The idea of collecting and sharing memories as (post)socialist cultural insiders emerged when we started sharing our stories of growing up in different countries on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. We felt a very personal connection during storytelling—almost as we were related—and we were curious to explore these connections further. Our more intimate exchanges have gradually developed into more in-depth and organized conversations, drawing in more and more colleagues. Since 2014, we have organized multiple meetings, workshops, webinars, and conference panels to collectively explore our memories about growing up in (post)socialist societies. Our methodology of how to work with childhood memories developed during these intimate conversations, academic exchanges, and friendships.
Our memories reaffirmed that living socialism often meant something quite different to us compared to the official interpretations offered by state officials and academic researchers on either side of the Iron Curtain. We e also came to the understanding that those who studied childhood mostly framed it through “the dominant telescope of Western discourses like developmental psychology,” and from the point of view of experts (Cannella & Viruru, 2004, p. 3). Therefore, we decided to write against these historical and epistemological backgrounds to decenter the “master narratives” of both (post)socialism and modern childhood in order to open spaces for sharing more complicated and varied accounts. By collectively working with the memories of lived (post)socialism, we aim to share untold stories, give new meanings to (personal) histories, and revisit forgotten relations between spaces and times, across borders and regions, then and now, while trying to avoid romanticization and nostalgia.
We approach memory not as history but as ‘a lived process of making sense of time and the experience of it’ to explore ’relations between public and private life, agency and power, and the past, present and future’ (Keightley, 2010, p. 55-56). The focus is on the exploration of how childhood and schooling were constituted and experienced in (post)socialist contexts and (re)narrated at the present. Childhood as a socio-historical construct provides an analytical incision into the social issues and concerns regarding historical socialism, cultural/ideological changes, and subject formation. As Gonick & Gannon (2014, p.6) argue, ‘rather than truth of particular lives, … we are interested in using memory stories to examine the ways in which individuals are made social, how we are discursively, affectively, materially constituted in particular moments that are inherently unstable’ and to open up ways to explore ‘how things come to matter in the ways they do’(Davies et al., 2013). By reflecting on the experiences of (post)socialist schooling and childhood through the narration of lived experiences, memories, and artifacts of schooling as experienced in different geographical locations, we can critically re-examine the assumed monolithic (and authoritarian) nature of the (post)socialist education systems, while revealing contradictions and complexities inherent in (post)socialist education and open up to new insights.
In our research, we do not aim to subsume children’s lives under the official ideological framework or universalize children’s experiences in socialist societies. Rather, we use the term ‘(post)socialist childhood’ to set memories of various lived experiences against those studies that scripted children’s lives within official state ideologies and Cold War binaries. In other words, we strive to capture the multiplicity and complexity of childhoods. At the same time, memories of childhood are complex themselves. They are folded into the present of the adult person remembering. And, at the moment of remembering, the adult is becoming with the memory, thus “adult becoming has child-becoming folded into … [in] very complex and obscure ways” (Jones, 2013, p. 6). To allow these complexities to emerge, we draw on methodologies that encourage anti-essentialist approaches, as well as multiple articulations and representations. We see potentials for producing these types of memory in autobiography, auto- and duo-ethnography, and collective biography.
By validating testimony and memory as important sources of knowledge, memory stories speak against different forms of homogenization to contest and remake dominant history, revealing strong connections to postcolonial research. In postcolonial studies, autobiography has been “increasingly recognized as a powerful counter-hegemonic practice” (Boehmer, 2000, p. 756). Adding duo- and/or collective biography, they offer powerful avenues to both individual and collective subjects to narrate their lives against dominant ways of knowing and being. As Spry (2011) explains, autoethnography enables a subaltern and indigenous contestation and remaking of history, breaking “the colonizing and encrypted code of what counts as knowledge” and positioning “local knowledge at the heart of epistemology and ontology” (p. 500). Autoethnography begins, she insists, with “a body, in a place, and in a time” (p. 500), where the subjects of knowing become knowing subjects who are now authorized to speak on their own behalf (see further in Silova, Millei, & Piattoeva, 2017).
Although autobiographical research has been criticized for privileging one particular way of writing a life—the one based on a Western inscription of “an abstract and unique individual agent moving through time and space” (Rupprecht, 2002, p. 35)—this is not the only way of seeing life-writing research. New forms of life-writing distance themselves from this type of research, using “memory stories to examine the ways in which individuals [now and in the past] are made social, [and] how we are discursively, affectively, materially constituted in particular moments that are inherently unstable” and “how things come to matter in the ways they do” (Gonick & Gannon, 2014, p. 6). In this way, memories of the lived experiences of childhood provide important analytical incisions into the social issues and concerns regarding socialism, cultural/ideological changes, and subject formation.
Memory stories and their interpretations are produced in the intersubjective spaces of participants and in the interrelations between participants’ presents and pasts. Our own generation and analysis of memories emerged through participation in repeated collective biography workshops (Davies & Gannon, 2006, 2012), which were conducted both in person and online. Sharing memory stories facilitated dialogues and the generation of more memory stories, while avoiding clichés and nostalgia. We used the questions posted on the “Sharing memories” page as a means to trigger our own initial stories. We then refined and further developed these memory stories through discussions, during which we asked each other questions for clarifications and engaged, both collectively and individually – in the exploration of the affective and sensory aspects of memories.
As our memories evolved, we focused the discussions on recurring themes to examine connections between our lived experiences and how we were made social and discursively constituted in particular moments in time (Davies & Gannon, 2006) . By engaging in this form of collective biography, we do not claim that the stories we produce reflect objective truths. Claims to knowledge emerge in the in-between spaces of memories where something surprising disrupts the usual way of thinking and poses questions to re-examine the taken-for-granted views about everyday life (Davies & Gannon, 2006). This is how our chapter “Hair Bows and Uniforms: Entangled Politics in Children’s Everyday Lives” (Millei et al., 2017) was born, reflecting our experience of sharing different everyday experiences of wearing uniforms, and particularly hair bows and fashioning our hair, in schools, kindergartens, and at home.
We would like to see this website as a step towards extending the intersubjective, in-between spaces of memories where stories from different parts of the (post)socialist and (post)colonial worlds can be told, shared, extended, and analyzed in a collaborative and open manner. This multivocal dialogue is a prerequisite to “think with” memories as part of a collective intellectual project of decolonizing knowledge production in and about (post)socialist childhoods, and a way to imagine new trajectories for the future of (post)socialist and (post)colonial societies.
Boehmer, E. (2000). Postcolonialism and autobiography. Biography, 23(4), pp. 756-758.
Cannella, G. S. & Viruru, R. (2004). Childhood and postcolonization: Power, education, and contemporary practice. New York: Psychology Press.
Davies, B., & Gannon, S. (2012). Collective biography and the entangled enlivening of being. International Review of Qualitative Research, 5, 357-376.
Davies, B., & Gannon, S. (2006). Doing collective biography: Investigating the production of subjectivity. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Gonick, M. & Gannon, S. (2014) Becoming girl: Collective biography and the production of girlhood. Toronto, ON: Women’s Press.
Jones, O. (2013). “I was born but”: Children as other/nonrepresentational subjects
in emotional and affective registers as depicted in film. Emotion, Space and Society, 9, 4–12.
Rupprecht, A. (2002). Making the difference: Postcolonial theory and the politics of memory. In J. Campbell & J. Harbord (Eds.), Temporalities, autobiography, and everyday life (pp. 35-52). Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press.
Silova, I., Millei, Z., Piattoeva, N. (2017). Interrupting the coloniality of knowledge production in comparative education: Postsocialist and postcolonial dialogues after the Cold War. Comparative Education Review, 61(S1), S74-S102.
Spry, T. (2011). Performative autoethnography: Critical embodiments and possibilities. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (4th ed., pp. 497– 512). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.