Public history

In the Storms of Global Transformation: Shipyards in Late State Socialism, Postsocialism and the Enlarged EU

18 June 2024

In the Storms of Global Transformation: Shipyards in Late State Socialism, Postsocialism and the Enlarged EU

Source: European Solidarity Centre, Janusz Uklejewski.

Lecture by Prof. Philipp Ther in the series "Confronting decline: Challenges of deindustrialisation in Western societies since the 1970s".

What did the transformation from ‘socialism’ to ‘democracy’ and a market economy entail? When did it begin and did it ever end? The presentation proposes a new temporality of global transformation: It argues that its beginning dates in the mid 1970s, when socialist countries tried to enter the world market in shipbuilding. Of course, the end of state socialism and the subsequent global hegemony of neoliberalism after 1989/91 remain an important watershed, but the paper points to another important caesura, the enlargement of the European Union and of the WTO after the turn of the millennium. 

In the empirical part, the presentation will focus on our (the plural form here includes Ulf Brunnbauer in Regensburg, my longterm project partner and co-author of our forthcoming “multograph”) two cases studies, the shipyard in Gdynia (Poland) and the “Uljanik” shipyard in Pula (Croatia). They are taken as microcosms of transformation, where different social and economic logics overlapped, interacted and competed. The shipyards, which also point to the continuous relevance of the state as a key actor in the post-89 neoliberal order, produced not only vessels, but meaning and ‘thick’ community ties.

The closure of the shipyards five years after Poland´s and Croatia´s accession to the EU was directly related to the competition laws which the EC began to introduce since 1986 responding to the deep crisis in shipbuilding. While the EU could prevent a race for state subsidies, its focus on fair competition was insufficient for a world market, where other players like China are playing by different rules, although it joined the WTO in 2001. The presentation thus brings up the topic of a common industrial policy that might be needed to compete with state capitalist models implemented by Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, and then emulated by China after the turn of the millennium. The presentation will also contain preliminary findings about a Chinese shipyard that can be well used as a comparative case study.


Philipp Ther is Professor of Central European History at the University of Vienna and founder of the Research Center for the History of Tranformations (RECET). Five of his monographs have been published in English: Europe since 1989: A history (Princeton UP; the German original was awarded the non-fiction book prize of the Leipzig Bookfare); The Dark Side of Nation States: Ethnic Cleansing in Modern Europe (Berghahn Press), Center Stage: Operatic Culture and Nation Building in 19th Century Central Europe (Purdue UP); The Outsiders: Refugees in Europe since 1492 (Princeton UP); How the West Lost the Peace. The Great Transformation since 1989 (Polity Press). In 2019 he was awarded the Wittgenstein Prize by the Austrian Research Fund, the highest recognition for scientists in Austria.


Tuesday, 18 June 2024

17.00 - 18.30

C²DH Open Space (4th floor, Maison des Sciences humaines)

and online