Author Archives: Katherine Lebow

About Katherine Lebow

Visiting fellow at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, Vienna. Her first book, Unfinished Utopia: Nowa Huta, Stalinism, and Polish Society, 1949–1956, is forthcoming in 2013 from Cornell University Press. She is currently writing a book called The Nation Writes: Polish Everyman Autobiography from the Great Depression to the Holocaust, which deals with interwar Polish sociologists' radical experiments with "social memoir," as well as the deployment of personal narratives in a variety of late-modern academic and political discourses.

The Conscience of the Skin: Interwar Polish Autobiography and Social Rights

Between the World Wars, Polish sociologists gathered thousands of autobiographies by workers, peasants, and other “ordinary” people. The resulting body of “social memoir” can be read as an argument about social rights: authors simultaneously drew on Enlightenment ideas of subjecthood to press for enfranchisement and portrayed the limits of liberal citizenship, insisting on the embodied experience of poverty. While World War II heightened the urgency of life-writing in Poland (e.g. as testimony), however, postwar personal narratives came to be embedded in new, transnational rights discourses, through which they lost traction as arguments about specifically social rights.