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August 11th

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The internationalist networks of socialist projects intersect, overlap, and complicate the globalizing networks of mass media technologies of the late 20th and 21st centuries. Can (post)socialism as an analytic complicate how we understand the media and networks that characterize our current conjuncture? Our panelists approach variations on this question in their work. Paloma Duong, presenting preliminary work from her forthcoming book, investigates the uneven experience of postsocialisms through Cuba’s media cultures. Silina, Hernandez & Gu look at the phenomenon of domestic exhibition venues across socialist locales, tracking shared connections to socialist norms of social housing, a centralized art market, collectivism, and art’s social mission. Angela Xiao Wu tracks in the introduction of systems cybernetics in the field of Chinese journalism, complicating narratives of Chinese neoliberalism in the 1990s by troubling the usual separation between postsocialist/postcolonial and poststructuralist/posthuman which “dictates our current framings of global history.”


Cuban Mediascapes After the End of History
How do the Cuban cultural and media contexts inform and are shaped by the global postsocialist condition in the 21st century? My talk will discuss how contemporary Cuban culture and media explore the exhaustion of tropes around apocalyptic survival and postapocalyptic pragmatism. This work presents some preliminary findings of my current book in progress, Portable Postsocialisms, which investigates how postsocialisms are unevenly experienced and narrated, both across national borders and within them. In surveying a range of Cuba’s postsocialist media cultures—including advertisings, travelogues, literature, memes—I explore the way Cubans accept or reject various narratives of political continuity and social change as they negotiate new rules of civic membership and exclusion, and how, in turn, they engage Cuba’s role as an international object of desire in a global political imaginary in crisis. I argue that these cultural and media practices show, among other things, how Cuban culture and society engage with regional patterns in 21st-century Latin America: the expansion of transnational capitalist markets, the massification of digital technologies and Internet access, the redefinition of the nation-state—in this case of Cuba’s particular form of state socialism, or rather, state capitalism—and the reorganization of the informal economic and cultural sectors. I will demonstrate how revisiting our theoretical assumptions about digital media, consumption, and cultural agency from a postsocialist framework of analysis can speak to the dreams and demands of the constituencies that operate between, beneath, and beyond global markets and the nation-state.


‘Domestic Art Galleries’ in Cuba, Russia, and China after 1989: A(n) (Imagined) Trans-Socialist Network
The 12th Havana Biennial (2015) witnessed the outburst of a particular phenomenon in the midst of the re-launch of diplomatic relations between Cuba and United States: many local artists, art historians, curators, and cultural workers transformed their homes into exhibition venues. More recently, the second edition of the Havana Art Weekend (December 2019) placed residential infrastructure at the epicenter of this independent cultural initiative.

In search of similar exhibition venues in other countries, we came across the existence of “domestic art galleries” in the Soviet Union/Russia and China (Kvartirnye vystavki, 2005; Zhang Lijuan, 2008; Zhang Min, 2008; Tupitsyn, 2017; Su Wei, 2018). Yet, in spite of their uninterrupted presence and the ever-growing importance in these countries’ cultural landscapes, the phenomenon of recasting one’s home as an alternative setting to State-run museums has been largely overlooked, and its socialist nature barely studied.

By using recent case studies from a field trip to Cuba, as well as historical ones from Russia and China, we will consider (post)socialism as a global resource for imagining trans-socialist networks of domestic art galleries (Gerth, 2013; Bazin, 2016; Preda, 2017). We will approach (post)socialism not only as a chronological frame, but also as an analytical and critical standpoint to explore the ambiguity of the legal nature, agency and functions of domestic art spaces in contexts of past and current state-controlled cultural production. This will allow us to demonstrate to what extend these Cuban, Russian and Chinese alternative art venues were/are a response as well as a corollary to/of key socialist (shared) conventions across continents such as social housing, centralized art market, views on artistic creativity, collectivism, and social mission of art.


Systems Journalism, or How to Reform Socialist Press for Modernization
During China’s reform era (1979-), faced with the challenge to revitalize the newspaper amid social ferment, Chinese journalism scholars turned to American mass communication study after Wilbur Schramm’s visit in 1982. Today this is the familiar story of Chinese communication’s disciplinary formation. While the textbook narration portrays this development as a moment of intense intellectual enlightenment, critical voices at the margin consider it an unfortunate adoption of the positivist scholarship of liberal capitalism propelled by the resolution to negate socialist legacies. It is not an either-or story. This essay shows the missing thread: during the tug-of-war, systems cybernetics crept in, constantly heightened by political contractions. This restless period has witnessed the supposed founder of American communication Wilbur Schramm speaking in Claude Shannon’s name, China’s “King of Rocketry” Qian Xuesen pledging to augment Norbert Wiener, and the good old Engels being seized upon as the alter ego of Marx as part of official Marxism. In the (often overlooked) absence of a countervailing social science tradition, I demonstrate, the post-Mao discipline of journalism-communication, and by extension Chinese vernacular knowledge about how media fits in society, have been profoundly shaped by systems cybernetics. 1980s China is known for the revival of the human figure; its intellectual debates driven by a “humanism fever”—from Marxist humanism to liberal humanism—calling attention to the inhuman practices under Maoism. In this liberal humanism, many argue, arose Chinese neoliberalism in the 1990s. By existing accounts, the postsocialist human in China is decidedly not posthumanist. In contrast, this essay demonstrates that, in the journalism field, it was actually the post-human that was weaponized to rectify ideological suppression and to reform Chinese press theory as well as the press. In so doing, it troubles the usual separation between postsocialist/postcolonial and poststructuralist/posthuman that dictates our current framings of global history.