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Liberal Democracy, Authoritarian Pasts, and Intellectual
History in East Central Europe After 1989

Edited by Michal Kopeček and Piotr Wciślik

Michal Kopeček, Head of the Department of Late- and Post-Socialism Studies, Institute for Contemporary History, Prague, and Assistant Professor of Czech and Central European History, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague.

Piotr Wciślik, PhD candidate, Central European University, Budapest, and affiliated with the Digital Humanities Center at IBL PAN,Warsaw.

Thinking through Transition is the first concentrated effort to explore the most recent chapter of East Central European past from the perspective of intellectual history. Post-socialism can be understood as a period of scarcity and preponderance of ideas, the dramatic eclipsing of the dissident legacy (aswell as the older political traditions), and the rise of technocratic and post-political governance. This book, grounded in empirical research sensitive to local contexts, proposes instead a history of adaptations, entanglements, and unintended consequences. In order to enable and invite comparison, the volume is structured around major domains of political thought, some of them generic (liberalism, conservatism, the Left), others (populism and politics of history) deemed typical for post-socialism. However, as shown by the authors, the generic often turns out to be heavily dependent on its immediate setting, and the typical resonates with processes that are anything but vernacular.

"It is impossible, after reading this volume, to still give any credit to those who claimed that 1989 was a revolution without ideas, or could not be a revolution because it offered no ideas. We should be grateful that a new generation of scholars—most of whom not burdened by the assumptions and affinities that have inhibited participants and contemporary observers—can look with a cool eye both at the thinking that accompanied radical change and at the sometimes bizarre amalgams that have furnished political language in the last quarter-century in East Central Europe." - Padraic Kenney, Professor of History and International Studies, Indiana University

"This is the most comprehensive and balanced intellectual history so far available of post-communist East Central Europe, and it is particularly instructive on the diversity of the field. The book is essential reading for those who want to know how the multiple transformations of the region were understood from within." - Jóhann P. Árnason, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, La Trobe University,Melbourne

608 pages, 2015
978 963 3860 85 4 cloth
$75.00 / €58.00 / £49.00

"There is, Kopeček and Wciślik argue, space for a ‘possible future intellectual history’ of East and Central Europe examining ‘the transfer and circulation of ideas from a bottom-up perspective’, focusing on specific contexts but retaining a broad sense of regional commonalties. It is this goal that their collection sets out to address.
Thinking through Transition assembles a set of readable and engaging case studies which underline the need for historical and comparative perspectives based on well-grounded research which take debates in the region as its point of departure." - The Slavonic and East European Review

"The approach taken in this monograph differs from that of traditional ‘transitology research’. It uncovers the rich intellectual landscape of post-1989 Eastern and Central Europe and offers an insider’s view to understanding the transformations, their origins, dynamics and consequences. Emphasis is placed on the conceptual foundations, trajectories and implications of intellectual history.
The strong point of the book is that it tries to create a critical distance from the ‘transition period’ and ‘post-socialism era’, the conventional approaches in post-1989 ECE research. The authors impose on themselves exploratory objectives of analysis, their intention being to provoke scholarly debate and further investigation. This publication brings us closer to the historicity of the post-1989 period in ECE. The intellectual history of post-socialism contributes to a better understanding of the key political ideas developing and evolving in the post-socialist period. The book demonstrates sensitivity to regional dynamism and it brings exploratory value to the field." - Europe-Asia Studies

"Based on the richness and merits of the volume, the readers are invited to discover that Thinking through Transition is not 'just another' book on an old topic, but essential reading for those who wish to understand the period in question. Furthermore, the novelty of the approach and the scholarly - and also public - usefulness of such a collective effort give ground to the hope that this volume is the first attempt in a series of historical reflections on our recent past and troubled present." - Visegrad Insight

"The edited volume assembled by Michal Kopeček and Piotr Wciślik offers a novel and refreshing take on the history of the political transformations of East Central Europe in the post-communist era, a field that has been long and eminently dominated by the normative and often ahistorical prescripts of “transitology” scholarship (and business).
Though 1989 functions as the springboard of narration, several essays trace and connect discourses back to earlier intellectual genealogies; they demonstrate how both past intellectual standpoints and present concerns provided the particular ideological admixture and the choice of positionality in the present, drawing upon an arsenal of actual or fictitious continuities, discontinuities, and/or reconfigurations of political discourse, a circumstance perhaps best exemplified in the transformations of '1989' itself: from an initial symbol of consensual politics to a floating signifier and, eventually, a convenient moment of contestation in order to redraw the lines of the political. Moreover, this volume exemplifies the fact that intellectual history is not only about the life-cycle of ideas but also about the performativity of the political, in other words, the capacity of actors to occupy timely key political/ideological spaces in relationto their political opponents and therefore not only to define the political agenda but also to capture public space and social imagination.
Thinking through Transition is certainly a brave and important step in the right direction." - Hungarian Historical Review