Reading East of the Berlin Wall

In this article, Roar Lishaugen and Jiřina Šmejkalová discuss methodological challenges in the study of the history of reading in former Soviet satellite states.

Cover of the journal PMLA vol. 134 (1) January 2019
Photo: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America

A different story

Western scholarship tends to perceive, problematically, the history of reading as a linear narrative that dovetails with the development of democracy and modern statehood. However, east of the Berlin Wall, the production and reception of books did not represent an instrument of democratization.

"Hybrid readership"

To comprehend reading practices in totalitarian states, Lishaugen and Šmejkalová warn against relying on a simplistic notion of censorship and rather explore complex sociocultural dynamics: reading as a tool of social engineering, everyday practices generated by state-controlled publishing, private networks, and the material dimension of access to printed texts. 

The authors argue that it was not the Soviet-style control that defined reading practices. Rather the mobility of texts and readers generated a «hybrid readership» within a network that every individual reader had to build according to his or her capacities, needs, social networks and horizons.


The publication is available at Publications of the Modern Language Association of America.

By Roar Lishaugen
Published May 27, 2019 10:21 PM - Last modified June 14, 2019 11:05 AM