Sub-Cultures as Integrative Forces

in East-Central Europe



East-Central Europe is a prime example of a region shaped by ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity. It has also witnessed some of the most dramatic social and political upheavals in 20th century history, with results that remain acutely relevant.


This project uses an experimental definition of the term ‘sub-cultures’ to advance research into the formation, definition and contestation of ‘cultural identity’ in the region – a subject of continued import in the Humanities and political discussion alike.


In short: we define ‘sub-cultures’ not in traditional terms as (for instance) subaltern or youth groups, but as groups with wider, hybrid forms of cultural self-expression (linguistic, religious, other practices) and multiple or simultaneous belonging. As such, they cross over and integrate ‘majority’, ‘minority’ cultures and ‘ethnic groups’.


We will explore this definition through a series of project-specific, parallel and contrastive case studies spanning 1900-present; plus a number of international collaborations via seminars, workshops, conferences and other publications (including the East- and East-Central European Seminar: programme here). Our aim is to offer a valuable new way of understanding simultaneous forms of identification in the region, with relevance within and beyond academic research.


This website will form a portal for our findings and events; anyone interested in collaborating or knowing more is welcome to get in touch and join our mailing list in due course. 



Key Questions


1.      How do ethno-linguistic and religious groups develop complex, multi- layered forms of identity?

2.       What are the processes of cultural and linguistic interaction within and outside these groups, i.e. between each individual group and the dominant culture; as well as the host state; inside individual groups; and between different minorities?

3.       What is the role of history, memory, imagination and myth in the formation of ethnically multi-layered identity?

4.       What is the significance of language in shaping such identities?

5.       What types of multi-layered identification can be established across different ECE cities and periods, and can these be framed using ‘subcultures as integrative forces’?


Primary methodologies


Social anthropology, historical studies, linguistics, discourse analysis



Project components


Four major, wholly-funded, parallel research projects:




Dr Fellerer, a linguist, will study multi-layered linguistic identities among L’viv’s Greek-Catholic ‘Ukrainians’ around 1900: how they engaged in complex communicative networks, partly in Ukrainian, partly in the culturally dominant Polish, and partly in the Monarchy's quasi-state language, German. The domain studied will be Ukrainian secondary schools, with sources such as correspondence with the regional school board, curricula, yearbooks and directors’ reports. He will then explore equally complex linguistic identities among Łódź’s Polish-Jewish-German workforce under Russian occupation around 1900. The focus will be on factory and early labour movement records from the textile industry held in the State Archive in Lódź, e.g. workers’ committee meetings, complaint proceedings with patrons, records of industrial actions. The material will be submitted to historical sociolinguistic study, asking what patterns of using different languages can tell us about multilingual identity.




Dr Turda, a historian, will explore and compare Jewish and German subcultural identities in the cities of Cluj and Timişoara during the interwar period: how these communities related and interacted with the Romanian nation building project. Specifically, the CI will contrast the manner in which these German and Jewish subcultures employed memory and myth to diagnose a perceived sense of alienation; and how their sense of identity was shaped by the degree of integration and assimilation into their new host nation-state. Core source material will include hitherto new archival material held at the National Archives in Cluj and Timişoara.




The project’s fully-funded D.Phil. (Ph.D.) student will investigate historical narratives about fused cultural identities in Communist Wroclaw of Lower Silesia (1956-1980). The post-Stalinist ideological context, less monolithic than often assumed, produced a variety of identity-building discourses. These were premised on Silesia’s strong sense of regional separateness and its complicated, nationally highly charged Polish-German-Czech legacy




Dr Pyrah, a cultural historian, will investigate Polish and German subcultural identities in now-Ukrainian L’viv and now-Polish Wrocław respectively, using historical and discourse analysis. In both cities these groups were the culturally and politically dominant majorities before 1945. A key hypothesis will be that today they exist in the interstices of local and national identity building projects and resist full assimilation into either. Questions under scrutiny include: how these groups are framed by civic and national policies; how they market their own identities locally and within their ‘home’ national contexts (using civic initiatives or newspapers). Source material will be drawn from interviews, to include local elites; local government archival records on minority policy; minority press; websites; records of cultural initiatives, e.g. festivals.




In addition, collaborative workshops, international conferences, and seminars (plus publications and podcasting)


Project contacts


Drs Jan Fellerer, Robert Pyrah and Marius Turda

(email addresses via contact search)



Please check back soon for further information and a fuller site



Links - Project sponsor - Faculty home, University of Oxford - Project host and office, University of Oxford