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Abstract and Figures

Official politics in children’s lives during socialism took various forms, ranging from school curriculum, youth organizations, and celebrations in everyday life. Drawing on current scholarship about children’s politics and our collective biography research, we explore the everydays of childhood—from mundane to ideological—to make visible the multiple ways in which our political agency emerged in particular spaces and times. Our memory stories are about hair bows as part of school uniform and the multiple roles they played in our being and becoming schoolgirls and political subjects. The emphasis is on how wearing (or not) a hair bow helped us work with/in or against the norms, as well as feeling the pain and desire to be or act otherwise.
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145© The Author(s) 2018
I. Silova et al. (eds.), Childhood and Schooling in (Post)Socialist
Societies, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-62791-5_8
Hair Bows andUniforms: Entangled Politics
inChildren’s Everyday Lives
ZsuzsaMillei, NelliPiattoeva, IvetaSilova,
andElenaAydarova
Participation in adult-initiated political processes, such as pioneer organi-
zations or summer labor camps, was an everyday part of children’s lives in
socialist societies. In research, however, children and politics were mostly
considered in the framework of political socialization (Connell, 1987).
This perspective was shared by researchers on both sides of the Iron
Curtain, who viewed children as receptacles of political norms, values, and
behaviors acceptable and desirable in a political system (Kallio & Häkli,
2011; Mead & Silova, 2013; Millei, 2011; Philo & Smith, 2003; Skelton,
2010). The top-down view of political socialization positioned children as
passive objects, failing to consider children’s subjectivity, agency, and the
politics of everyday life (Connell, 1987; Kallio, 2014).
Z. Millei (*)
Institute for Advanced Social Research, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland
N. Piattoeva
Faculty of Education, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland
I. Silova
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University,
Tempe, AZ, USA
E. Aydarova
Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA
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It was only with the emergence of the “new sociology of childhood”
during the 1990s that children’s role in society has been reevaluated, rec-
ognizing their active participation. Researchers reframed their understand-
ing of children and politics and began exploring how children participate
in shaping institutions, themselves, and others while accepting that chil-
dren are simultaneously socialized into numerous societal institutions and
roles (for example, Kallio & Häkli, 2011; Philo & Smith, 2003; Skelton,
2013). Shifting the focus away from adult-created domains of politics,
researchers have turned to explore children’s “mundane lives as permeated
by politics in which they have their own positions and roles” (Kallio &
Häkli, 2011, p.21). Highlighting the constitutive nature of politics and
positioning of children as minors, Kallio and Häkli (2011, p.27) have sug-
gested studying children’s political lives as they gradually “take their places
as full members of their communities and societies … and rehearse certain
kinds of subjectivities and agencies” as political actors. From this perspec-
tive, children’s political worlds are intertwined with adults’ political worlds
in “ordinary life” (Taylor, 1989), where children perform “banal prac-
tices” in relation to institutions, media, and their peer culture that can
gain political charge (Kallio & Häkli, 2011, p.104).
Using this perspective as a starting point, we are interested in those spaces
of children’s lives that fall outside of “ofcial” political spheres. Philo and
Smith (2003) differentiate between “P”olitics and “p”olitics (or macro- and
micropolitics), where “P”olitics refers to political arenas created by adults in
which children participate, whereas “p”olitics is a child- generated arena.
Importantly, Philo and Smith (2003) separate personal politicsfrom macro-
politics. Personal politics entail the struggle to gain power over one’s
immediate conditions of existence. Micropolitics is not individualistic. It is
based on how groups of people act together. Children’s micropolitics res-
onate with “their own perceptions, stories, hopes and fears” (Philo &
Smiths, 2003, p.109). In this way, “the choice available at school lunches,
the attempt to introduce compulsory school uniforms, or even the organisa-
tion of the school playground are, in this respect, just as “political” as what
goes on in parliament” (Buckingham, 2000, p.204). Buckingham (2000)
also warns against the premature collapse of personal politics with micropol-
itics. Personal politics could meet the criteria of micropolitics if connected
with experiences of other social groups, for example, when one’s personal
worries intersect with similar worries by a group of other people. In this
chapter, we explore children’s negotiations of their everyday lives—their
personal and micropolitics—in preschools and primary schools in Hungary
and three parts of the former Soviet Union (Latvia, Russia, and Ukraine).
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We focus on school uniforms, and more particularly the ribbons in girls’
hair called bantiki in Russian, bante in Latvian, and masni in Hungarian.
Despite having grown up in different geographic and temporal contexts—
Zsuzsa in Hungary, Iveta in Latvia, Nelli in Karelia, and Elena in Ukraine—
our memories of the bows resonated with one another. We use our
memories to disentangle when and how our actions of tying and wearing
(or not) the bows—as a part and ritual of our becoming schoolgirls—
fused with the politics of everyday life. We use the term “schoolgirl” in a
broader sense to denote children in institutions, kindergartens, and pri-
mary schools. Our aim is to show how these banal objects—hair bows—as
well as the discourses and practices associated with them, afforded poten-
tialities for our political subjectivities to unfold. In addition, the focus on
the bows enables us to reveal the manifold ways in which an everyday
object and practice can become differently political in various geopolitical
and personal settings. In what follows, we rst introduce the historical
contexts within which we undertake our analysis and then explain our
approach of working with collective biography to explore the multiple ways
in which we participated in the dynamics of everyday life and politics.
Creating MeMory StorieS ofour ChildhoodS:
Context andMethodologiCal approaCh
Everyday life in different socialist societies and during various timeperiods
was far from uniform, and we had diverse experiences of participating in
schooling. The rst period of state socialism (1948–1970s) in Hungary
resulted in a demographic change where most women of working age
were engaged in full-time wage labor, and the proportion of women at
almost every level of the educational system reached that of men (Corrin,
1993). During the second period (1970s–1989), or reform socialism, the
state withdrew partially from the economic realm (Lampland, 1996). This
opening up of the “second-economy” and the diversication of economic
and social practices, such as partial commodication (Lampland, 1996),
became inuential in education as well. An increasingly exible curriculum
was created, ideological practices were relaxed, and teachers gained
increased autonomy (Millei & Imre, 2010).
In the 1970s and early 1980s, education institutions in Latvia, Ukraine,
and Karelia were largely driven by the Soviet standardization policies and
practices (often referred to as Russication and Sovietization), which were
visible in strictly standardized curriculum, buildings, and uniforms. During
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the Soviet period, Karelia constituted an autonomous republic of the
Russian Republic (RSFSR) while Latvia and Ukraine were two of the 15
Soviet Republics. In the mid- and late-1980s, schools saw some funda-
mental changes as a result of Gorbachev’s initiated perestroika (reconstruc-
tion) and glasnost (openness, public discussion). In Soviet Latvia, these
reforms roughly coincided with the “national awakening” (atmoda in
Latvian). Across the Soviet Union, this period brought the revival of
national identities, as well as minority languages and cultures, eventually
leading to the independence of Latvia and Ukraine in 1991. These changes
were accompanied with the increasing questioning of the fundamental
assumptions of the Soviet education system, particularly its ideological
nature and a lack of child-centeredness and critical thinking (see Webber,
2000; also Janmaat & Piattoeva, 2007). During this period, schools
underwent major reforms, including the loosening of the previously
imposed standards and eventually revamping the school curriculum and
culture. Finally, independent from the inuence of the Soviet empire, the
newly independent states of the former Soviet Union (including Russia,
Latvia, and Ukraine) and Hungary found themselves to be a part of the
new project of Western (European) democracy and market econ-
omy(Silova, 2010).
In this chapter, we look back at our personal memories of everyday
childhoods through collective biography. In collective biography, memory
stories and their interpretations are produced in the intersubjective spaces
of participants and in the interrelations between participants’ presents and
pasts. Thus, we cannot and do not claim the position of the neutral observer
of our lived experiences. In researching our own memories, the subject and
object of our research are collapsed (Davies & Gannon, 2006, 2012). All
four of us currently live and work in contexts vested with modern Anglo-
American conceptions of the self. Thus, the “re-membering” of our mem-
ory stories is necessarily shaped by these life experiences and particular
scientic worldviews we have developed through our academic training.
By engaging in this collective biography, we strive “to know differently,
through … [our] own remembered past and the past of others” (Davies,
2000, p.187 cited in Davies & Gannon, 2006, p. 33). We do not claim
that the stories we produce reect objective truths. The “truth” that
emerges in these stories does not serve to validate the veracity of one’s
experience but functions as “a means to provide knowledge about the ways
in which individuals are made social, are discursively constituted in particu-
lar eshy moments” (Davies & Gannon, 2006, p.4). Claims to knowledge
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emerge in the in-between spaces of memories where something surprising
disrupts the usual way of thinking and poses questions to reexamine the
taken-for-granted views about everyday life (Davies & Gannon, 2006). We
reject notions of identity as a set of characteristics or a fundamental sub-
stance of a person. By following post-structural approaches, we understand
identity not as an expression of what one is but something that one does,
that is, for the analysis here, acts of negotiating everyday life. In this way,
collective biography rejects a “xed identity” and “linear developmental
understanding” of persons, including their political becomings (Gonick &
Gannon, 2014, p. 2) and joins efforts of resisting the proposition of a
“socialist self” that we as children supposedly “fashioned, inhabited and
exhibited” (Chatterjee & Petrone, 2008, p.985).
We participated in repeated collective biography workshops (Davies &
Gannon, 2006, 2012), which were conducted both online and in per-
sonto share our memory stories. We rened these initial stories through
recurring discussions, during which we asked each other for clarications,
and through the exploration of the affective and sensory aspects of our
memories. As we connected through our memories, we also helped each
other to avoid clichés and nostalgia. Sharing memory stories facilitated
dialogues and the generation of more memory stories.
We analyzed our memory stories as discursive products through post-
structural discourse analysis with a sensitivity to material actors that we
borrowed from Actor Network Theory (ANT) (Latour, 2005). ANT
helps to train “researcher’s perceptions and perceptiveness, senses and sen-
sitivity” (Mol, 2010, pp.261–262). As part of girls’ uniform, we under-
stood the hair bow as an object, a mediator that has the capacity to
“transform, translate, distort and modify the meaning or the elements [it
is] supposed to carry (Latour, 2007 [2005], p. 39). Understanding the
meanings of the bow this way “open[s] up the possibility of seeing, hear-
ing, sensing and then analysing the social life of things—and thus of caring
about, rather than neglecting them” (Mol, 2010, p.255). Actors—human
and non-human—join with other actors to form networks, acquiring
meanings through associations and relations. In our analysis, we aimed to
answer the following questions: How did we negotiate our everyday lives
in preschool related to the bows, and how could we understand those
actions as political? How did we make sense of the bows and available
discourses (ideological, mundane, or other)? By revealing an entangle-
ment of discursive and material body work, memory stories open ways to
generate understandings and analyses of macrosocial processes.
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the “p”/“politiCS ofSChool uniforMS andBowS
Although the bow appeared differently in our memories, it was a part
of our everyday lives. Girls either wore bows or not; but when they did
not wear them, they often felt their absence, so bows shaped their
experiences:
In preschool she was expected to wear bows in her hair. She never had long hair
and rarely wore big puffy bows. On special occasions, all girls were expected to
wear white bows, and she vaguely remembers longing—if only eetingly—for
bows just like the other girls.
Remembering the bow is not easy. The rst thought that comes to her mind
concerns school pictures: a group photo in school uniform with a ponytail and a
big bow, or another picture on the rst day of school in grade one. She is dressed
in a funny red, furry coat with her hair braided and two big bows woven in the
braids. There is one more picture taken on that rst day of school, but this time
by a professional photographer (see photo in Fig.1). In this picture, she sits next
to a globe, with colorful autumn leaves spread over the desk and a primer in her
hands. The two braids were her usual hairstyle because it was the only one her
mother could manage on a busy morning before leaving for work. On regular
Fig. 1 A girl with a white apron and bows
Source: From Nelli Piattoeva’s family archives
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days, the braids would be kept together with a simple invisible elastic band, but
on special occasions, a white bow would replace or supplement the band. She
never wore black or brown bows reserved for regular school days. But she always
wore the white bows for celebrations and ofcial school photos.
The emergence of hair bows as an ofcial part of a Soviet school uni-
form dates back to the end of the 1940s, reecting an attempt by the
Soviet education authorities to encourage a “gender-determined dress” in
Soviet Russia (Kelly, 2007, p. 379). Initially, bows were small, modest
ribbons woven in girls’ hair—white ribbons used for special occasions and
dark (usually brown or black ribbons) used in everyday school life.
However, as the Soviet economy grew after World War II, so did hair
bows. They quickly developed from small silk ribbons carefully woven into
girls’ hair to huge puffy gauze bows placed on top of their heads (see
photo in Fig.3). Commonly found across the Soviet republics (although
less so in the socialist countries of Eastern and Central Europe), these
bows became a symbol of the idealized Soviet childhood, projecting the
Figs. 2 and 3 A girl photographed twice on the same picture day—with and
without a bow
Source: From Iveta Silova’s family archives
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images of national prosperity, progress, and happiness. When America’s
youngest goodwill ambassador, a ten-year old Samantha Smith, visited the
Soviet Union in the early 1980s at the invitation of Yuri Andropov, hair
bows were used by the Soviet media to distinguish a Soviet child from an
American one. As one of the Soviet reporters covering Samantha Smith’s
trip to the USSR recalls, “big white bows turned out to be Samantha’s soft
spot. She has never worn bows like this in the US. Soviet pioneer girls
were seriously competing for and standing in lines for several days to get
an opportunity to tie Samantha’s bows. Some never had a chance ….”
(Noviye Izvestiia, 2013).
Hair bows were present everywhere: “model girls in posters, magazine
photographs, and paintings always had their bantiki” (Kelly, 2007,
p.379). They also appeared in children’s books, poems, movies, and even
on wall murals inside school and preschool buildings (see photo in Fig.1
as example: a book cover with a girl wearingthe bow). Beyond the bor-
ders of the Soviet Union, in countries such as Hungary, the popularity of
bows was less pronounced. Bows were mostly part of celebratory events,
communist celebrations, and school events, such as receiving end-of-year
certicates (Géczy, 2010). Bows appeared as part of uniforms for kis dobos
(“small drummer” in grades one to four) and úttörő (“path breaker” or
“pioneer” starting from grade ve) and were usually displayed in long
hair. Bows were tied from white ribbons and were connected to socialist
ideology (Géczy, 2010). Géczy (2010) examined photos of children dur-
ing the socialist era in Hungary and found that schoolgirls mostly
appeared with short hair, as the memory story below demonstrates, and
without bows in most pictures from the 1970s. The disappearance of
bows as part of Hungarian uniforms happened at the same time as cloth-
ing in general became more simple to accommodate changing behavioral
standards (Valuch, 2002) and during a shift toward liberalization in many
spheres of life.
The bows in girls’ hair were a part of the school uniform in most con-
texts, thus serving as a mechanism of political socialization. While school
uniforms promoted egalitarianism, they also helped to normalize, unify,
and discipline the bodies and conducts of children, making children “doc-
ile” for schooling (Kamler, 1994; Meadmore & Symes, 1997). By wearing
the uniform (including bows), children took up the subject position of a
“pupil” dened in a standard of norms (Kamler, 1994). The ritual of tying
the bow or losing the possibility of wearing the bow came also with physical
pain and strong emotions:
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She had short hair only when she was very little. Around the age of four, her hair
started getting longer. At rst, when the family had to take a train from home
to the kindergarten, her mother would brush her hair and tie it up with bows on
the train. The girl screamed bloody murder because it hurt so badly. Other
people on the train got involved several times, telling her mother how to hold her
hair differently when tying it or that the girl was a poorly behaved child for not
tolerating pain quietly. The pain was so bad that later in school the girl learned
to brush her own hair and instead of sticking the bows on top of her head to tie
up a ponytail, she would braid it into a pigtail. That was so much easier and
the bows just hung in the back.
Her mother, who worked full-time and was a university trained professional
in Hungary, always put her daughter’spigtails up high(twintails) with white
ribbons secured so tightly that it pulled on her hair. It was done quickly during
those hustling and bustling morningmoments when all of them were getting
ready for their days. The girl developed a rash because of the constant pulling,
and the nurse gave her mother the advice to either cut the hair short or to let it
out for a few days for the skin to get better. The mother did not like the second
option. The girl was begging all afternoon not to have her hair cut. They arrived
early at the mother’s hairdresser to get a haircut. While waiting for the haircut,
the girl looked at all the fashionable short haircuts in magazines and the ladies
with short hair at the salon. She still wanted long hair and ponytails with bows,
so that she would look like the other girls in the kindergarten.
While producing “good” subjects, such as desiring to wear the bow and
look like the others, regimes of practices also produce “rebels,” silences, or
minor “internal displacements and mutations” in the discursive regime
(Yurchak, 2005), such as attempts to develop alternative ways of wearing
the bow that was less painful but perhaps tting less within the ofcially
sanctioned norms. As Foucault (1977) suggests, “disciplinary power is not
only negative or repressive, it is also productive, as it produces a certain
“reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth” (p. 194).
Children, in relation to school uniforms in general and bows in particular,
then act with/in and against normalizing discourses that offer ways of
becoming “good schoolgirls” or otherwise. Schoolgirls might subject
themselves to these normalizing discourses, resist them, or act with/in
them but in ways that alter the discursive frame.
Longing, pain, frustration, and shame accompanied the experiences of
putting on and wearing the bow. Ahmed (2015) considers emotion or
how “we feel our way” as a kind of “world making” or cultural politics.
Being subjects to the cultural politics of a bow, our bodies and worlds
materialized in line with the ideology that prescribed us wearing the bow.
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Emotions played a signicant role in our politicization, but as all regimes
of practices, they also created openings to act the “bowed subject” in
other ways: to reinterpret the bow, to wear it or go without it, or even to
have short hair.
“What Would YouHave Withouta Bow? Just theHead!”:
Bows andAppearances
As Dussel (2005) explains, “the preoccupation with appearances stems
from long ago,” marking divisions, identifying spaces of belonging, and
dening “the inside/outside limits of the schools” (p. 180). Tying the
bow is guided by a particular knowledge about how it should look, con-
stituting a “regime of appearance” that made individuals subject to par-
ticular knowledges and associated practices through a “reciprocal bond”
(Foucault, 1994, p. 315). Appearance is also tied to morality, because
“clothes do inform others about the moral condition of a person, her sen-
sibility and education, and that is why appearances have to be so closely
monitored” (Dussel, 2005, p.185). With the act of wearing the bow, we
embodied a tidy and orderly appearance and also the moral subject posi-
tion of a “good,” “proper,” “socialist girl”:
Bows were a part of the school attire, similar to aprons, collars, and cuffs that
had to be sewn onto the dresses, but not necessarily a part of a dress for other
social occasions. Playing with friends after school required no bows; family cel-
ebrations, similarly, did not require one to wear bows. But even for family cel-
ebrations or school parties, loose hair, especially hair longer than shoulder-length
not constrained by bows, pins, or pigtails, was rarely allowed—one had to
request parents’ permission to wear hair down. As the girl’s grandmother once
asked: ‘What would you have without a bow? Just the head’.
If we wore the dark bow that went along with the dark apron and
stockings—a uniform intended for regular school days—getting dirty dur-
ing lessons, recess, or meals would be permissible, because the dirty spots
would not be that visible on the dark uniform. In dark uniform, we could
thus be more childlike and fallible because we did not need to perform the
roles of perfect socialist schoolchildren. These variations in the color of
particular pieces of the uniform—apron, bows, and stockings—were very
informative. They were manifestations of the rules of behavior associated
with different physical and temporal spaces through a dress code con-
densed in a single piece or color of clothing.
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We recognized these differences in appearance and subjected ourselves
to the norms expected in various social situations. In this way, we became
involved in the reproduction of ofcial representations. The bow was an
ornament to carry symbolic meanings which we learned to perform in
practice. As Yurchak (1997) explains, “whether or not one consciously
believed in the ofcially proclaimed goals was less important than the act of
participating in routine ofcial practices, perceived as inevitable” (p.168).
This is what Yurchak termed as pretense misrecognition. By wearing the bow
and other uniform items of different color, we thus learned to navigate
social situations that allowed for more or less freedom and exibility. When
needed, together with carers and teachers, we aligned ourselves with how
socialist schoolchildren should look and act even though we did not believe
in or could not identify with the ofcial ideology behind it:
For the ofcial school pictures, a girl had to wear three white items: white
bow(s), white apron, and white stockings. If one of the items was missing, this
girl would either have to stand in the back row or someone else from another
class would lend her the missing item(s). Teachers did not get upset when this
happened, but simply tried to calmly deal with the situation.
One day, there was a picture session at preschool. The girl’s parents were not
present at the time when the pictures were taken because they were working. The
preschool nurse was assisting the teacher with preparing children for the pictures
and, when she looked at the girl, she sympathetically exclaimed, “Poor little girl!
You don’t even have a puffy bow! I will make you look as beautiful as all the
other girls. I will make a big bow just for you!” She took off her big gauze scarf
and miraculously turned it into a big purple bow. The girl was so happy inside,
but also so shocked to suddenly nd a big puffy bow towering on top of her head.
She did not know what to think, but she went with the ow.
In our Soviet school experiences, when ofcial school photographs
were taken, such as at the beginning of someone’s schooling (see photo
in Fig. 1) or when important guests visited the schools and teachers
would give exemplary lessons (Rus. pokazatel’nye uroki), schoolgirls were
dressed in their perfect white aprons and white bows to participate in the
ofcial rituals that simulated surface support to the system. Behind this
façade, however, we believed in these symbols, signs, and representations
in our own ways. The prototypical dresses were mirrored in exemplary
behavior—as no mistakes could be made, spotless white aprons and stock-
ings obliged us to behave properly, to watch every step. The teacher and
the photographer acted as the guards of perfect appearances—they would
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mold, and if necessary, even hide the rule-breakers by placing them
behind their perfectly dressed classmates or instantaneously creating a
bow for them. However, we all understood that these expectations were
not requirements for our everyday lives.
BowS andtheritualS oftranSition Between SpaCeS
So far, we have argued that the bow subjected us to particular forms,
norms, and practices of school appearance and order. Putting on the bow
was a ritual that marked regular transitions between spaces, signaling to its
owner that different rules of conduct would apply from the moment the
bow was put on. It was as if we were theater actors who prepared for roles
by putting on a costume and a mask that went with it. We resembled and
felt like “a normal subject, who saw the truth behind the mask, had no
other choice but to pretend that the mask was the actual true face”
(Yurchak, 1997, p.180):
When she looks at the family photographs taken outside of school, she sees a smil-
ing girl with two braids, wearing the clothes brought by a family member from
another socialist country, and having no resemblance to the photos taken in
school. She has no recollection of any moment when her mom would tie in the
bows, and no recollection of any feelings or bodily sensations associated with
bows. All that she sees in front of her eyes are the school pictures of her that don’t
look like her. She remembers feeling uncomfortable looking at these pictures as a
child—as if she was not looking at the real her in the pictures.
Feeling as not real was part of a double pretense, as the socialist state
itself was a pretense and we ourselves pretended to be socialist citizens. As
the story about the gauze bow continues: That day, the photographer took
two pictures of the girl—one as expected by her parents (see photo in Fig.2)
and one as recommended by the preschool (see photo in Fig.3). Perhaps the
ofcial photo day required only one photo with the bow, but two pictures
were taken that day. The possibility of two photos, with and without the
bow, occurred as a displacement in the discursive regime. In this in-
between space, the possibility of a child generated politicsemerged.
Perhaps because of the feelings of awkwardness and confusion washing
over her when she sees her rst picture with the big gauze bow taken in
preschool, the girl remembers that she could not recognize the face—her
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“real” self—looking at her school photograph when the pictures arrived.
It was the uncomfortable feeling of estrangement that the incompatibility
of these parallel spaces made real and yet not fully understandable to her.
The girl felt uncomfortable about her ideological mask put on for this
occasion. Even though that feeling did not lead to immediate actions that
would explicitly resist the pretense character of the regime and the prac-
tices associated with it, the awkward feeling placed these (more or less
ideological) discourses and spaces under her observation and question.
Knowing, observing, and acting with/in and against these discourses of
everyday life and the cultural politics of emotions associated with those,
we argue, marks the mundane politics of childhood during the period of
socialism.
The story about the gauze bow continues with a marked politics on the
parents’ part after they saw that two pictures of their daughter were taken
that day:
The girl realized later that her parents were not particularly fond of big puffy
bows. “Bows are for the Russian kids,” her Oma (grandmother) would say. And
she was from a linguistically and ethnically mixed Latvian/Russian family.
When her parents received the pictures a few weeks later, they were shocked. Her
dad was particularly unhappy, threatening to go to the preschool and face the
director with a complaint. The girl remembers begging him not to do it and
saying, “It’s ok, Daddy … it’s just a bow. I look like all the other girls now …
Please don’t say anything to the preschool director!” The scandalous nature of
the bow incident remained deep in her heart, leaving a feeling of guilt and
bewilderment … as well as a picture proof of how confused she looked wearing
the big puffy bow on top of her head in the ofcial photograph.
Here, the bow marked a feeling of national belonging for the girl’s
parents. For us children, appearances were just what they were—only
appearances. And that is how we learned to relate to them. Just as adults
pretended to follow the ideology on the surface, be present physically but
not emotionally or cognitively, we too knew that it sufced to look as
expected, without embodying the ideals through and through. This
behavior implied neither active resistance nor subversion, but rather active
ignorance, or perhaps the creative reinterpretation of situations. Just as a
grandma remarked on a question about the role of bows—“They just were
there.” Through meticulous attention to appearances we learned, perhaps
unintentionally, the shrewd reality of the (late) socialist era—things had to
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“look right” and that sufced. Instead of adherence to the ofcial party
line, we learned to interpret representations instead of making them our
own. This ambiguous relationship with the system is well captured in
Yurchak’s (1997) notion of “pretense misrecognition,” as we noted
before. These kinds of political acts were not laden with the ridicule of or
resistance to power, but rather with a lack of interest in it (Yurchak, 1997,
pp.162–163, our emphasis). In this manner, political pretense and igno-
rance were learned as part of our mundane schooling. While politics is
commonly associated with the existence of interests in agendas related to
groups, here “the lack of interest” and the discomfort that was associated
with the reiterative practices of being different kinds of schoolgirls in vari-
ous spaces created opportunities for childhood politics in mundane, day-
to- day life.
ConCluSion
We applied the concept of mundane politics to the everyday spaces of
childhood and schooling in socialist societies. Through our memory sto-
ries, we explored how children understand and generate political spaces in
their everyday lives that link with the ofcial or mundane politics of other
groups. From a Foucauldian perspective, action is always already read, that
is, constituted by operative discourses, acting with/in or against them. By
tying, attaching, and wearing the bow—or not—we read and acted with/
in and against the operative discourses, some of which were explicitly ideo-
logical while others were banal. With our actions and understandings
about the bow, we have interpreted ofcial representations and ideologies
in our own ways and on our own terms. With our mundane acts, we
silently joined others in showing no interest in the ofcial ideology, and/
or pretended to misrecognize it, or were casted by others in small opposi-
tional acts to ofcial expectations. We learned to read spaces and discursive
formations attached to schools, classrooms, assembly halls, hairdressers, or
homes that govern action, thought, and feeling that were politically
charged with ofcial ideology or gained their charge through people’s
everyday participation in it. Within these spaces, learning is a “process of
exploring the operative rules and mores, the texture and limits of available
discourses and subject positions, and of nding a place within/against
these, of becoming a subject and becoming a person, again and again, in
the process (Davies etal., 2001)” (Millei & Petersen, 2015, p.26).
Z. MILLEI ET AL.
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159
Yurchak (2005) similarly explains that agency should be understood
not in terms of open resistance to the ofcial political regime, but rather
through inconsequential and often invisible acts that introduce “minute
internal displacements and mutations into the discursive regime in which
they are articulated”:
[These acts] do not have to contradict the political and ethical parameters of
the system and, importantly, may even allow one to preserve the possibili-
ties, promises, positive ideals, and ethical values of the system while avoiding
the negative and oppressive constraints within which these are articulated.
(p.28)
According to Yurchak (2005), the “non-ofcial” was not only some-
thing that allowed spaces for resistance against the dominant political ide-
ology but also maintained the system as such. In a similar manner, actions
against stated ideology manifested in a form of outward resistance against
ofcial politics and included actions that were differently political, such as
those of humor or pretense. Within these complicated political arenas, we
understood ourselves as children or schooled subjects, and subjected our-
selves to the operating discourses. Through the “selving-work,” we under-
took ourselves to become particular kinds of socialist schoolgirls (Davies
et al., 2001; Kofoed, 2008). Different spaces afforded us with shifting
reiterations, (in)actions, and feelings that made us explore operative dis-
courses and subject positions. They also produced opportunities for us to
act politically, joining the collective struggle to gain power over immediate
conditions of existence. This is how the bow afforded opportunities for us
to act politically, created bridges between the everyday spaces of child-
hood and politics, and generated spaces for children’s “p”olitics.
Through our memory stories, we aimed to problematize the concepts of
“socialist” and “post-socialist” education as simply repressive and tocom-
plicate our understanding of politics by introducing children’s politics.
Therefore, we see in the geographical area and concept of (post)socialism
tremendous potential for further analysis of politics because of the compli-
cated political maneuvering that this system required us as children to
engage in. Our memory stories do not only talk about the past. Rather,
they become fertile grounds for our contemporary understanding of poli-
tics, political agency, and subject formation that needs further investiga-
tion. Our memories of childhoods supply a rich resource and complicate
simple understandings of what it meant to be a child in schools during the
Cold War.
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Nelli Piattoeva is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Education, University of
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parative and international education, anthropology of education, and educational
policy. It examines the interactions between global social change and the work of
teachers, teaching, and teacher education through the lens of equity and social
justice.
Z. MILLEI ET AL.
isilova@gmail.com
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