Essay Archives

All Essays

December 18th, 2009

Why no Green Revolution in Iran? 1989 vs. 2009

Submitted by Jack A. Golstone, George Mason University

The protests in Iran in June 2009, following the announcement of a dubious election victory by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were in many ways similar to those that arose in Czechoslovakia following the shooting of protestors in Prague, or in the Philippines and the Ukraine following the election frauds in those countries in 1996 and 2002. [...]

December 10th, 2009

The Public Responsibilities of Political Science

Submitted by Rogers M. Smith, University of Pennsylvania

Michael Burawoy’s 2004 American Sociological Association Presidential Address, entitled “For Public Sociology,” painted a complex picture. He delineated multiple public sociologies, particularly “traditional” public sociology, aimed at prompting discussion among mainstream publics generally, and “organic” public sociology, developed in close connection with a particular active public or, more often, “counter-public.” And he contrasted these public [...]

December 10th, 2009

America's Lobby Democracy and the Need for Citizen Lobbies

Submitted by Herbert J. Gans, Columbia University

In a representative democracy, elected officials are supposed to represent all the citizens in their constituency, but most electoral districts are large and the citizens needing representation are many as well as diverse in their interests. Moreover, some are considerably more eager and more able to be represented, notably organized interest groups, their lobbies and [...]

November 20th, 2009

Affect, Noise, Silence, Protest: Ambient Citizenship

Submitted by Lauren Berlant, University of Chicago

Intensely political seasons spawn reveries of a different immediacy. People imagine alternative environments where authenticity trumps ideology, truths cannot be concealed, and communication feels intimate, face-to-face. In these times, even politicians imagine occupying a public sphere where they might just somehow make an unmediated transmission to the body politic. “Somehow you just got to go over [...]

November 4th, 2009

After 1989 and Beyond: Three Theses

Submitted by Hauke Brunkhorst, University of Flensburg

(1) The transformations of 1989 – symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall – were not primarily European but global events. They included not only the end of the Eastern European communist empire but also significant unrest in China, the end of the Apartheid regime of South Africa, the collapse of military dictatorships across [...]

November 2nd, 2009

From Revolution to Reunification: The East German Wende Two Decades Later

Submitted by Steven Pfaff, University of Washington

In 1989, protest erupted across the socialist world, shaking capitols from Beijing to Berlin. Yet what Daniel Chirot called the world-wide “crisis of Leninism” had remarkably different origins and trajectories. While a few Communist regimes survived, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), popularly known as East Germany, was one of states that collapsed. Uniquely, its collapse [...]

November 2nd, 2009

1989 and the Theater of Politics

Submitted by Elzbieta Matynia, New School for Social Research

No matter how miraculous the turning point of 1989 appeared to be, it was hardly a miracle; rather, it was a marvelous staging of freedom in several acts, a modern performance, as it did not have one author, or even one director: it was the collective creation of self-educated citizen-actors, with its most visible grand [...]

November 2nd, 2009

Public Spheres, Private Lives, and Roundtable Negotiations in 1989 and 2009

Submitted by Michael D. Kennedy, Brown University

Even for Poland, 1989 was a surprise, but not in the same way as for other parts of the region or of the world. And that was due to the existence of a profound opposition, a mutable communist authority, and an influential and diverse set of Catholic authorities. Poles knew that transformations were likely, for [...]

November 2nd, 2009

People Power? Explaining 1989

Submitted by Konrad H. Jarausch, University of North Carolina

As the most important European event since 1945, the overthrow of Communism during 1989-1991 poses a double challenge for retrospective understanding. Because the current wave of commemorations at the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall is largely promoting an anti-Communist agenda, the democratic awakening needs to be rescued from such instru­men­ta­liza­tion by contemporary [...]

November 2nd, 2009

The Not So Lost Treasure of the Revolutionary Tradition: 1989 and the Politics of Small Things

Submitted by Jeffrey Goldfarb, New School for Social Research

I think that the kind of activity that Hannah Arendt named “the lost treasure of the revolutionary tradition” was a visible part of the transformations of 1989, and has continued to play a significant role in the politics of transformation. I believe there is no way to better mark the 20 anniversary of the fall [...]

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