Complaints: Cultures of Grievance in Eastern Europe and Eurasia

an Interdisciplinary Conference

Fri, 03/08/2013 to Sat, 03/09/2013
to be announced
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Complaints are one way that the powerless and the dispossessed communicate their disagreement, dissatisfaction, and resentment to the powerful and the dominant.  As a legal genre, a communication tool, and a narrative structure, complaints have a long history in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, from the peasants' petitions to the Russian tsar to the dissidents' letters to the party committees and from the complaint books in Soviet grocery stores to denunciation reports to the secret police. This conference plans to examine the genre of complaints in the public culture of Eastern Europe and Eurasia.

In his After the Wall: East Meets West in the New Berlin, John Borneman reminded us that legal petitions in East Germany were in fact a form of legal privilege, a politically legitimized framework of public discourse that "allowed the citizenry a licit means of responding to and interrogating the economic and political structure." Nancy Ries in her Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Pertestroika pointed out another important aspect of complaints: their formulaic structure and repetitive reproduction turn them into "ritualized discourses" through which realms of politics, economics, and law are navigated and negotiated.

The conference Complaints: Cultures of Grievance in Eastern Europe and Eurasia will build on a diverse scholarship on public criticism and dissatisfaction by bringing together an international and interdisciplinary group of researchers. We invite proposals from scholars in a range of disciplines including law, history, anthropology, sociology, politics, philosophy, psychology, art and literary criticism that would explore the ways through which frustrations and discontent were expressed in Eastern Europe and Eurasia and that would examine what happened to those grievances.  In particular, we are interested in interdisciplinary studies that trace the emergence and development of cultures of grievances – those ritualized discourses in which responses to the authorities are merged with their interrogation.

Organizing committee:

  • Kim Lane Scheppele, Director, Law and Public Affairs Program, as well as Woodrow Wilson School, Sociology and Human Values, Princeton University;
  • Kathryn Hendley, Law and Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Madison as well as Law and Public Affairs Fellow, Princeton University;
  • Michael Gordin, Director, Fung Global Fellows Program, as well as Department of History, Princeton University;
  • Irena Grudzinska Gross, Slavic Languages and Literatures, Princeton University;
  • Serguei A. Oushakine, Director, Program in Russian and Eurasian Studies as well as Anthropology and Slavic Languages and Literatures, Princeton University.