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The Watchful Society: Sexuality, Society, and Vigilance in East-Central and Southeast Europe 1945–1989 | Call for Papers

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Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Collegium Carolinum


Gender studies History International relations Other


Area studies Central and Eastern Europe


Call for Papers: The Watchful Society: Sexuality, Society, and Vigilance in East-Central and Southeast Europe 1945–1989

Collegium Carolinum and Collaborative Research Centre 1369 “Cultures of Vigilance”Fischbachau/Bayern, 17–20 November 2022Submission deadline: 15 April 2022

Call for Papers (PDF)

Annual conference by Collegium Carolinum in cooperation with the Collaborative ResearchCentre 1369 “Cultures of Vigilance” at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich

Sexuality is probably the most private area of human life. Yet modern states interfere with thissphere in various ways, beginning with the legislative frameworks for gender relations andextending to the definition of legitimate sexual desire and the legal regulation of reproductivedecisions. The realization of such norms determined by laws always requires the participationof many individuals, however. Without people dedicating their attention and activity to theenforcement of a norm – be it of an ethical-moral, legal, or societal kind – that norm has noeffect.

When the communist parties in East-Central and Southeast Europe came into power followingthe Second World War, they offered a promise of comprehensive renewal extending all theway down to the individual private sphere. Among other things, socialism was expected toestablish a new gender order and liberate the people from repressive “bourgeois” and churchdictatedsexual morals. As research in recent years has shown, this project delivered conflictingoutcomes. A relatively progressive legislation compared to many Western European countrieson the one hand was accompanied by considerable pressure to conform as well as limited andstrictly defined individual latitude for decision-making – especially with regard to sex and thebody – on the other. This has been described as a typical result of a reform “from above”.

Our goal is to discuss the sexual orders of the socialist states of East-Central and SoutheastEurope from a broader perspective. While top-down processes are relatively well researched,the horizontal negotiation, control, and enforcement of norms has hitherto not been the focusof much scholarly attention. The interaction between these two axes has only been examinedsporadically as well. We are therefore particularly interested in forms of monitoring sexualitythat occurred below the governmental level.

The conference targets firstly the institutions, professions, and individuals who implementedor were tasked with implementing sexual policies – by way of education and information,monitoring, and/or corrective action. Beyond experts and persons acting on behalf of thestate, we are explicitly interested in informal vigilance in the area of sexual behaviouroccurring in the immediate social surroundings of citizens of the respective socialist countries.Our second area of concern are the churches as institutions the socialist regimes wanted toeliminate as conveyors of values. Possible questions in this context are: To what degree did thenew socialist sexual morals depart from norms established by religion; what conflicts arosefrom this situation; and where did potential intersections exist or processes of reconcilementbetween religious and socialist sexual morals take place? Finally, what did this mean for theenforcement of the “socialist morals” as a whole?

Thirdly, we wish to investigate and discuss the regimes of observation and disciplining appliedto persons whose behaviour did not conform to the dominant sexual norms. Who and whatwas policed, tabooed, discriminated, or characterized as a threat to socialist society? Was(alleged) cultural, social, political, or religious deviance of individuals and groups from thesocialist framework of norms sexualized, and if so, how? Lastly, what consequences could suchexclusion processes have for the sexual and reproductive rights of affected persons?Our fourth focus is to examine the representation of sexuality in terms of how the boundariesof what could be said and depicted in the areas of sexuality, eroticism, and corporality changedover the years. Which taboos disappeared, what remained improper or scandalous, and whatconclusions can be drawn regarding the official conceptions of proper/acceptable sexuality?What were the impacts on the images of femininity and masculinity?

The conference aims to explore the regimes of East-Central and Southeast Europe as a field inwhich – even under the conditions of authoritarian rule – key rules of human coexistence werecontinuously negotiated and “made”. The underlying scholarly interest is the question of theconnection between vigilance in the area of sexuality and the cohesion of socialist societies. Inother words: What role did the watchfulness of the many with regard to “correct” sexualbehaviour, gender roles, relationships, and family models play in the development of statesocialisms, and what became of the ideals propagated during the early years?The study period is specified as the years between 1945 and 1989. Comparative contributionsextending beyond the area of the former Eastern Bloc are also welcome.

You are invited to submit papers for lectures with a length of 20 minutes. The conferencelanguage is English. We plan to publish all contributions in the Collegium Carolinum publicationseries. The organizers will assume all travel and accommodation costs.

Submission deadline: 15 April 2022

Conception: Dr. Christiane Brenner, Prof. Dr. Martin Schulze Wessel, Collegium Carolinum /CRC 1369 “Cultures of Vigilance” at LMU Munich

Further details

Dr. Christiane Brenner
Pol-Int team

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