Consequences of Ethnography: Knowing Violence via the Self and Its Aftermath

Organizers: Michal Šípoš and Luděk Brož (Institute of Ethnology, The Czech Academy of Sciences)
with the support of  Strategy AV21, programme: Global Con icts and Local Interactions: Cultural and Social Challenges
Venue: Villa Lana, Prague
Click here to register to the workshop!
See the pdf of the event Consequences of Ethnography_colloquium.


As Sherry Ortner famously argued, ethnography in its minimal de nition is “the attempt to understand another life world using the self—as much of it as possible—as the instrument of knowing.” It is hardly surprising that conducting ethnographic research among/with survivors of violence—be it military, community, domestic, sexual, self-in icted or another form of violence— has a strong impact on the researcher. That impact, given the nature of ethnography, then directly translates into issues that are simultaneously personal and epistemological. Implications for the ethnographically knowing subject stretch well beyond feelings of empathy with research participants, as well as beyond the space-time of the eldwork. In this colloquium, we want to address methodological questions connected to knowing violence ethnographically, such as—but not limited to—the following:

  • When conducting ethnographic eldwork, researchers are often confronted with survivors’ silence or with an urgent need to tell what survivors witnessed and endured. Does that translate into an equally polarised reaction on the side of the researcher?
    In other words, can we see increased academic productivity in some cases among ethnographers, but inhibition of speaking-writing in other cases?
  • How can we speak of trauma of research without inappropriately shifting attention from research subjects to the researcher him- or herself?
  • The needs of research subjects may significantly shape a researcher’s own trajectory in the eld. Should the researcher let research subjects take control over the project?
  • Some ethnographers who publicly voice their research agendas are targeted by various actors, including authorities, hate groups or even the perpetrators behind the violence sufered by their research subjects. How can we methodologically conceptualise such encounters as part of ethnographic endeavour? What is the epistemic role of fear in such cases?


9:20 Registration

9:50 Welcome address

10:00-11:00—Keynote speech no. 1
Veena Das (Johns Hopkins University): The Character of the Possible: Modality and Mood in the Genre of Ethnography

11:00-12:00—Keynote speech no. 2
David Mosse (SOAS, University of London): Trauma and Ethical Self-Making after Suicide: The Existential Imperative to Respond

12:00-13:00 Lunch break

13:00-14:00—Keynote speech no. 3
Jonathan Stillo (Wayne State University): “No One Leaves This Place Except the Dead”: Tuberculosis as a Socially Incurable Disease

14:00-14:15 Coffee break

14:15-16:15—Roundtable discussion
with: Petra Ezzeddine (Charles University), Jaroslav Klepal, Michal Šípoš and Václav Walach (The Czech Academy of Sciences)

Conference: New Approaches to the History of the Jews under Communism

European Association of Jewish Studies Conference, Prague

Date & Place: from 23 to 25 May 2017, Villa Lanna, Prague
Language: English
Organizers: Kateřina Čapková (Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences), Kamil Kijek (Department of Jewish Studies, University of Wrocław), Stephan Stach (Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences)


23 May 2017 

20.00 –20.30 Oleg Zhidkov (Jerusalem): The Jewish Movement in the USSR: New Sources and Perspectives (Video Testimonies)

24 May 2017 

9.00 Welcome

9.15–11.00 Panel I – Jewish Life, Religious Practise and Folklore under Soviet Communism (I)

Chair: Ilana Miller (Chicago/Prague)

  • Valery Dymshits (St Petersburg), The Boundaries of Illegal: Religious Practices and Shadow Economy in Soviet Jewish Life
  • Victoria Gerasimova (Omsk), The Jewish Community of Omsk under the Soviets, from 1940 to the 1960s: Between Tradition and Survival
  • Diana Dumitru (Chişinău), ‘It is Better to Live in Romania Than in the Soviet Union’: How Bessarabian Jews Tried and Frequently Failed to Become Soviet Citizens during Late Stalinism

11.00–11.15 Coffee break

11.15–13.00 Panel II – Literature and Jewish Identity

Chair: Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov (Warsaw)

  • Daria Vakhrushova (Düsseldorf), The Utopia of Yiddish Literature after the Revolution
  • Magdalena Ruta (Krakow), Nusekh Poyln and the ‘New Jewish Man’: The Image of the Jewish Communist in Yiddish Literature of Post-war Poland
  • Gennady Estraikh (New York), Soviet Yiddish Cultural Diplomacy, from the 1950s to 1991

13.00–14.00 Lunch

14.00–15.45 Panel III – Paths of Integration/Disintegration into the Communist Political System and Society

Chair: Michal Kopeček (Prague)

  • Galina Zelenina (Moscow), ‘Po Kurskoi, Kazanskoi zheleznoi doroge’: Jewish Private Life in the Moscow Oblast between Leisure, Underground Religion, and National Revival
  • Agata Maksimowska (Warsaw), Being Jewish in Soviet Birobidzhan
  • Kateřina Čapková (Prague), Centre and Periphery: Jewish Experience in Communist Czechoslovakia

15.45–16.15 Coffee break

16.15–18.00 Round table: The Diversity of Jewish Experiences under Communism

Chair: Marcos Silber (Haifa)

  • Zvi Gitelman (Ann Arbor)
  • Joanna Nalewajko-Kulikov (Warsaw)
  • Bożena Szaynok (Wrocław)
  • Andrea Pető (Budapest)
25 May 2017 

9.00–10.45 Panel IV – Jewish Identities and Ways of Life under Communism

Chair: Stephan Stach (Prague)

  • Anna Shternshis (Toronto), ‘I was not like everyone else’: Soviet Jewish Doctors Remember the Doctors’ Plot of 1953
  • Anna Koch (Southampton), ‘After Auschwitz you must take your origin seriously’: Perceptions of Jewishness among Communists of Jewish Origin in the Emerging German Democratic Republic
  • Kata Bohus (Frankfurt am Main), The Opposition of the Opposition: New Jewish Identities in the Samizdat of Late Communist Hungary

10.45–11.15 Coffee break

11.15–13.00 Panel V – Jewish Religious Life and Folklore under Soviet Communism II

Chair: Raphael Utz (Jena)

  • Ella Stiniguță (Cluj-Napoca), Mountain Jews and the Challenges of Ritual Life in the Soviet Caucasus
  • Mikhail Mitsel (New York), Jewish Religious Communities in Ukraine, 1945–81
  • Karīna Barkane (Riga), Beyond Assimilation: Jewish Religious Communities in the Latvian SSR

13.00–14.30 Lunch

14.30–15.45 Panel VI Jewish Transnational Encounters

Chair: Katrin Steffen (Hamburg)

  • David Shneer (Boulder), East Germany’s Jews, Their Transnational Networks, and East German Anti-Fascism
  • Eliyana R. Adler (State College/Warsaw), Strange Bedfellows: The Soviet Red Cross, Polish Jewish Refugees, and the American Joint Distribution Committee

15.45–16.15 Coffee break

16.15–17.45 Concluding Round Table

Chair: Kamil Kijek (Wrocław/Prague)

  • Audrey Kichelewski (Strasbourg)
  • Elissa Bemporad (New York)
  • Arkadi Zeltser (Jerusalem)

The experience of the Jews under the Communist régimes of east-central and eastern Europe has been a hotly debated topic of historiography since the 1950s. Until the 1980s, Cold War propaganda exerted a powerful influence on most interpretations presented in articles and books published on both sides of the ‘Iron Curtain’. Moreover, most works focused both on the relationship between the régime and the Jews living under it and on the role of the Jews in the Communist/Socialist movements and the political events connected with the rise of antisemitism and emigration.

Continue reading Conference: New Approaches to the History of the Jews under Communism