15. 04. 2022

CfP: The Watchful Society


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 2022
Submission deadline: 15 April 2022


Call for Papers (PDF)

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

Sexuality is probably the most private area of human life. Yet modern states interfere with this
sphere in various ways, beginning with the legislative frameworks for gender relations and
extending to the definition of legitimate sexual desire and the legal regulation of reproductive
decisions. The realization of such norms determined by laws always requires the participation
of many individuals, however. Without people dedicating their attention and activity to the
enforcement of a norm – be it of an ethical-moral, legal, or societal kind – that norm has no

When the communist parties in East-Central and Southeast Europe came into power following
the Second World War, they offered a promise of comprehensive renewal extending all the
way down to the individual private sphere. Among other things, socialism was expected to
establish a new gender order and liberate the people from repressive “bourgeois” and churchdictated
sexual morals. As research in recent years has shown, this project delivered conflicting
outcomes. A relatively progressive legislation compared to many Western European countries
on the one hand was accompanied by considerable pressure to conform as well as limited and
strictly defined individual latitude for decision-making – especially with regard to sex and the
body – 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 Southeast
Europe 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 focus
of much scholarly attention. The interaction between these two axes has only been examined
sporadically as well. We are therefore particularly interested in forms of monitoring sexuality
that occurred below the governmental level.

The conference targets firstly the institutions, professions, and individuals who implemented
or 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 the
state, we are explicitly interested in informal vigilance in the area of sexual behaviour
occurring 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 to
eliminate as conveyors of values. Possible questions in this context are: To what degree did the
new socialist sexual morals depart from norms established by religion; what conflicts arose
from this situation; and where did potential intersections exist or processes of reconcilement
between religious and socialist sexual morals take place? Finally, what did this mean for the
enforcement of the “socialist morals” as a whole?

Thirdly, we wish to investigate and discuss the regimes of observation and disciplining applied
to persons whose behaviour did not conform to the dominant sexual norms. Who and what
was policed, tabooed, discriminated, or characterized as a threat to socialist society? Was
(alleged) cultural, social, political, or religious deviance of individuals and groups from the
socialist framework of norms sexualized, and if so, how? Lastly, what consequences could such
exclusion 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 boundaries
of what could be said and depicted in the areas of sexuality, eroticism, and corporality changed
over the years. Which taboos disappeared, what remained improper or scandalous, and what
conclusions 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 in
which – even under the conditions of authoritarian rule – key rules of human coexistence were
continuously negotiated and “made”. The underlying scholarly interest is the question of the
connection between vigilance in the area of sexuality and the cohesion of socialist societies. In
other words: What role did the watchfulness of the many with regard to “correct” sexual
behaviour, gender roles, relationships, and family models play in the development of state
socialisms, and what became of the ideals propagated during the early years?
The study period is specified as the years between 1945 and 1989. Comparative contributions
extending 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 conference
language is English. We plan to publish all contributions in the Collegium Carolinum publication
series. 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

Contact: christiane.brenner[at]collegium-carolinum.de