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Role of the ‘Cultural Processes’ strand in the CEELBAS Agenda

This strand of the CEELBAS agenda pertains to the broad-based, interdisciplinary study of the Arts and other relevant forms of cultural expression and practices, including memorials and monuments, and their wider role in Eastern European politics and society. Culture functions as a seismograph of social and political developments, but also as a vehicle, or the imaginative expression, of these developments. The study of culture therefore sheds light on such diverse and pivotal phenomena in the post-Communist world as (for instance) consumerism, the role of religion, and attitudes towards history. The acute contemporary relevance of studying cultural phenomena, broadly defined, is underlined by such controversies as the Estonian government's decision in 2007 to move the bronze soldier (Red Army) statue in Talinn, which resulted in a renewed debate about relations with Russia and attitudes towards history in the region more broadly.

L’viv Opera House (2007)

On the artistic level, literature, plays, popular music, film and the visual arts have all played a dynamic and contentious role in the political and economic life of the former Soviet countries both before and after 1989. Cultural output has not only responded to, but helped galvanize key developments: from Samizdat and dissident literature of the Soviet era; to the pioneering and subtle social criticism of films by Kieslowski and others in the 1980s and 1990s; to the spontaneous (and orchestrated) rock concerts held in support of Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004.

Culture's role in the narrowly artistic sense is inseparable from its institutional position, as shaped by legislation, economic conditions, and forms of political control. As such, cultural output and its institutional gearing can illuminate wider ideological trends within a given country or political system. These might be indicated through such acts as the choice of repertoire at state-run theatres; or else 'positively', for instance in the allocation of arts funding; or 'negatively', through censorship or suppression.

The term 'cultural processes', meanwhile, suggests the dynamic and evolving nature of the cultural sphere in Eastern Europe. This broad definition clearly encompasses anthropological as well as artistic definitions of culture, offering clear and immediate scope for interdisciplinary collaboration between this and other strands of the CEELBAS platform focusing on the post-1989 period, particularly areas such as urban studies, social and foreign policy.

Furthering the Agenda: Research

In May 2007, Dr Robert Pyrah was appointed Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and Junior Research Fellow of St. Antony’s College. He is responsible for research, seminars and other academic activities within this strand of the CEELBAS programme. Robert has a Humanities background with Oxford degrees in French and German, European Literature, and a cultural history-based doctorate (for further details, and a biography, please see Profile

Robert’s own research focuses on East European culture and politics in the post-Habsburg and contemporary eras, in particular: the workings of cultural institutions such as the theatre; nationalism; and politicized uses of the Arts. He is especially interested in the ramifications of state-led policy in the Arts, and their role in the shaping of national identity discourse, as examined and discussed in the media, but also as revealed by policy documents and government communiqués (archival evidence). He examines how these grand narratives about culture are undercut, not only by the polyvalent art forms they attempt to shape, but also by complex, multi-ethnic cultural legacies.

During the Fellowship, Robert will be working on a 20th Century cultural history of L’viv (Ukraine), using methodology from his doctoral thesis to explore the relationships between cultural policy and national identity discourse.  He will focus on the question of cultural memory, currently under scrutiny by commentators in the field, but often applied uncritically, and its treatment by cultural politicians and practitioners in L’viv. The project offers a timely case study in the politics of cultural memory in particular, and of cultural processes more broadly. This city has a complex multi-ethnic history, constituting one important strand of its identity politics. Also known as Lwów, Lemberg, Leopolis and Lvov, it previously encompassed a large Polish and Jewish population before WWII, and now comprises a majority of Ukrainians, a very small minority of Poles, and more substantial numbers of former settlers ‘imported’ from the Russian heartland in the Soviet era. Today L’viv is a stronghold of Ukrainian nationalism in a politically and regionally divided country, struggling to carve out a distinct identity in the aftermath of independence (1991) and the Orange Revolution (2004). For further details of the project, please see Project Outline

The project is designed to complement the wider CEELBAS agenda through its inherent language-based interdisciplinarity, seeking insights principally from historical research, urban studies, cultural geography, and literary studies.

Research Poster (click on image to enlarge):

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