Péter Apor

In the last two decades, historians have faced difficult methodological challenges in exploring former party archives in East Central Europe and in reconstructing the political history of communist regimes. A remarkable answer to this challenge has been provided by a new generation of historians who turned their attention to the social history of socialist dictatorships in East Central Europe, and took a peculiar interest in the “small,” the “mundane” and the “insignificant” of everyday life under communism. Their laborious research has focused not on high politics, but on local communities. Their works deconstructed the life-styles, living conditions, fashion and dressing, leisure, tourism and consumption, sexual habits and childcare of ordinary people. The current study provides a historiographic overview of the major thematic and methodological orientations of the history of the everyday life in socialist dictatorships. It focuses on two distinct but overlapping directions of research: the analysis of the daily habitual organization of communist societies; and the communist authorities’ attempt at a micro-politics of everyday life. The study argues that, while the new social history of the socialist dictatorships has greatly added to our understanding of significant aspects of the social and political structure of these countries, it has also constructed a representation of everyday life as essentially impertinent to power. In doing so, it ignored the capacity of habitual social and cultural behavior in producing techniques of control and discipline.

Introduction

Studying Communist Dictatorships: From Comparative to Transnational History

Constantin Iordachi and Péter Apor

The downfall of the communist system and the end of the Cold War, the liberalization of historical discourses in Central and Eastern Europe, the opening up of new archival collections for scientific research, the intensification of academic exchange and interaction between local and foreign scholars, and the increasing globalization of the world have challenged scholars to experiment with new transnational approaches to the study of communist regimes, such as shared/entangled history, history of transfers, and histoire croisée. Against this background, the current thematic issue aims to evaluate the potential impact of transnational approaches on the field of communist studies, within the broader frameworks of European and world history. In this introduction, we provide a reappraisal of the history, legacy, and prospects of comparative communist studies, highlighting the potential heuristic advantages posed by the applications of new approaches to the “cross-history” of communist regimes. We argue that transnational research perspectives can fertilize communist studies, leading not only to novel insights but to the transformation of the field itself, by setting it on new foundations. By employing transnational perspectives, scholars are able to challenge the traditional understanding of communist regimes as quasi-isolated national entities, highlighting instead the long-term impact of cross-border linkages and transfers on sociopolitical developments within the Soviet camp. It is our conviction that the entangled history of communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe can function as a laboratory for experimenting with new transnational perspectives, leading to innovative interdisciplinary approaches in a joint effort of scholars from various disciplines and historiographical traditions.

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