Transition – a Fiction of Progress (subjectivities)

by bojanboric

In the post-Socialist Eastern European context, the “transition” – is a euphemism used to describe the processes of change in the former socialist Central an Eastern European countries that started in 1989 after the collapse of Soviet Union. The “transition” meant a rapid economic and political transformation of twenty eight countries of the former Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries which is about one sixth of the Earth’s total land mass (Hirt S. and Stanilov K. 2009)

However, the term “transition” is highly contested and ambiguous. The meaning of the term extends well beyond the rationalist approach of the political economy executed through shrinking of the state, massive privatization of public assets, decentralization, and other neoliberal reforms. The term “Transition” is also problematic since it implies a linear historical progression with a beginning and a projected end toward a perceived goal. It is an attempt to frame historic period of social transformation in the post-socialist Eastern European context within an “end of history” framework of understanding. The fiction of the populist narrative and operative process of legal and institutional transformations are mutually supportive mechanisms of social transformation. Furthermore, there is also a cultural dimension related to transformation of society that has produced a specific kind of a city, today also labeled as the transitional or post-socialist city.

The social and cultural transformation of post-socialist Eastern Europe (term “post-socialist” also being a problematic terminology) is associated with the post-modernism where the ideological metanarratives are resisted through commodification of culture, populism and fragmentation. I believe that the narrative of “transition” in terms of the notion of linear path of certainty is a populist fiction that represents a period since 1989 and has after the 25 years lost its meaning in the sense of passage from socialism to market economy and free market capitalism. The transitional or post-socialist city has acquired perhaps new different meanings and today it should be either dismissed as a utopian narrative of progress or it should be studied for its “own logic” (Hirt S. 2012) and in its own right. Bauman claims that the end of socialism is the end of modernity. He links common enlightenment roots of communism and capitalism and considers both socialism and capitalism as products of modernity. According to Sonia A Hirt, post-modernism is a “cultural-epistemological shift” represented through architecture and urbanism of fragmentation, privatization, reduction of private sphere, as well as the abandonment of the ideals of emancipation, etc. Therefore it is possible to relate the post socialist post-modernist city to the Western context of post-modernism. Fredric Jameson, describes post modernism as fascinated with populism and kitsch. He avoids periodization hypotheses because it represents historical periods in linear terms presents a historic moment through massive homogenization and “obliterating differences”. This is why it is important for Jameson to view post-modernism as “cultural dominant” and not merely an aesthetic style. Such conception allows for coexistence of different features within a system of thought.

While under the under the socialist modernist state: “shaping space to shape society” (Hirt S. 2012) was the norm and according to Georg Simmel, the modernist culture was defined by the “dominance of the objective spirit over the subjective” in the post-modern world of late capitalism, the human subject is unable to keep up with evolving surroundings transforming into a “post-modern hyperspace” of the city. Jameson claims that we have not kept up with the evolution of the space since our sensibilities were shaped by the late modernity. While in modernism the imperative of planners and architects was to shape spaces in order to shape society, in transitional and the post-modern world it is the mutating hyper-space that is perceived by human subject as disorientating, ambiguous, mutating space that causes “disjunction of body and its built environment”.