Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Book Talk. Limiting Privilege: Upward Mobility Within Higher Education in Socialist Poland
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Please join the Harriman Institute and East Central European Center for a book talk with Agata Zysiak. Moderated by Malgorzata Mazurek.

Agata Zysiak‘s soon to be released book Limiting Privilege: Upward Mobility Within Higher Education in Socialist Poland (Purdue University Press, 2023) serves as a starting point for a discussion on postwar modernization, working-class advancement, and intelligentsia reproduction at universities under state socialism.

The argument presented in the book challenges dominant interpretations of postwar history, which focus on the captivity of the university, the seduction of students, and political oppression. Postwar transformations were an attempt to create a new educated citizen and open access to universities for the working classes. In subsequent decades, one-third of the Polish population experienced upward social advancement. The book presents the perspectives of a usually neglected first generation of students (and professors) in order to understand the reality of early state socialism. The radical project of socialist reforms changed millions of lives. However, it did not influence the internally-governed university, which warded off a wave of working-class students. Therefore, the limiting privilege refers to both, the state-secured privilege of advancing working-class people limited by social reproduction as well as the intelligentsia’s privilege limited by the socialist state.

Agata Zysiak is a historical sociologist working at Vienna University (Austria) and the University of Lodz (Poland); author of the award-winning monograph in Polish “Punkty za pochodzenie” (Points for Social Origin, 2016), which served as the starting point for discussed book. She is also co-author of the main publication about Lodz available in English “From Cotton and Smoke – Industrial City and Discourses of Asynchronous Modernity 1897–1994” (2018) and another award-winning volume in Polish: “Wielki przemysł, wielka cisza”(Great Industry – Great Silence, 2020) about the collapse of industry in Poland after 1989.