Critical Thinking in Slovakia after Socialism

April 2013
14 black and white illustrations
260 pages
9x6 in
Rochester Studies in East and Central Europe
ISBN: 9781580464376
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC HIS010010, HIS037070, POL005000

Critical Thinking in Slovakia after Socialism

Jonathan L. Larson

Critical Thinking in Slovakia after Socialism interrogates the putative relationship between critical thought and society through an ethnographic study of civic discourse in post-1989 Slovakia.
Critical thinking is the civic virtue of a liberal democracy. Citizens who think for themselves, cooperate, and can agree to disagree are the hallmark of a self-governing society. People from undemocratic societies, however, are often believed to lack this virtue, because authoritarian regimes smother critical discourse through fear and dull critical thought through the control of information and propaganda. After the end of Communist rule in 1989, Western agents of democratization and educational development chided the residents of the former Czechoslovakia for this deficiency, claiming that the Slovaks' inability to think critically was the reason the nation struggled to integrate with Western Europe.
Critical Thinking in Slovakia after Socialism examines this putative relationship between critical thought and society through an ethnographic study of post-1989 Slovakia. Drawing on original fieldwork and anthropological theories of language and culture, Jonathan Larson uncovers patterns of social analysis and criticism in Slovak political discourse. He exposes ways in which these discursive practices have been misinterpreted and explains their underlying dynamics in Slovak society. This important volume, bringing together scholarship on East Central Europe, liberalism, education, and the public sphere, gives students of modern history, politics, and culture a fresh perspective on a skill essential to civil society.

Jonathan L. Larson is visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iowa.

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Table of Contents

Separation, Judgment, and Laments of Civic Criticism
Civility and Crisis in the Slovak Public Sphere
Sentimental Kritika
Love, L'udskost' and Education for Democracy
Young Literary Critics


[T]his sophisticated and unique work is a great accomplishment . . . Larson's work should be of great interest to scholars in anthropology and beyond. PoLAR

[A] very valuable account of the development of (il)liberal 'culture' after socialism. It might not only be applied to other post-socialist contexts but also to the analysis of the proliferation of Western understandings of critical liberal thought worldwide. SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY

[A] welcome addition to the scholarship on contemporary Slovakia . . . The book demonstrates that it is possible to think through a concept as slippery and open to interpretation as critical thinking in complex and nuanced ways. SLAVONIC AND EAST EUROPEAN REVIEW

The author does an engaging job of threading ethnographic interview details [and] observational fieldwork with historic sociopolitical and linguistic references evidenced through narratives, interviews, and articles. . . . JOURNAL OF LINGUISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY

The book provides an eye-opening and inspiring understanding of critical thinking and civil criticism in post-socialist Slovakia, on the other hand. The ethnographic approach allows Larson . . . to launch a challenge to those who assume that post-1989 Slovakia should uncritically adopt the norms of liberal democratic countries for its public culture without considering how the past saturates the present, and how critical thought has been influenced by interpersonal interaction. DISCOURSE & SOCIETY

Critical Thinking in Slovakia after Socialism has global relevance for anyone interested in the ways that post-Enlightenment critical thought remains active in the public sphere and the ways that schooling shapes society. Larson meets the challenge of making a book on intellectual and educational institutions relevant to a broader audience. H-NET REVIEWS

In this highly original account, Jonathan Larson interrogates what it means to possess and to lack "critical thinking," a virtue at once central to, and elusive within, the political imaginations of liberalism and socialism. Superbly conceived and realized, Larson's ethnography unpacks how critical thinking became a key subject of desire and dispute in the process of refashioning political subjectivity in postsocialist Slovakia. --Dominic Boyer, Professor of Anthropology, Rice University

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