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Conference about ‘postcolonial’ Poland part of IU center’s 40th anniversary celebration

Documentary ‘The Wondrous World of Laundry’ will be screened

Apr 27, 2017
Old town section of Gdansk, Poland, reflected in the water at night.
Buildings in an older section of Gdańsk, Poland, reflect off the Motława River at night.

The impact of Poland’s decades-long subordination to the Soviet Union has been openly discussed, but the labels of “colonial” and “postcolonial” have been reserved for the regions that were geographically clearly separated from the colonizing countries, much as Africa and India were separated from Europe.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the Polish Studies Center at Indiana University Bloomington is hosting a two-day international symposium about Poland’s past and present within that transnational context.

On April 28 and 29 at Indiana University Bloomington, specialists from Poland, Great Britain, Brazil and Canada will join scholars from across the U.S. at the conference, “Unforeseen Constellations: Reading Postcolonial Poland with South America.”

The conference Friday will take place in the Social Science Research Commons in Woodburn 200. On Saturday, the conference moves to the Indiana Memorial Union. It occurs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days, and the public is welcome. The conference is also sponsored by a New Frontiers New Currents Conference Grant. The center is based in IU’s School of Global and International Studies.

The 2009 documentary “The Wondrous World of Laundry” (“Die wundersame Welt der Waschkraft”) will be screened at 2 p.m. April 28. The film follows the path of linens from a high-class hotel in Berlin to a laundry in the Polish working-class town of Gryfino, where workers keep washing machines spinning around the clock for low wages. Director Hans-Christian Schmidt interviewed several of the laundry women and showed their home lives. A discussion will follow.

“When Poland regained independence in 1989 and the Eastern Bloc ceased to exist soon after, no Polish scholar would call it a ‘postcolonial’ country,” said Joanna Niżyńska, director of the Polish Studies Center and an associate professor of Slavic and East European languages and cultures.

“Less than 20 years later – due to mobility and globalization of intellectual frameworks and academic discourses – the debate on the postcolonial status of Poland has become prominent, extending from academic circles into political and public discourse,” she added.

The symposium provides an opportunity for a theoretical and political intervention in this debate. Organizers hope this gathering of prominent scholars will create an opportunity for a comparative discussion of countries where the postcolonial narrative became mainstream thought, particularly in nations across South America.

“We hope that such juxtaposition will generate the vocabulary allowing us to transcend the predictable and self-entrenched positions about the postcolonial discourse in a globalizing world,” Niżyńska said.

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