Socially inherited memory, gender and the public sphere in Poland

Reading, A. 1996. Socially inherited memory, gender and the public sphere in Poland. PhD thesis University of Westminster School of Media, Arts and Design

TitleSocially inherited memory, gender and the public sphere in Poland
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsReading, A.

More recent theories of the 'revolutions' of 1989 in

the societies of Eastern and Central Europe now

suggest that the underlying dynamic was continuity

rather than disjuncture in terms of social and

political relations. Yet such theories fail to explain

the nature of and the reasons for this continuity in

terms of gender relations in the public sphere.

The thesis suggests that the clue to understanding the

nature of the gendered transformation in Poland's

public sphere in its mediated aspects between the

years 1980 and 1994 lies in the role of 'socially

inherited memory'. Socially inherited memory is the

dialectical and gendered process by which a given

society both remembers and forgets past events,

feelings, thoughts and knowledge through

representations. The key to Poland's social memory

concerns the repressed stories of political right

developed during the nation's period of identity

formation in the nineteenth century and interwar

years. Certain aspects of this social inheritance were

recalled by the Polish United Workers' Party and then

by Solidarity to legitimize their power: Because

Poland's social memory was formed around the public

exclusion of women and Poland's ethnic minorities this

resulted in the continuation of exclusionary

mechanisms and public ghettoization after World War

Two, and, in the 1980s and 1990s.

However, the evidence of the thesis also suggests that

there were sub-plots of women's resistance and

inclusion within the public sphere from at least the

nineteenth century onwards. Thus the exclusionary

impact of socially inherited memory is not an

inevitable historical process: At particular

historical moments inclusive representations of women

and ethnic minorities are recalled or reenacted in the

form of Public organisations or alternative cultural


Socially inherited memory it is suggested may provide

a useful concept for examining the (en)gendering of

the public sphere in other societies.

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