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Workshop "Conjunctural Geographies of Post­socialist and Postcolonial Conditions: Theory Thirty Years after 1989"


Due to the corona crisis, this event will probably be held in virtual form during the summer of 2020.

  • Supported by: Leibniz ScienceCampus "Eastern Europe – Global Area" (EEGA)
  • Hosted by: Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography (IfL), Leipzig, Germany
  • Organisers: Mithilesh Kumar (Christ University, Bangalore, India) Wladimir Sgibnev and Lela Rekhviashvili (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography)

In the past decade, scholars have argued for the academic and political value of initiating dialogues and comparisons between two distinctly conceptualised and realised political, historical, and geographic entities: postsocialist and postcolonial (Tlostanova 2011, 2015; Owczarzak 2009; Chari and Verdery 2009). Such dialogues are rare, restricted to a few academic fields, and marginal to global knowledge production.

Drawing upon the pre-existing efforts, this workshop intends to relocate the questions that confront contemporary critical theory on globalisation, crisis, and their aftermath on these conjunctural geographies of postsocialist and postcolonial conditions. The established understanding of global geography in terms of East-West, North-South, Core-Periphery, etc. is inadequate to capture contemporary global and local relations of power between capital and labour, developed and developing, transition and destination, etc. The spread of what we know as globalisation and neoliberalism occurred almost simultaneously post-1989 in these two conditions which encompass geographies as diverse as post-Soviet Central Asia, postcolonial South Asia and Africa, East Europe, etc.

Yet, neither radical and critical theories nor postcolonial theories have assessed the experiences of these two spaces as spatial and temporal conditions constitutive of each other and constituting global processes. The workshop identifies specific thematic and conceptual entry points for furthering previous dialogues and proposes six panels to confront diverse questions ranging from nature of contemporary capitalism to social reproduction to social movements on the plane of these conjunctural geographies.  The offspring collective publication project will contribute to set a tangible and thematically refined agenda for the future collaborative work on postsocialist/postcolonial, or global East and South dialogues in critical social science and human geography.

Committed contributors of the workshop include: Nikolay Karkov (State University of New York (SUNY), USA); Ovidiu Tichindeleanu (IDEA Publishing House, Romania); Marina Gržinic (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Slovenia / Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Austria); Zhivka Valiavicharska (Pratt Institute, New York, USA); Kasia Narkowicz, (University of Gloucestershire, UK), Madina Tlostanova (Linköping University, Sweden), Nivedita Menon (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India). Mithilesh Kumar (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Patna, India); Wladimir Sgibnev (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography, Leipzig); Lela Rekhviashvili (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography). We invite further contributions to proposed thematic panels (please see the detailed outline of the panels below):

  • Postcolonial and Postsocialist Conditions: Space, Time, and Subjectivities
  • Labour, State, Capital: Capitalism and its Neoliberal Aftermaths
  • Nation, Othering, and Populism
  • Gender, Sexuality, and Social Reproduction
  • Civil Society and Social Movements
  • Informal Urbanism and Mobility Practices

The two day workshop will be primarily devoted to presentation and discussion of paper contributions. It will feature public lectures by Professor Madina Tlostanova (Linköping University, Sweden) and Professor Nivedita Menon (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India) and a follow-up roundtable discussion. Finally, the workshop will host a dedicated session for discussing further publication plans.

Panel one: Postcolonial and Postsocialist Conditions: Space, Time, and Subjectivities

Committed contributors: Nikolay Karkov and Zhivka Valiavicharska

How do we trace the spatio-temporal genealogies of the postsocialist and the postcolonial conditions? Is the “post” similar or comparable in both “socialist” and “colonial?” This panel will engage with the idea that there were as many “socialisms” and “postcolonial states” as there were nation-states that emerged immediately after the Second World War till the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 and the advent of the globalization and neoliberal era. Between these periods and contemporaneously, each of these nation-states tried to resolve their contradictions resulting in a variegated and multiple understanding and experiences of socialism, decolonization, and subsequently capitalist and neoliberal development. This panel will discuss theorizations of geographies of global capital and political theories at the conjuncture of contemporary postsocialist and postcolonial conditions.

Panel two: Labour, State, Capital: Capitalism and its Neoliberal Aftermaths

Committed contributor: Mithilesh Kumar

Labour was at the centre of the conceptualisation of socialist and postcolonial imaginaries of nation and society building. Labour not only became an economic but an ontological and ethical category; states used the rhetoric of labour and work to mobilise workers for massive productive state-enterprises. The border between a citizen and a worker were reconfigured and to a large extent mutually constitutive with state being the sole arbiter of this dialectic in both “post-“conditions. However, this meant a definite understanding of work, economy, and social relations. This workshop will use “border” as a methodological tool of analysis to understand how state and the logic of government created distinctions within economy and social relations This analysis through the concept of border is also significant as the uneven national and transnational geographies gets reconstituted in the wake of transnational logistical apparatus such as the Belt and Road Initiative of China and the North-South Transport Corridor by Russia and India.

Panel three: Nation, Othering, and Populism

Committed contributor: Marina Gržini

The fulcrum of politics in both the postsocialist and postcolonial conditions has been the Nation. It is on this analytical plane that most fractious debate between theories from postcolonial conditions and those from postsocialist have emerged. In order to have a radical theory at the conjuncture of the postsocialist and the postcolonial, it is imperative to have the question of nation, and nation-state addressed. It is at the heart of the rise of populism across postsocialist and postcolonial societies, rise of xenophobia, and general rise of right-wing politics. This panel will also explore the various ways in which political subjects are othered and excluded in across postsocialist and postcolonial contexts in terms of religion, race, caste, and other identities.

Panel four: Gender, Sexuality, and Social Reproduction

Committed contributor: Kasia Narkowicz

After the collapse of state socialism, many countries introduced re-familialisation policies aimed at strengthening traditional patriarchal values, including tightening abortion laws and cutting funding for state child care. Simultaneously, international humanitarian funding started pouring in, much of which focused on gender equality. In India, a very distinct state-led concept of family planning and an ideal family has emerged in the mainstream discourse. Alternatively, a strong movement around gender and sexuality in both conditions have challenged these statist interventions that were largely funded by transnational donor agencies. This panel will explore how gender and sexuality is and has been performed, disciplined, and challenged in the two conditions and how it has shaped debates around population, work, immigration, and ethics and morality. In addition, the panel will explore how gender equality narratives also are co-opted (or collude with) state nationalist projects.

Panel five: Civil Society and Social Movements

Committed contributor: Ovidiu Tichindeleanu

Established theories about what a civil society is and how it should be measured have been conceptualised in the West. Consequently, these theories do not readily fit into postsocialist and postcolonial contexts where civil society is often more fluid and informal. The nature and experiences of civil society and social movements outside of the Western context remain under-explored. This panel will bring together perspectives from postsocialist and postcolonial contexts to explore how civil society and social movements might be conceptualised in informal contexts disrupting the public-private, civil-uncivil divide. This panel will challenge the dominant discourse of absent civil societies in postsocialist conditions on the one hand, and of political societies in the postcolonial conditions, on the other.

Panel six: Informal Urbanism and Mobility Practices

Committed contributors: Lela Rekhviashvili and Wladimir Sgibnev

The Western mainstream literature on urbanism, informal transport, and paratransit has portrayed the sector as an example of laissez-faire, market-driven set of exchanges. Moreover, the prevalence of informality in terms of transport, housing and other amenities, lack of regulation, and a highly heterogeneous urban geography have become one of the clearest markers of the difference between the cities of global North and South, civility-modernity and the lack of it. Interestingly, the recent spread of somewhat similar mobility and urban phenomenon in the Global North, such as gig platforms, have been celebrated as the transport and urbanity of the future, the continuing informal transport and urbanities of the Global South remains associated with the past. The primary goal of this panel is to critically engage with existing binary discourses on informal urban mobility practices, experiences and evaluations of informal urban mobility.