Home » Departments and Centres » History and Civilization » Research & Teaching » Seminars » 2017-2018 2nd term » Demodernization. A Global and Comparative History

Demodernization. A Global and Comparative History

Research Seminar

Organised by Prof Alexander Etkind and Prof Pavel Kolář
Registration code: HEC-RS-DEMOD-17
Block seminar: 5 February 2018 (Sala dei Levrieri), 9 and 10 February 2018 (Sala del Torrino)

Admin. Assistant: Fabrizio Borchi

Seminar description

Philosophers of the Enlightenment and historians of Positivism believed in “progress”, an improvement of humanity by education, trade, and colonialism. During the Cold War, “modernization theory” imagined convergence of different political systems. In the late 20th century, the postsocialist world made its bets on “transition”, the postcolonial world on “globalization”. Some philosophers warned against this new eschatology, and some sociologists found a solution in the idea of “multiple modernities”. Jürgen Habermas defined modernity as an incomplete project. Bruno Latour famously said, “We have never been modern”. But many historians believe in modernization and globalization as one-directional, open-ended processes.

Sad experience of the early 21st century is changing the very idea of modernity. It is, apparently, an unstable point of balance between the opposite forces, and the rules of their interaction are also changing. The machine called “modernity” is able to move backwards. It is if we have suddenly found the reverse gear in this machine.

Processes of demodernization make a perfect subject for comparative history because they are imagined as disruptive, root-seeking, sovereignty-building rather than converging, global, and continuous. However, the concept of demodernization has never been explored in detail; if you google it you will likely end up with discussions of “demonization”. In this seminar, we will discuss various aspects of this phenomenon – economic, political, cultural, even spiritual, and its relations to other problems such as violence, religion, and labor. From Russia to Poland, from Turkey to the Middle East and from the US to UK, demodernization presents a formidable challenge to what is routinely called “modern history”. Has modernity always had another and darker side, or demodernization is able to resurge and dominate at certain historical moments? Do these processes in various parts of the world influence or emulate one another? Could we construe something like a diffusion theory of demodernization? Or these processes respond to common challenges? Who would help us understand demodernization – Max Weber or Carl Schmitt? Karl Marx or Walter Benjamin?

Combining theoretical readings with case studies, this seminar will challenge its participants with a sense of intellectual experiment.



5 February 2018 (9:00 - 19:00, Sala dei Levrieri)

Session 1, 9.00-11.00:  Guest Lecture - Oil and Demodernization

Speaker: Leif Wenar (Kings College London)

  • L. Wenar, “Beyond Blood Oil” Lead essay in an author-meets-critics volume. Michael Blake, Christopher Kutz, Aaron James, Nazrin Mehdiyeva, Anna Stilz and Leif Wenar, Beyond Blood Oil, ed. Laurie Shrage and Naomi Zack (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).

Session 2, 12.00-14.00: Thinking about Progress in the Dark Times

  • R. Nisbett, Idea of Progress, published online by Liberty Fund, 2016
  • H. Arendt, “On Humanity in Dark Times” – in her: Men in Dark Times, 1968, 3-33.
  • A. Rabinbach, In the Shadow of Catastrophe, Berkeley 1997, 129-166
  • R. Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason, Princeton University Press 2004, 1-27
  • A. Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, New York 1987, 25-62
  • M. Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal. After Identity Politics. London: Harper 2017, 1-19, 97-143.

Session 3, 14.30-16.30:  Have we ever been modern?

  • М. Weber. Readings and commentary on modernity. Edited by Stephen Kalberg. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005.
  • F. Kolegar, The concept of rationalization and Cultural Pessimism in Weber’s Sociology, The Sociological Quarterly, 1964
  • M. David-Fox Crossing borders: modernity, ideology, and culture in Russia and the Soviet Union. Pittsburgh University Press 2016,1-75
  • C. Lasch, The Revolt of the Elites. New York: Norton 1995, 25-117
  • D. C. Tipps, "Modernization Theory and the Comparative Study of Societies: A Critical Perspective", Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Mar., 1973), pp. 199-226

Session 4, 17.00-19.00:  Regression/Degeneration/Demodernization

  • N. Ferguson, The Great Degeneration. How Institutions Decay and Economies Die. Penguin 2014, 1-13
  • The Great Regression, ed. by H. Geiselberger. London Polity 2017, chapters by Donatella della Porta, Eva Illouz, Bruno Latour, Oliver Nacthway, Wolfgang Sreek
  • J. Edelman, Why the idea that the world is in terminal decline is so dangerous, published online by Aeon, 2017


9 February 2018 (14:00 - 18:30, Sala del Torrino)


Session 5, 14.00-15.00 : Parasitic State and Demodernization

Speaker: Alexander Etkind (EUI)

  • A. Etkind, “Putin’s Russia: An Exemplary Case of Hyper-Extractive State”, World Financial Review, January 2015
  • A. Etkind and I. Yablokov, Global Crises as Western Conspiracies: Russian Theories on Oil Prices and the Ruble Exchange Rate, Journal for Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, 1, 2018

Session 6, 15.00-16.00 : De-modernization? Leadership, patronage and the "new state" in the USSR and Nazi Germany

Speaker: Jan C. Behrends (Potsdam University)

  • J.A. Getty, Practicing Stalinism, Yale University Press, 2013, pp. 237-250
  • R. Hachtmann, Social Spaces of the Nazi Volksgemeinshaft in the Making, in M.Streber, B. Ghotto, Visions of Community in Nazi Germany, OUP 2014
  • U. Hebert, Echoes of the Volksgemeinshaft, in M.Streber, B. Ghotto, Visions of Community in Nazi Germany, OUP 2014
  • A.V. Ledeneva, Can Russia Modernise? Sistema, Power Networks and Informal Governance, CUP 2013, ch.1
  • Y Gorlick, H. Mommsen, The Political Dis Orders of Stalinism and National Socialism, in M. Geyer, S. Fitzpatrick, Beyond Totalitarianism. Stalinism and Nazism Compared, CUP 2009

Session 7, 16.30-17.30 : Financialization and Demodernization

Speaker: Youssef Cassis (EUI)

  • William Lazonick and Mary O' Sullivan, 'Maximising shareholder value: a new ideology for corporate governance", Economy and Society (2000), 29:1, 13-35.

  • Greta R. Krippner, ‘The financialization of the American Economy’, Socio-Economic Review (2005), 3, pp. 173-208.

  • Per Hansen, ‘From Finance Capitalism to Financialization: A Cultural and narrative perspective on 150 years of financial history’, Enterprise & Society, 15, 4 (2014), pp. 605-42.

Session 8, 17.30-18.30 : Bulgarian stabilitocracy: modernisation or demodernisation?

Speaker: Tom Junes (Independent Researcher)

  • E. Stanoeva, “Bulgaria’s Post 1989 Demostalgia”, published online on Eurozine, 2017
  • E. Stanoeva, “Illiberal Consensus without an Authoritarian Core: The Case of Bulgaria”, published online on Cultures of History Forum, University of Jena, 2017
  • T. Junes, “The 2017 Parliamentary Elections in Bulgaria: Stabilizing the Status Quo and Normalizing the Far Right”, published online on Balticworlds, 2017


10 February 2018 (9:30 - 18:00, Sala del Torrino)


Session 9, 9.30-10.30: Spaces of Violence and De-Modernisation

Speaker: Felix Schnell (University of Essex)

  • Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil War, Cambridge 2006, chapter 3, ‘Barbarism’, pp. 52-86.
  • Serhy Yekelchyk, Bands of Nation Builders? Insurgency and Ideology in the Ukrainian Civil War, in: Robert Gerwarth & John Horne (Eds.), War in Peace. Paramilitary Violence in Europe after the Great War, Oxford 2013, pp. 107-125.

Session 10, 10.30-11.30: Why the post-socialist temporal framework is wrong, and how the Polish crisis of 1979-1981 constitutes a major watershed in demodernization

Speaker: Kacper Poblocki (University of Oslo)

  • D.J. Bezemer, "Post-Socialist Financial fragility: the case of Albania", in Cambridge Journal of Economics, 2001, 25, 1-23
  • K. Poblocki, Suburbanization of the Self: Religious Revival and Spatial Transformations in Contemporary Poland, draft working paper (do not quote and do not circulate) 


Session 11, 12.00-13.00: Ukraine: A Post-Soviet Demodernization

Speaker: Mikhail Minakov (University of Kyiv Molyha Academy)

Session 12, 14.00-15.00: Civilized Cleansing and Barbarous Nudity: The Russian Bathhouse                      and Demodernization

Speaker: Ethan Pollock (EUI)

  • L.Egelstein, "Combined Underdevelopment: Discipline and the Law in Imperial and Soviet Russia", in The American Historical Review, vol. 98, No.2 (April 1993), pp. 338-353
  • D.Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe, Princeton University Press, 2007, Introduction and Ch.7


Session 13, 15.00-16.00: A report from the field work on the pre-post-Soviet modernity

Speaker: Bohdan Shumilovich (EUI)


Session 14, 16.30-17.30: The Re-Enchantment of Late Socialism: Modernity in Crisis?

Speaker: Veneta Ivanova (EUI)

  • V. Ivanova, Occult Communism: Culture, Science and Spirituality in Late Socialist Bulgaria, PhD Thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2017

Session 15, 17.30-18.00:  Wrap-Up Meeting and Conclusions


Page last updated on 06 February 2018