Working group

Eastern Europe as Laboratory of Change

This is an interdisciplinary research group of the Max Weber Programme, organised for the presentation of work in progress and for discussion of societal challenges with a special focus on their manifestation in Eastern Europe. Max Weber postdoctoral fellows and other EUI scholars participate.

After the dramatic events of 1989, Eastern Europe has frequently been called a laboratory of change. Within a short period, the region experienced the collapse of Empire, war, genocide, the birth of new states, the vanishing of others, the breakdown of socialism, deep economic crisis, massive emigration and the embrace of capitalism and democracy. Its countries have also become part of broader European and global changes, as members or aspiring members of the European Union and through integration in globalizing capitalism. More recently, some East European countries have become laboratories for illiberal change, while others have been experimenting with radical neoliberal reforms.

1989 was by far not the first time that Eastern Europe has undergone such sweeping changes. The resulting unsettled nature of Eastern Europe’s borders, identity, economic, social and political orders have often led to its negative stereotyping and orientalising from without, and self-orientalising from within. Yet, the propensity for frequent and often radical change is inextricably linked with the region’s peripheral status, and its location between two influential powers, Russia and Germany.

Peripherality has given rise to repeated and often frustrated attempts of catching up with the West. The region’s location has destined it to become the plaything of Russian and German ambitions. At the same time, being a crossroad and place of exchange, also attests to Eastern Europe’s capacity to innovate, and influence events beyond its borders. As such, rather than its “other”, Eastern Europe is very much part of Europe, sharing the best and worst legacies of the continent.

Despite the rich propensity for change and innovation and its centrality for European history, economy and politics, academic interest in Eastern Europe is on the wane. In some countries in the region, academic freedom has come again under attack, while in Western Europe’s social science there is declining interest in substantive area specific knowledge. The research group seeks to stem this tide. It invites fellows who are interested in exploring aspects of East European specificities, also in a comparative perspective. It is interested in the changes the region has gone through in its recent and more remote history and these changes’ lasting legacies; the challenges it faces, and its importance beyond its borders. It also encourages to explore methodological aspects of studying change within the region and beyond from a multidisciplinary perspective.

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