Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Socialist Anthropocene in the Visual Arts (SAVA): Ecosocialist Epistemologies

18 October 2023, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

book cover

Join us for a panel discussion on Ecosocialist Epistemologies with Weronika Parfianowicz (Institute of Polish Culture in Warsaw), Alex Petrusek (SAVA Research Fellow) and Ovidiu Ţichindeleanu (philosopher, translator and culture theorist), as part of SAVA Research Week.

This event is free.

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Institute of Advanced Studies


IAS Forum
G17, Ground Floor, South Wing, Wilkins Building
UCL, Gower Street, London
United Kingdom

The distinctive epistemologies of the Socialist Anthropocene will be explored here in reference to the environmental, scientific, cultural and intellectual histories of Poland, East Germany and Romania.

Weronika Parfianowicz (Institute of Polish Culture Warsaw) will speak on ‘Mapping discussions on ecological crisis in socialist Poland'. The discussion on the global ecological crisis in Poland challenges the stereotype of socialist states’ public sphere as a monolith where only non-substantial conflicts could be displayed. Beginning with the 1970's environmental problems on global and regional scale became an important topic of debates among experts milieus as well as the lay audience. Different approaches and perspectives on environmental issues were circulating and competing in public discourse, influencing public opinion and states’ environmental policies. In my presentation I’ll focus on some of the most interesting examples of this debate: works of scientists collaborating with The Committee of Research and Prognosis “Poland 2000” and popular science magazine “Aura”.

Alexander Petrusek (SAVA Research Fellow UCL) will give a presentation entitled ‘Towards a Socialist Anthropocene: Debating Degrowth in East Germany, 1972-1989'. Contemporary scholarship often emphasizes degrowth’s capitalism-based intellectual genealogy, omitting significant contributions from activists from socialist societies. Following the publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972, East German ecosocialists and Christians debated slow-, zero-, and degrowth concepts and practices throughout the 1970s and 1980s, presenting alternatives to growth from within socialism. Ecosocialists like Wolfgang Harich and Rudolf Bahro published systemic theories of slow- or zero-growth to address the ecological crisis, with Bahro emphasizing spiritual rather than economic growth as key to humanity’s future. Simultaneously, researchers based in the Ecclesiastical Research Center in Wittenburg, funded by the East German Protestant Church, turned to voluntary simplicity based in Christian ethics, and petitioned the party-state to reverse its growth-first policies. Together, these ecosocialist and eco-Christian perspectives offer unique criticisms of, and solutions to, the most destructive practices driving the Anthropocene. 

Ovidiu Ţichindeleanu’s talk will be ‘Seen from Romania: On the Ecological Socialism of the Future’. A common tenet of anticommunist historiography that has been adopted by large segments of Western critical theory holds that “no significant contributions to Marxism” and no theories and practices that might be relevant to our present have been developed in the experience of East European real socialism, and in particular during Romania’s totalitarian regime. My research shows that such assumptions are more ideological than factual, owing more to the biases of the coloniality of knowledge and to the influence of the post-socialist colonization than to the truth. Already from the mid-1960s, the Socialist Bloc was having intense debates on the future of socialism and on the possible socialist future of the planet. Several proposals for systemic alternatives have been advanced. The paths were different, but the consensus was that the socialism of the future had to be ecological. In Romania, major steps have been taken also in practice to prepare for the change towards an ecological socialism, which implied the transformation of the entire socioeconomy (not only of the “mode of production”). Meanwhile, the internal transfer of generations taking place in the 1970s gave a pervading ecological dimension to the entire cultural sphere. Drawing from research into the unjustly forgotten Romanian socialist library, as well as from an autoethnography of my upbringing in an experimental workers neighborhood from the city of Cluj, I will bring to evidence a few important elements from the historical development of ecological socialism, the outlines of the projected socialist river-based economy in Romania, and its contemporary relevance and obstacles.

About Socialist Anthropocene in the Visual Arts (SAVA)

Socialist Anthropocene in the Visual Arts (SAVA) sets out to radically transform current critical debates around the Anthropocene, addressing the major lacuna in existing accounts by establishing the Socialist Anthropocene as a conceptual framework that asserts the constitutive role of the environmental histories and potentialities of Socialism in the formation of the new geological age. The project is led by Dr. Maja Fowkes (UCL Institute of Advanced Studies) and funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under the UK government’s Horizon Europe funding guarantee.

About the Speakers

Weronika Parfianowicz, PhD, works at Institute of Polish Culture, University of Warsaw. Her research interests include Central European urban culture, contemporary Czech culture, housing policies, degrowth and ecosocialism. She’s author of the monograph Europa Środkowa w tekstach i działaniach. Polskie i czeskie dyskusje [Central Europe in texts and actions. Polish and Czech discussions, Warszawa 2016] and co-editor of collective monograph Awangarda/underground. Idee, historie, praktyki w kulturze polskiej i czeskiej [Avant-garde/Underground. Ideas, histories, practices in Polish and Czech culture, Kraków 2018]. Currently she’s working on a project devoted to environmental challenges in socialist Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Alexander Petrusek is a historian of modern Germany, the environment, and the global Cold War. He completed his PhD in History at Rutgers University in January 2022, and holds a BA in History and a BA in Political Science from Arizona State University. His work draws upon methodologies in history, sociology, and social psychology to engage more deeply with the ideals that drove socialist activism, and this activism’s role in shaping our contemporary world. At the IAS, Alexander will work with the Socialist Anthropocene in the Visual Arts (SAVA) team in presenting distinctly socialist contributions to hitherto West- and capitalist-centric understandings of the Anthropocene. Through the Socialist Anthropocene framework, Alexander will explore East German socialists’ contributions to degrowth theory and activism in the 1970s and 1980s, specifically in utilizing the planned economy to equitably distribute increasingly scarce resources.

Ovidiu Ţichindeleanu is a Romanian philosopher, translator and culture theorist, writing on critical social theory, decolonial thought, alternative epistemologies, histories of senses and cultural history. He is editor of the journal of contemporary art and critical theory IDEA arts + society and co-founder of the Comittee for Resurrection, a fluid curatorial collective created with Raluca Voinea and Igor Mocanu in 2017, and of the African-Balkan-Caribbean Society in 2018. Fellow of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (2022). He has translated into Romanian books by Jean Casimir, Gilles Deleuze, Arturo Escobar, Silvia Federici, Lewis Gordon, Jason Hickel, Sylvia Marcos, Walter Mignolo, Immanuel Wallerstein, Ivan Illich, Peter Sloterdijk and Rolando Vázquez. Recent articles include “Intimate Colonization” in Ana Vilenica (ed), Lexicon of Decoloniality in Eastern Europe (2023) and “A Specter Is Not Haunting Europe”, in Ciprian Mureşan, Communism Never Happened, IDEA & Galeria Plan B, Cluj, 2022.