REES, in conversation with……Dr Agnieszka Kościańska, Leverhulme Visiting Professor

Dr Agnieszka Kościańska joined our Russian and East European Studies centre in the midst of lockdown and, as restrictions in the UK are now being lifted, we caught up with Agnieszka to ask her about her experience here so far.


Was it a difficult decision to go ahead with your planned visit to Oxford during lockdown?


I arrived in Oxford just before the January lockdown. Earlier, for months, I had been deliberating – should I come as planned, or should I re-schedule. Of course, it would be wonderful to be here under regular circumstances and I am hoping for a glimpse of that during the second part of my stay, but I must admit that – even with lockdown – so far it has been a very fruitful stay.


What have been your main activities during the last few months?

I tried to make the best possible use of online teaching opportunities. During Hilary Term, I taught a class on sexuality under and after socialism in Central-Eastern Europe. Actually, doing this online allowed me to organize virtual meetings with the authors we read for the class, including major specialists in the field such as Prof. Kristen Ghodsee from the University of Pennsylvania, Prof. Kateřina Lišková from Masaryk University in Brno and Prof. Hadley Renkin from Central European University.


Furthermore, I talked to the students about research during the pandemic. Our conversations inspired me to organize, together with Dr Nicolette Makovicky, a roundtable discussion that brought together researchers with experience in both in-person and digital ethnography and specialists in ethics and data management in search for answers to questions such as: How do we construct our online fieldwork and build rapport with our research participants?  How can we conduct online research ethically? How do we choose a proper platform for our interviews? How can we accommodate the choice of our respondents while following advice from our Universities’ IT departments?


Finally, I would like to add that Oxford is generally a good place to be during lockdown – it has amazing parks and footpaths. I did a lot of walks!


You mentioned a roundtable on ethics but have you also been involved in other research-based seminars?


Yes! Dr Makovicky and I convened the REES ‘Thursday Seminar Series’ during Hilary Term focusing on the development of authoritarianism and radical right in the region and on protests against them. Because seminars were held online we were able to invite speakers from both Europe and the US. For instance Dr Juraj Buzalka (Comenius University) presented his work on post-peasant populism in Slovakia, Dr Agnieszka Pasieka (University of Vienna/Yale University) discussed radical nationalism and youth activism, Dr Kristof Szombati (Max Plank Institute for Social Anthropology) talked about illiberal paternalist poverty governance in Hungary, while Professor Sunnie Rucker-Chang (University of Cincinnati) spoke on emancipatory blackness in Southeast Europe and Dr Olga Onuch (University of Manchester) on protesters in Belarus. During this series, I also presented my own research on Catholic involvement into pro-choice protests in Poland. I addressed a number of issues relating to Catholicism and reproduction: how it is possible that so many Catholics decided to take part in pro-choice marches openly opposing official Catholic teaching on birth control? What were their motivations? And  what are the genealogies of the concepts underpinning these motivations? Overall, this series was a great success and attracted good audiences.


The issue of populism and authoritarian is also in the centre of Gender Wars: East and South, an international research network examining the contemporary backlash against gender and sexual rights across Latin America and East Central Europe in a cross-regional perspective, which Dr Makovicky and I are developing now. In collaboration with colleagues from the University of Warsaw, the University of Amsterdam, Central European University, the University of Brasilia and the University of Bahia, we are planning to take a closer look a conservative backlash against women's and LGBTQ rights in the two regions. We are planning a series of workshops, roundtable discussions as well as an exhibition by Karol Radziszewski, the major Polish queer artist.


I recall you have also had some major developments with book publications this year?


Yes, this has been a good year for me with two of my books being published in English. Gender, Pleasure, and Violence: The Construction of Expert Knowledge of Sexuality in Poland, (Polish edition – 2014) was published by Indiana University Press in January, and To See a Moose: The History of Polish Sex Education (Polish edition – 2017) in May with Berghahn Books. I attended several online events presenting my research from the two books, including at the Harvard Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the University of Pennsylvania, the New School for Social Research and the University of Maryland.


And have you found any time to work on any new research so far?

I’ve been working on my new research project on sexualized racism in Poland. Anti-immigrant racist rhetoric and conservative notions of gender and sexuality contributed greatly to right wing parties’ electoral successes in Poland and throughout Central Europe. Although the fear of migrants is often gendered and sexualized, researchers have tended to analyse the region’s contemporary conflicts around migration and gender/sexuality separately. In my research I am interested in how sexuality, gender and race/ethnicity intersect in Poland and what these intersections say about the construction of Polish masculinity, femininity and national identity.


Thank you Agnieszka and may we wish you good luck and good health during the rest of your year here in Oxford!