issues: the stability and acceptance of authoritarian regimes; processes of social integration and disintegration; practices of inclusion and exclusion; mobilising individual and collective actions. Moreover, the workshop will develop a deeper explanation of two crucial historiographical questions: How did dictatorship really function and how did the closed society really work?

We are looking for papers that have not yet been published and we invite submission of proposals on various aspects of trust and distrust in the GDR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union from 1956 to 1991.

Tentative panels and topics are:

1. Methodological paths and interdisciplinary approaches to the history of trust/distrust from:
-Historical anthropology, ethnography and visual studies
-Political and social science
-Psychology and psychiatry
-Philosophy and pedagogy

2. Regimes of trust and distrust:
-National traditions and legacies, ideological and scientific roots of trust/distrust
-State monopolies on producing and distributing trust/distrust
-Scientific roots of trust/distrust (psychiatry, psychology, pedagogy etc.)
-Trust as state honor, distrust as dishonor: giving, withdrawing, restoring trust
-Performative rituals, symbols, myths of trust (elections, demonstrations, assemblies) and creating communities of trust/distrust
-Propaganda in making friends and enemies
-Emotional bonds between people and state

3. Institutions of trust and distrust:
-Heads of state and party leaders
-Communist party and party members
-State institutions (the courts, the army, the police, etc.)
-Education and teaching trust (schools and mass organizations)
-Security organs (KGB, Stasi, etc.)
-Prisons and psychiatric hospitals

4. Public/private spheres, political/apolitical questions:
-Faces of public trust: physicians, schoolteachers, university professors, clergy, factory managers etc.
-Topography of trust/distrust: communal apartments, workplaces, pubs, smoking rooms, the marketplace, the queue etc.
-Private faces of trust: family, kinship, friendship, neighbourhood etc.

5. Mass media and building trust/distrust:
-Scandals, rumors and trust/distrust of the public
-Radio, television, newspapers and their audience(s)
-Idols, celebrities, pop-culture heroes as objects of trust/distrust
-Letter-writing to mass media as a trust building practice

6. Socialist citizens: subjectivity between normality and deviance:
-Individual experience, memory and resources of trust/distrust
-Morality, loyalty, obedience
-Marginal groups, ethnic, sexual and religious minorities
-Hooligans and alternative (a)social groups

7. Consumerism, the market, money: informal practices and unwritten rules:
-Practices of blat, corruption and bribery
-Uses of money
-Socialist goods and services
-Luxury, leisure and free time activities

8. At the boundary of trust and distrust:
-Domestic violence
-Major mental illnesses and neuroses
-Terrorist attacks and hostage-taking
-Natural and man-made catastrophes

Please email abstracts to (with Trust-Conference as the subject). The abstract should include your full name, email address, affiliation, the title of your paper, a short description of your presentation (no more than 500 words) and a very short CV that includes only major publications.

Deadline for the submission of abstracts: 15 September 2012. We will inform you of the selection of participants by 30 October 2012.

Those invited to present a paper should submit an electronic version of the paper by 1 June 2013. The paper should be no longer than 6,000-8,000 words. The papers will be pre-circulated. At the colloquium each participant will have 15 minutes to outline the main points. For each panel, commentary on each paper and then discussion will follow the presentations. After the workshop authors are expected to revise their papers for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Conference language: English.

We are applying for financial support. Should we be successful, we will reimburse your travel expenses up to 200 £ and accommodation expenses up to 3 nights in London. Please, could you inform us if your institute can cover your travel and accommodation costs.

Dr Alexey Tikhomirov, SSEES, UCL
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

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