Panels on labour and identity in socialist and postsocialist contexts (ASN, NYC, April 2016)

As part of the ‘Between class and nation’ project Rory Archer and Goran Musić are convening a panel at the upcoming ASN Convention in New York (14-16 April 2016). We are also collaborating with colleagues for a sister panel which examines related phenomena in a more contemporary context through ethnography.

The panel Between class and nation: Labor, Identity and Care in Postsocialism (Thursday 15th April 11:20-13:20, Panel BK6) is organised by Fabio Mattioli (CUNY) and Larisa Kurtović (Uni Ottawa). This panel focuses on contemporary ethnographic investigations of labor, care and postsocialist economies in former Yugoslav republics of Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina:

  • Ivan Rajković (SSEES, UCL), “We should now gather as Serbs, to become workers again”: foreign privatizations as national redemption in Serbia.
  • Fabio Mattioli (CUNY), The Value of Labor: a reflection on how authoritarianism values workers.
  • Larisa Kurtović (Uni Ottawa), On Labor, Occupation and Other Not-Quite-National Things: the Case of Detergent Factory “Dita” in Tuzla.

Susan Woodward (CUNY) will act as discussant and Marko Grdešić will chair the session.

Our panel Between class and nation: Labour and identity in late socialism (Friday 15th April 11:20-13:20, Panel BK12) explores labour and the rise of nationalism in late Yugoslav socialism through sociological and social history methods. The focus is on non-elite actors, first and foremost Yugoslav workers (many of which were mobilised in strikes and protests in the late 1980s):

  • Rory Archer (Uni Graz), “Us and them”. Discontent in the Yugoslav factory of the 1980s.
  • Goran Musić (Uni Graz), The Anti-Bureaucratic Revolution in Multinational settings. Labour movements and Serbian nationalism in Sandžak and Vojvodina, 1988-1989.
  • Marko Grdešić (Uni Wisconsin/Zagreb), Legacies of populism: How focus groups discuss Milosevic’s hybrid of class and nation.

The panel will be chaired by Larisa Kurtović (Uni Ottowa), and Ana Dević (Uni Jena/Fatih) will act as discussant.

We invite colleagues with an interest in these topics to join us for discussions. The ASN convention will be held in the International Affairs Building (IAB) of Columbia University (420 West 118th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive) from 14-16 April).

Here is the ASN final programme.


The history of labour in Yugoslav late socialism (Pula, 2 October 2015)

The Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz, organised a series of panels centred on the theme of labour and history from below in Yugoslav late socialism for the conference ‘Socialism: Construction and Deconstruction’, (the 2nd International Conference Socialism on the Bench, organised by the Centre for Cultural and Historical Research of Socialism, University of Pula on 1-3 October 2015.


Our project, through centred on Serbia and Montenegro in the 1980s, seeks to contribute to the broader research agenda of labour history in SEE and to foster cooperation between researchers. In the last few years an increasing number of young researchers based in institutions in the UK, SEE and Central Europe have been conducting doctoral and postdoctoral research in this field.

Here are the panels we organised which give a flavour of the state of the debate:


Panel 1: Industrial Grievances and Identity from the 1960s

  • Vladimir Korica (University of Glasgow), Working Class Identity and the Struggle for Regional Autonomy in Socialist Vojvodina 1961-1988
  • Vladan Vukliš (Arhiv Republike Srpske, Banja Luka), Testing the Program: Self management in Ljubija iron mines in the early 1960s
  • Ulrike Schult (University of Jena), The Informal Side of Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslav Automotive Factories 1965-1985
Ulrike Schult

Panel 2: Other forms of Labour: Voluntary work and Gastarbeiter Return

  • Ana Kladnik, Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam. Voluntary Work and History from below in Late Socialist Slovenia: The Case of Volunteer Fire Departments
  • Sara Bernard, University of Regensburg. Policies towards Migrant Workers’ Reintegration and Labour Market Transformations in Late Socialist Yugoslavia
Ana Kladnik, Sara Bernard, and Chiara Bonfiglioli
Ana Kladnik, Sara Bernard, and Chiara Bonfiglioli

Panel 3: Between class and nation: Labour in Yugoslavia during the 1980s

  • Sven Cvek (University of Zagreb), Jasna Račić (CMS Zagreb), and Snježana Ivčić (University of Zagreb), Yugoslav Labor in Transition: The Case of Borovo
  • Hajrudin Hromadžić (University of Rijeka), The story about proud industrial worker: the case study of textiles factory ‘Kombiteks’ Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Goran Musić (CSEES University of Graz), ‘They Came as Workers and Left as Serbs’: The Role of Rakovica’s Blue-Collar Workers in Serbian Social Mobilizations of the Late 1980s
Sven Cvek

Panel 4: Labour on the Brink of Capitalism

  • Rory Archer (CSEES University of Graz), ‘It was better when it was worse’. Ruptures, socialist and post-socialist temporalities
  • Anna Calori (University of Exeter), Globalisation or exploitation? Debating reforms in the late socialist workplace
  • Ivan Rajković (SSEES, University College London),  “Labour, now!”: tracing industrial slowdown, unproductive employment and calls for work ethic in postsocialist Serbia
  • Kathrin Jurkat (Humboldt University, Berlin), Privatization in Serbian post-socialist factories – perspectives from below
Ana Calori
Ana Calori

Emerging themes in the research of labour, (late) Yugoslav socialism and postsocialism

We have compiled a preliminary list of themes that arose in the presentations and discussions prompted by them in Pula. These methodological and thematic considerations emerge frequently and transcend the particular empirical focus of the papers.

This is by no means a definitive list and we welcome contributions from participants in order to expand it further (in comments below or via email)

Themes of interest

  • The meaning of work; affect; emotion
  • Work and non-work
  • Voluntary work (and its ambiguity i.e. de facto forced or community based labour)
  • Temporality; in the sense of teleological socialist discourses; (post-)Fordism
  • Ruptures and continuities
  • Morality and social capital attached to work
  • Commonalities and specificities of various sectors of labour (e.g. automotive, textile, mining…)
  • Divisions and antagonisms between workers (productive/non productive; skilled/unskilled; white collar/blue collar)
  • Sociability; The workplace as the centre of social life (‘the second home’)
  • Provision of welfare through the socialist workplace

Features of Yugoslav work and non-work

  • Self-management structures and institutions
  • Social ownership
  • Market socialism and competition
  • System change and ethnic polarisation (1988-1992)
  • Conflict and cooperation
  • Unemployment
  • The postsocialist state owned firm in the 1990s
  • Privatisation

Sources and methods

  • Oral history
  • Archives (state, city, local)
  • Factory archives
  • Media sources
  • Labour in popular culture (television, film)
  • The particular implications of the choice of sources; ways in which they can be combined
  • Global labour history approaches

Labour and its intersection with other phenomena

  • Gender
  • Social movements
  • Nationalism and ethnicity
  • Political and institutional history
  • Migration
  • Postsocialism

Levels of analysis and comparative framework

  • Focus on the level of the factory (single or multiple case study)
  • Focus on a broader unit (community, town, region, republic)
  • Comparison of units (factory, city, republic etc.)
  • Diachronic or synchronic comparison