Making Sense of Dictatorship

Domination and Everyday Life in East Central Europe after 1945
Making Sense of Dictatorship book cover
$75.00 / €63.00 / £54.00
Publication date: 
April, 296 pages, cloth, 11 b&w photos

How did political power function in the communist regimes of East Central Europe after 1945? Making Sense of Dictatorship addresses this question with a particular focus on the acquiescent behavior of the majority of the population until, at the end of the 1980s, their rejection of state socialism and its authoritarian world.

The authors refer to the concept of Sinnwelt, the way in which groups and individuals made sense of the world around them. The essays focus on the dynamics of everyday life and the extent to which the relationship between citizens and the state was collaborative or antagonistic. Each chapter addresses a different aspect of life in this period, including modernization, consumption and leisure, and the everyday experiences of “ordinary people,” single mothers, or those adopting alternative lifestyles.

Empirically rich and conceptually original, the essays in this volume suggest new ways to understand how people make sense of everyday life under dictatorial regimes.

List of Figures

List of Acronyms

Foreword (Pavel Kolář and Michal Kopeček)

Editors’ Note (Ana Kladnik and Celia Donert)


Socialism as Sinnwelt: Communist Dictatorship and its World of Meaning in a Cultural-Historical Perspective (Martin Sabrow)

Neither Consent nor Opposition: Eigen-Sinn, or How to Make Sense of Compliance and Self-Assertion under Communist Domination (Thomas Lindenberger)


Policeman Nicolae: The Story of One Man’s Life and Work in the Socialist Republic of Romania (1960–89) (Ciprian Cirniala)

The East German Reporting System: Normality and Legitimacy Through Bureaucracy (Hedwig Richter)

Late Communist Elites and the Demise of State Socialism in Czechoslovakia (1986–89) (Michal Pullmann)


Local Self-Governance, Voluntary Practices, and the Sinnwelt of Socialist Velenje (Ana Kladnik)

Modern Housekeeping Worlds; or, How Much is Thirty Percent Really? Eigensinnige Consumer Practices and the Hungarian Trade Union’s “Washing Machine Campaign” of 1957–58 (Annina Gagyiova)

Single Mothers, Lonely Children: Polish Families, Socialist Modernity, and the Experience of Crisis of the Late 1970s and 1980s (Barbara Klich-Kluczewska)

“Since Makarenko the Time for Experiments has Passed”: Peace, Gender, and Human Rights in East Berlin during the 1980s (Celia Donert)


Problems with Progress in Late Socialist Czechoslovakia: The Example of Most, North Bohemia (Matĕj Spurný)

Authentic Community and Autonomous Individual: Making Sense of Socialism in Late Socialist Hungary (Péter Apor)

The “Will to Publicity” and its Publicists: Curating the Memory of Czechoslovak Samizdat (Jonathan Larson)

Dissident Legalism: Human Rights, Socialist Legality, and the Birth of Legal Resistance in the 1970s Democratic Opposition in Czechoslovakia and Poland (Michal Kopeček)




This collection of essays represents an up-to-date scholarly account of the history of the Eastern bloc, focusing on the dynamics of everyday life and how they were situated in terms of a collaborative or antagonistic relationship between citizens and party/governments. By paying acute attention to conceptual issues, 'Making Sense of Dictatorship' offers new ways and new material with which interpretative frameworks can be constructed. Thanks to the unifying theme, the high quality of the editorship, and the impressive contributions—which together have a unity and significance that exceeds their individual merits—this volume makes an unusual and important contribution to scholarship on the state socialist era in East Central Europe.
A long-awaited, comprehensive analysis of the inner dynamics of state socialism. The leading historians of communist East Central Europe explain how people—from party-state apparatus to young parents—domesticated and accommodated the experience of dictatorship, while creating their own meanings of normality and good life.
"Vsak izmed prispevkov, ki jo sestavljajo, na izviren in svojstven način razrešuje napetost med empirijo in teoretsko zastavljenim okvirom. A vendar je tisto, zaradi česar monografija najbolj izstopa, skupno osnovno razumevanje problematike, prisotno pri vseh avtorjih: v zgodovinopisju je malo prostora za črno-bele slike in mnogo prostora za raziskovanje različnosti, nians in nenehno spreminjajočih se pogledov."
"The book offers concrete examples of what research on socialist dictatorships can mean. It is in the specific cases that the interconnectedness of the pressures that socialist dictatorships exerted on their populations, the opportunities that these same regimes offered, and the strategies that populations and communities used to deal with them in lived practice, is well illustrated. Making Sense of Dictatorship provides insight into how different actors across the societies of socialist dictatorships struggled to make sense of their social reality."