Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute

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Book Talk. Feeling Moved. Upward Mobility and Emotions in Socialist Poland
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Please join the Harriman Institute and the East Central European Center for a talk by Magda Szcześniak. Moderated by Malgorzata Mazurek.

In this presentation, Magda Sczceśniak offers a theorization of socialist upward mobility stories, a heterogenous genre which aimed to capture the experience of class advancement in state socialism, on the example of the Polish People’s Republic. A key declaration of the new post-war state was the promise of mass upward mobility of the peasant and working classes. The new system’s introduction was to precipitate the improvement of material living conditions for working classes, their symbolic appreciation, and—perhaps most importantly—their participation in state management. The professed end goal was a classless society, if classes are understood as hierarchical groups remaining in conflict over differing interests and the ownership of means of production. Although this goal was never achieved, the socialist period in Poland was in fact a time of intense social mobility. Drawing on diverse representations—from propaganda newsreels through film and literature to working-class writing—Szcześniak will examine recurring figures and tropes of the newly identified genre. Socialist upward mobility stories developed over time in response to the evolving class politics of the state and transforming class relations and influenced the ways in which class was thought and lived in state socialism. Szcześniak argues that socialist upward mobility stories were characterized by four recurring ideologemes: the collective character of socialist upward mobility, the state’s role as benefactor, the diffusion of upward mobility, and a heightened emotionality.

Magda Szcześniak is Assistant Professor in the Institute of Polish Culture, University of Warsaw. Author of Normy widzialności. Tożsamość w czasach transformacji (Norms of Visuality. Identity in Times of Transition, 2016) and Poruszeni. Awans i emocje w socjalistycznej Polsce (Feeling Moved. Upward Mobility and Emotions in Socialist Poland, 2023). Two-time Fulbright scholar (2010/2011, 2019/2020) and mentor in the Fulbright Poland “Top Minds” program. She has also received stipends from the Polish National Science Centre and the Ministry of Higher Education and Science.