UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Bohdana Kurylo on 'The Power of the Powerless' and Marta Kotwas on 'Kitsch Politics'

17 May 2018, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

Social Science Research Student Seminar

Event Information

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Masaryk Room, 4th Floor, UCL SSEES 16 Taviton St, London

Bohdana Kurylo: 'The Power of the Powerless in the Context of Emergency: Security and Civil Society'

The Power of the Powerless in the Context of Emergency: Security and Civil Society

Post-communist states today have been saturated with security concerns framed under the paradigm of emergency. On one side, populist politicians across East-Central Europe have eagerly capitalised on the European refugee crisis to fuel a nationalist agenda revolving around challenged national identities and economy. On the other, the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict has kept Ukraine a doorstep from declaring a state of emergency for the past four years. The goal of preserving national security in the conditions of an existential threat can justify measures starkly incompatible with democratic principles, encroaching on the activity of civil society. Might civil society still speak truth to power in extreme conditions? What is ‘the power of the powerless’ in the context of emergency?

This project investigates the role of civil society in emergency politics with a focus on Poland and Ukraine. It draws on securitisation theory, hermeneutics and civil society research to provide a nuanced understanding of post-communist civil society as a security actor. Probing new ways in which civil society can counterpoise state power reveals the possibility of ‘bottom-up’ security at times when democracy seems to appear in its downfall. The contribution will be of interest to scholars of Security Studies and International Relations as well as Area Studies.

Bohdana Kurylo is a PhD candidate at UCL SSEES and the recipient of the Victor and Rita Swoboda Memorial Scholarship and the Overseas Research Scholarship. Her project is supervised by Felix Ciuta and Jan Kubik. Bohdana’s previous publications have addressed the topics of global governance, Russian politics, consumer culture and security theory.

Marta Kotwas: 'Kitsch Politics. The relationship between political and cultural populism in Poland'

Marta Kotwas Kałków-Godów 2016

My project is devoted to the cultural mechanisms that have contributed to the rise of right-wing populism in Poland. I want to develop an original framework suitable for analysing the connections and mutual influences between symbolic shifts in the “official” political discourses on the one hand, and the ever-evolving vernacular cultures, on the other hand. My framework will be constructed around the concept of kitsch, which I see as a key to defining cultural populism.

Investigating the mechanisms of populist support strike me as a pressing issue for present-day social sciences and I believe the Polish case presents itself as an excellent example which can be observed and analysed as the political situation unfolds. My interdisciplinary approach and focus on cultural mechanisms offer an opportunity to address the missing third element in the studies on populism and therefore complement the economic inequality and anti-liberal backlash theories.

Marta Kotwas holds a Philosophy MA from University of Lodz, Poland. She is a recipient of ESRC UBEL Doctoral Training Programme studentship. Her current research focuses on socio-cultural interpretations of the rise of right-wing populism in CEE. As a feminist activist involved with a Polish grassroots movement Dziewuchy London she is also actively engaged in the public debate on reproductive rights and women’s rights in Poland.

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