Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 222222
Loughborough University

Screening Socialism

About the Project


The post-1989 wave of research into Cold War history threw into sharper relief aspects of the Cold War contest that had previously received little attention. One of these was the role of cultural forms and practices, ranging from religion, literature and the fine arts to film.  Despite this surge of interest, our knowledge of the cultural Cold War and, in particular, our understanding of the role of popular culture and everyday life in socialist societies remains patchy.  At least initially, much of the literature was focused on elite, ‘respectable’ cultural forms such as literature and theatre, while the study of media and popular culture has gathered momentum only in recent years, and has largely been restricted to the Soviet Union and, to a lesser extent, East Germany. 

Screening Socialism is an attempt to redress this balance.  Focusing on television and, in particular, on popular programming, the project will examine the role of television in everyday life under state socialism, paying particular attention to its involvement in shaping the perceptions and practices of private and public life, as well as the engagement with the passage of time. After Stalin's death, improved provision of consumer goods, increases in leisure time, and a rise in living standards were seen as a means for legitimising socialist rule. Popular television was an important conduit for this ‘privatisation’ of politics, a space where the social imaginary of the socialist ‘good life’ was shaped and debated. This project sets out to understand the causes and effects of this development. How was the changing balance and nature of private and public narratives on socialist screens affected by changes in the political, social and economic context? Did socialist television de-politicise socialist culture and undermine public engagement in political processes, or did it succeed in bringing public affairs to a much wider audience?

TV viewing Poland

Apart from being involved in the changing relationship between private and public spaces and practices, socialist television also played a role in shaping temporal routines and perceptions of time. In state socialist countries, regimes attempted to create a new sense of time, not only through constant mention of revolutionary progress, but also by overlaying the ‘bourgeois’ calendar, with its religious festivities such as Christmas and Easter, with a set of specifically socialist rituals and sacred dates. This project sets out to understand the role of television both in commemorating these dates and also helping to popularise this sense of revolutionary time. Did socialist television succeed in synchronizing daily lives with the ongoing march towards the radiant communist future? What notions of time and narratives of the past and present did popular television programmes foster, and how were these affected by the wider social context?

To investigate these questions, the project will compare the evolution of television culture in five countries in socialist Eastern Europe. The research will examine archival documents and primary source literature, and use quantitative and qualitative analysis of popular television series that will illustrate the key similarities and differences in (a) the cultural narratives promoted by popular television series, (b) changing elite attitudes towards popular entertainment, and (c) key trends in audience reception.

The project also seeks to understand the afterlife of socialist television in popular memory.  Following the fall of state socialism in Eastern Europe there has been an upsurge in scholarly interest on memories of socialism. However, this body of literature has yet to do full justice to the various dimensions of memory work in post-socialist Eastern Europe, especially with regard to the vernacular and everyday aspects of remembering. While some studies of micro-processes of memory formation have been written, the focus tends to be on vernacular memories of political events and public processes, while the more mundane memories of private, everyday life, such as family, generational relations, leisure and consumption, receive far less attention. To address this gap in the scholarship, over the course of the project 225 individuals will be interviewed about their memories of television as a way of asking how individuals remember their past lives as parents, children, teenagers, husbands, wives, neighbours, consumers, employees, rather than as participants in, or witnesses of, political events or public processes.  The aim here is both (a) to better understand the dynamics of post-socialist memory formation, its relationship to the media, and differences between different demographic groups, and (b) to gain an insight into historical audience reception patterns.


Contact us

  • +44 (0)1509 223363
  • Screening Socialism
    Brockington Building
    Loughborough University
    LE11 3TU