Gulag Town, Company Town–Barenberg responds

First of all, I want to thank: Steve Harris and Steve Barnes for taking the time to organize these blog conversations; Ana, Ekaterina, Asif, Wilson, and Jeff for taking the time to read my book with such care and offer their comments; and Yale University Press for facilitating the discussion. Second, I want to apologize for how long it’s taken me to formulate my first response. I’ve been traveling, and this has prevented me from sitting down to write something that is equal to the very high standards set by my fellow participants!

I’ll now take some time to respond to some of the questions and comments that the panelists have offered, in the hopes that this will then spark more questions and conversation about my book. I’ll start with what seem to be some common themes in the responses.

Continue reading

Enchanting Views: Romanian Black Sea Tourism Planning and Architecture of the 1960s and 70s

Congratulations to our colleagues on launching this new book!
 
Vederi_F2_rgb-0The volume is an extension of the main research themes explored by the exhibition Enchanting Views. Romanian Black Sea Tourism Planning and Architecture of the 1960s and 70s, held in the Sala Dalles of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest between 10 October and 23 November 2014.
Inviting recognized authors from the fields of history and theory of architecture, art history, film and anthropology, the volume re-examines the experience of post-war modernity on the Romanian coast in a more nuanced way pointing: the sensitive conjunctions between the “social engagement” of the extensive development project on the Romanian seaside and the policies of (re)presenting local tourism; between the exceptional status this architectural laboratory acquired at the time and the architect’s complex motivations for taking part in the debates of post-war architectural culture.
The authors’ interventions argue for a rewriting of the meanings contained by the complex terrain of the seaside project during socialism and for mobilizing new theoretical and cultural references, renegotiating the multiple dimensions of leisure architecture. The publication provides a comparative reading of the Romanian seaside, including a series of three texts dedicated the Bulgarian, Turkish and Russian Black Sea Coast. Authors: T. Elvan Altan, Irina Băncescu, Elke Beyer, Adina Brădeanu, Anke Hagemann, Claude Karnoouh, Olga Kazakova, Juliana Maxim, Carmen Popescu, Magda Predescu, Adelina Ștefan, Irina Tulbure, Ana Maria Zahariade.
 

Continue reading

Vorkuta’s Many Histories

There is a lot to say about Alan Barenberg’s deeply researched book Gulag Town, Company Town: Forced Labor and Its Legacy in Vorkuta, partly because there are so many ways to approach it critically as a work of scholarship. The history of the Gulag and the history of urbanization in the Soviet era are two obvious points of reference, but the book could also be offered as a meta-narrative on the transition from Stalinism to post-Stalinism and how that passage was contingent, complicated, and colored by historical memory: the late Soviet period had elements of the Stalinist past, and Stalinist past had embedded in it the roots of the post-1953 Soviet Union. This kind of articulation, of effacing the firm boundaries that one might seemingly expect in Soviet history, across time (think 1917, 1953, etc.), across space (the “Gulag/Ne Gulag” problem, in Oleg Khlevniuk’s formulation, for example), and across populations (“free” workers and prisoners) are at the heart of the Alan’s fascinating book. Continue reading

Work in the Soviet Arctic

Alan Barenberg’s fascinating book Gulag Town, Company Town presents different stages in the life of the town of Vorkuta. The story is based on rich archival material and numerous interviews, mostly with former Gulag prisoners or their relatives. In the beginning of the 1930s, high-quality coal was discovered above the Arctic Circle of European Russia. Shortly afterwards, a decision was made to begin building a rapidly growing Soviet forced-labor camp. During the Second World War, the construction began of a town, separate from the camp complex. Continue reading

Vague Borders: Blurred But Still There

The study of one city as a litmus test for broader issues is becoming very widespread because a particular urban case gives an excellent opportunity to trace the formation and unexpected intersections of different processes on the ground level over the long term. However, the main (and rather obvious) challenge of a deep analysis of one case is the question of scale – how to estimate what is typical and what is original in that particular story, how to combine internal and external factors, and many other issues related to the levels of analysis. Alan Barenberg’s Gulag Town, Company Town: Forced Labor and Its Legacy in Vorkuta gives a good example of how to put the story of a particular settlement into a broader and more complicated context. Continue reading

The Remaking of a Gulag Town and the Fate of Socialist Urbanity after Stalin

In recent years, scholars have demonstrated the critical role that the Gulag played in building socialism under Stalin, the exercise of power and ideology in this totalitarian regime, and ordinary people’s interactions with the Stalinist state. While much of the Gulag’s history in the Stalin era remains to be examined, a few scholars have begun to explore how its post-Stalinist dismantling and transformation shaped Soviet state and society in subsequent decades. 9780300179446A chief example of this recent scholarship is Alan Barenberg’s Gulag Town, Company Town: Forced Labor and Its Legacy in Vorkuta (Yale University Press, 2014). In this richly researched study of Vorkuta, Barenberg (Texas Tech University), chronicles how a town and its residents participated in the larger transformation of the Gulag during and after Stalin’s rule. For students of socialist cities, this book is of critical importance for several reasons.

First, Barenberg’s study is one of the few we have on a particular category of socialist cities: the Gulag town. Alongside other categories–such as atom cities and closed cities–the Gulag town was a peculiar type of Soviet city that scholars have only begun to examine in studies of socialist urbanity. His book, therefore, contributes to our understanding of the different types of cities (and their respective planning, economy, political functions, and social composition) that socialist regimes developed over the course of the 20th century. Continue reading

Summer School on Late Socialism (1956-85): The Forgotten Years between Stalinism and Perestroika. July 24-31, 2015

The controversies and legacy of the last three decades of the Soviet Union prior to perestroika have not rendered a simple overarching theory. The Tallinn Summer School in Social and Cultural Studies will bring together leading scholars and PhD students who are interested in discussing the Soviet Union from late 1950s to early 1980s, covering the period that has been labelled the time of “thaw” and “stagnation” but also “mature” or “late” socialism.

Continue reading

CFP Sources of Urbanity in Post-Industrial Cities / Mapping Visaginas

We write to inform you about “Mapping Visaginas: An International Summer School on Sources of Urbanity in Post-Industrial Cities” that we are organising in Visaginas, the satellite town of a former nuclear power plant in north-eastern Lithuania, from 20 Sept – 3 Oct 2015 within the frame of the DAAD Go East Programme.

CfP Sources of Urbanity _ Mapping Visaginas final-1

Continue reading

Cracks in the Curtain Wall – Beyond an Architecture of Cleanliness

 

From 4th May till 9th August 2015 – Interdisciplinary Lab at Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Under the title “Cracks in the Curtain Wall – Beyond an Architecture of Cleanliness“ the Bauhaus Lab 2015 focuses on the new material culture of modern architecture from a hitherto little noticed perspective, that is, cleaning. Modernism clothed products and buildings in smooth, clean and hard surfaces out of artificial, industrially produced materials. Principles of cleanliness, efficiency, and hygiene were highly valued – which operating infrastructures were required to maintain a glass curtain wall though remains largely ignored.

Continue reading