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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 3.44

Practicing change. Activism and civic engagement as alternative political practices in Eastern Ukraine.


  • Justyna SZYMAŃSKA

Primary authors

  • Justyna SZYMAŃSKA (Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, University of Warsaw)


The future of civil society and prospective models of political development has been ongoing questions in Ukraine for years, especially after Euromaidan. Recent reforms may have led to a livelier public sphere, more active public debate and more intensive political participation, yet they seem to have done little to end the predatory and clientelistic practices of political elites. Meanwhile one of the most commonly used words to describe these times of transition is changing 'postsocialist mentality' into 'democratic' one (Riabchuk and Lushnycky 2009). All those staying behind are labelled as ‘not modern’, ‘not democratic’ and ‘not active’ – especially those living on eastern border. In my presentation I would like to show the phenomena of activism and civic engagement in Donbas monofunctional towns situated in Ukrainian government-controlled territory of the region. The influent external models of democratization create new modes of engagement functioning on intersection of foregoing and alluvial models of 'being a citizen', new patterns of adjustment to political and social reality and re-gaining agency. I intend to highlight actions of formal and semi-formal groups which forms of activism aim to create counter-spaces and counter-practices gradually and discreetly, so they actions often go unnoticed without ethnographic toolkit. I distance my point of research from classical understatement of 'social movement' (Touraine 1995, 2010) and turn instead to the meanings of ever-present commodification of the public space and counter-spaces understand as 'spaces occupied by the symbolic and the imaginary' or an 'initially utopian alternative to actually existing „real” space' (Lefebvre 1991).