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Critical Thinking in Slovakia after Socialism

Critical Thinking in Slovakia after Socialism

Jonathan L. Larson
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Critical Thinking in Slovakia after Socialism
    Book Description:

    Critical thinking is considered the civic virtue of a liberal democracy. Citizens who think for themselves, cooperate, and can agree to disagree are the hallmark of a self-governing society. Citizens of nondemocratic societies, however, are believed to lack this virtue. Authoritarian regimes, it is thought, smother critical discourse through fear and dull critical thought through the control of information and dissemination of propaganda. Since the end of Communist rule in 1989, Western agents of democratization and educational development have criticized the residents of the former Czechoslovakia for this deficiency. In fact, these critics aver that the Slovaks' inability to think critically is the reason the nation has struggled to integrate with Western Europe. Critical Thinking in Slovakia after Socialism interrogates the putative relationship between critical thought and society through an ethnographic study of civic discourse in post-1989 Slovakia. Drawing on original fieldwork as well as on anthropological theories of language and culture, Jonathan Larson uncovers traces of patterned elements of criticism throughout the Slovak political discourse. In addition he exposes ways that these discursive practices have been misinterpreted and overlooked, and outlines unexpected historical and interactive limitations on criticism. This important volume, bringing together scholarship on East Central Europe, liberalism, education, and the public sphere, gives students of modern history, political science, and economics fresh perspective on an essential civic skill. Jonathan L. Larson is Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iowa.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-792-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    It was a hot Saturday morning when I set off from Bratislava’s central bus station with Elena and Karol for a hike. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is well connected by bus to outlying villages nestled in the Small Carpathian Mountains, the range that flows gently into the center of the city from its start several dozen kilometers to the north. After meeting up that morning in the station, these two new acquaintances in their mid twenties suggested a route whereby we would hop on a line to one village, hike up into the mountains, and come down either in...

  8. Chapter 1 Separation, Judgment, and Laments of Civic Criticism
    (pp. 25-64)

    What is criticism? To a speaker of English the question might seem hopelessly broad, prompting the reply, In what context? After all, building on the Greek rootkrisiswe have other lexemes—such as “critic,” “to criticize,” “to critique,” and “critical”—the semantic domains of which vary beyond their parts of speech. These might include a person who evaluates (such as an art, theater, or literary critic), the act of finding fault, rigorous analysis, and something essential or in a state of crisis. These terms might all further evoke assumptions based on a person’s experience with criticism: a tool of...

  9. Chapter 2 Civility and Crisis in the Slovak Public Sphere
    (pp. 65-103)

    Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution of late 1989 has been memorialized in the West as a model for peaceful political transitions from one-party states to pluralism. This image was further reinforced three years later when Czechoslovakia split with minimal physical violence into the independent Slovak Republic and Czech Republic on January 1, 1993. Indeed, while these events were consistent with the nonviolent political transitions that took place in other East Central European states such as the German Democratic Republic, Poland, and Hungary, still other parts of Eastern Europe such as Romania and the former Yugoslavia did not see such peaceful mass politics....

  10. Chapter 3 Sentimental Kritika
    (pp. 104-131)

    “Those who would be against the triangle would be against everything beautiful and progressive that we’ve created.” This line, from the 1964 Slovak filmPrípad Barnabáš Kos(The case of Barnabáš Kos) is representative of a type of bombastic declaration with which scholars of Eastern Europe socialist language are likely familiar.¹ It spoke of progress in absolute terms. It captured the world through a Manichean lens. Above all, it promoted a banal musical instrument as a symbol for global revolution. Surely this was either a prerposterous exaggeration or high parody. The film’s depiction of the rise of an inconsequential trianglist’s...

  11. Chapter 4 Love, L’udskost’, and Education for Democracy
    (pp. 132-157)

    For at least a century binary oppositions of alienation and intimacy have informed Western theories of how political orders disempower or empower their subjects to public critical discourse. We have seen how some Czechoslovaks, in varying degrees of dialogue with this North Atlantic intellectual heritage, deployed similar thinking to mobilize revolutionary protest in 1989. The most famous name that many participants and observers gave to events in the former Czechoslovakia, the Velvet Revolution (Slovak:Zamatová revolúcia), carried the dual meaning in Slovak and Czech of soft, tactilely comforting cloth and the adjective “tender”: tender in means, but also in the...

  12. Chapter 5 Young Literary Critics
    (pp. 158-178)

    Literacy and distinctive forms of reading are frequently invoked in Western popular discourse as keys to political empowerment and the sustainability of critically thinking publics. For instance, twenty years ago commentator Eric D. Hirsch sparked controversy in the United States with his plea for educational standards of “cultural literacy,” based on knowledge of and exposure to “great books.” Hirsh’s program, to some, seemed naively essentialist; one prominent educational theorist, Henry Giroux, called instead for “critical literacy . . . as part of a moral and political project that links the production of meaning to the possibility for human agency, democratic...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 179-186)

    This book has explored discourses on critical thinking through practices that Slovaks and Westerners expected critical thinking to inhabit in Slovak society after the collapse of Communist rule. These interlocutors pointed to ways in which they saw criticism being practiced in the public sphere and the nation’s classrooms and found it deficient for the post-Communist, democratic, or capitalist order that they wished to emerge. I have used this commentary as the basis for exploring how veritably we could speak of a whole society as exhibiting or lacking critical thought. I have sought to situate the laments that I heard of...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 187-208)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-230)
  16. Index
    (pp. 231-240)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)