The Uncertainty of Liberation in the New West
Title: The Uncertainty of Liberation in the New West
Author: REITER, Herwig
Citation: Journal of International Relations and Development, 2009, 12, 4, 395-402
The collapse of state Socialism in Europe turned the lives of more than 300 million people in the New West (approximately the population of the USA) upside down, shattering long-established expectations associated with the system of state planning. The prescribed ‘shock therapy’ (Gligorov 1995) for rapidly transforming into capitalist market democracies also created novel contingencies within the institutional, political and biographical makeup of individual lives, ones which were unknown in the life course model of the ‘authoritarian welfare state’ (Leisering and Leibfried 1999). For instance, universal social security, though at low levels during Socialism, gave way to deregulated, residual welfare (Barr 2005), and the logic of linking education and employment shifted from controlled placement to market matching. The abolishment of the constitutional obligation (and right) to labour ended the ideological claims to comprehensive labour planning. With mass unemployment, the post-education job guarantee once characterising Socialism was now burdened with uncertainty, ‘a situation in which actors cannot predict outcomes and cannot assign probability distributions to possible outcomes’ (Beckert 1996). This essay complements the above institutional shift with findings from a study exploring its consequences for everyday life. Using the example of a young Lithuanian in his transition to the world of work, the essay explores related biographical uncertainties. The post-communist situation multiplies uncertainties inherent in life course transitions, particularly youth transitions. The reconstruction of the experiences and choices of this single case demonstrates how the external uncertainty represented in the transformation translates, on the inside of action, into ‘biographical uncertainty’ (Wohlrab-Sahr 1992). The case illustrates an analytic distinction of three dimensions of biographical uncertainty: uncertainty of outcome concerns anticipated events and results; uncertainty of knowledge refers to biographical planning and the mobilisation of experience knowledge; and uncertainty of recognition characterises the re-evaluation of the social environment. The configuration of these dimensions constitutes, in this case, the prototypical profile of the Pattern of liberation. Using these theoretical lenses, the example provides an illustration of the challenge of unexpected social change for both individuals and nations.
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