Project and methodologies


Most people express surprise when told that drop-out cultures existed under the repressive conditions of the Eastern European communist regimes. Such cultures suffered not only from repression meted out by the regime but also from wide-spread social condemnation. Denied access to the official public sphere, persecuted by the security organs and eyed with mistrust by the upright, socialist citizen, drop-out cultures under socialism live on mostly in the memory of their members and in the photographic and cinematic evidence of their hey-days in the 1970s and 80s. Yet this memory is quickly disappearing with its participants.


The aim of our project is thus two-fold. Firstly we intend to collect valuable evidence of and about countercultures under late socialism and make this evidence available to future researchers and those interested in the study of youth- and countercultures. The project relies on oral history as well as on sources generated by the secret service and the communist parties. It aims to recover the multiple pieces of art and writing that were produced in private by drop-out cultures as well as seek out films and photographs produced by groups who often consciously fashioned themselves through self-produced artefacts.Secondly we seek to explore the context and manifold interpretations of drop-out cultures under socialism by engaging in a concentrated dialogue with scholars from other discipline and other countries. The principal grant holders have both committed into hitherto under-documented case studies of drop-out cultures in their field of expertise, which will put much new knowledge on the historical map.

Research areas

Juliane Fürst is researching the life and world of the Soviet hippy community. The origins, development and fate of this eastern version of the global movement is so far only known in sketches and shrouded in much legend and misconceptions. Josie McLellan's research traces the gay and lesbian subcultures of communist East Berlin, from underground parties and cottaging sites, to political activism and impromtu demonstrations.

An equally important part of the project is the contextualisation of these cultures into their larger setting: late socialist societies and systems. Co-operation with scholars engaged in research into drop-out cultures in the former Soviet bloc, representing a variety of disciplines from the history of art to sociology, will provide our research with the necessary framework to ask larger questions: To what extent was it possible to drop out of socialism? What can countercultures tell us about the state of mainstream society? How did countercultures differ in East and West or between the different Eastern European and Soviet societies? Did the existence of alternative life-styles contribute to the down-fall of communism?