History of Modern Political Thought in East-Central Europe

Centre for Advances Study (CAS), Sofia
European Research Council (ERC)

The Project


As we aim at mapping discourses in their transnational setting and not devising country-chapters, we will need to schedule intensive working sessions and also a well-thought over manner of integrating individual findings into a synthetic narrative. Our aim is to produce a cross-cultural perspective based on pain-staking primary research – the negotiated work of a compact group of multi-national composition representing the young generation of historians maturing after 1989, capable of cross-cultural approaches, speaking regional languages, having a common research experience, and trained in comparative methods.

Having to cope with overlapping national canons, the research project, “Regional Identity Discourses in Central and Southeast Europe,” (www.idreader.cas.bg) initiated by a number of young historians from the region, some of them members of the present Project, shaped a pattern of intensive collaborative work, which will serve as a starting point for the present project. On the one hand, the case studies by individual contributors will be integrated into a negotiated co-written text. On the other hand, each larger entity will have a chief editor responsible for the textual and conceptual coherence, while the Principal Investigator is also responsible for the ultimate cohesion of the volume and will work on the general framework of interpretation.

In the process of the implementation of the research project, we set to ourselves a number of intermediate goals. Most importantly, on the basis of our intensive comparative dialogue we seek to devise, by the second year, a broadly consensual “shortlist” of fundamental discourses and themes that can be considered formative for the entire region. We intend to test this framework both in academic interaction (workshops and publications) and in education and, in turn, also use this “practical” experience in refining our narrative. In this way, we seek to discern a synthetic framework, which avoids becoming a “Grand Narrative”, but which still implies a concise “story” to be told to colleagues and students. This means keeping distance from the essentialist regional narratives such as the Central Europeanist or the Balkanist ones, but offering something more than just registering the differences and thus deconstructing any broader claim on the “common destiny” of these countries. Mapping the landscape of the major debates and intellectual trends in the region from a trans-national perspective also opens up venues for further research, as we intend our project to be not the “final word,” but a catalyst of long-term scholarly interaction and a “pilot project” for further research ventures on similar topics.

To sum up, our project aims at challenging the conventions of the “local” East-Central European historiographical traditions, which usually describe their object of analysis in terms of a discursive autarchy. At the same time our methodology seeks to undermine the existing “grand narratives” about a fundamental common Eastern-European Sonderweg. Our venture implies an interpretative framework of East-Central European discourses, which goes deeper than—and cuts across—the normative symbolic geographies of traditional cultural and political history (contrasting East and West, the Balkans and Central-Europe, etc.), the dichotomic taxonomies of Nationalism Studies (like cultural vs. civic; exclusive vs. inclusive; ethnic vs. political), and the unilinear models of civilizational hierarchy contrasting peoples with and without history, “backward” and “developed” societies and cultures. By doing so, we want to make these intellectual cultures and references available for the common European “market of ideas” and also help rethinking some of the basic assumptions about the history of modern political thought, and modernity as such, in Europe.