Chmielewska-Szlajfer, Helena

Helena Chmielewska-SzlajferPhD candidate, The New School for Social Research
Expected Completion: Fall 2013

Curriculum Vitae (PDF)

Dissertation title
Negotiating old understandings in a new world of meanings from the West. Sites of everyday celebrations in post-1989 Poland: a Catholic sanctuary, a charity music festival, national pro-voting campaigns and small-town watchdog websites (working title)

Areas of expertise
Cultural sociology 
Sociology of knowledge
Social change
Media, technology, and consumption

PhD candidate in Sociology at New School for Social Research and at The Institute of Applied Social Sciences, University of Warsaw, Poland. I am writing about changes in understanding community in post-1989 Poland. Viewed through the shifts in everyday culture, they allow me to focus on the ways social imaginaries are negotiated in a plural world.

Dissertation abstract
The dissertation examines the consequences of the democratic transition of 1989 in Poland as manifested in changes in everyday culture and community, a process that has been largely ignored in academic research. These changes, which can be observed in familiar, accessible and often simple popular practices, opens up the space for investigation of the perceptions of Poland and Polish society as a community of shared ideas. The commonplace, everyday meanings attributed to Poland are difficult to notice using economic or other markers supposed to portray the maturity of a democratic system as a structure of institutions of power. Nonetheless, Polish research tends to focus on empirical observations of institutional indicators, such as democratization or civil society, or on theoretical analyses of these concepts. Instead, I adopt an approach in which the processes of shaping cultural practices and the meanings behind them, rather than the categorized social structures, are at the center of attention. Thus, I use "cultural lenses" as a theoretical tool to study the recent changes in Polish society.

I believe the uniqueness of everyday cultural practices lies in the fact that their study gives the opportunity to show diverse ideas of community, which are not automatically noticeable in open discussion. At the same time, involved in a never-ending process of meaning making, these cultural practices are particularly exposed and responsive to new meanings, unlike other, more institutionalized, hence less flexible spheres in society. I present a study of three sites which have become elements of casual knowledge in Poland after 1989: a Catholic sanctuary, a charity music festival, as well as national pro-voting campaigns and small-town watchdog websites sites. I attempt to investigate them as spaces of what I call "everyday celebrations," commonplace cultural practices that both reinforce and reinterpret the shared ideas on the role of Catholicism, empathy towards others, and civic activity in contemporary Poland. Furthermore, the everyday celebrations can be seen as a testing ground where different ideas of community are negotiated, in order to become integrated into more institutionalized social realms such as civil society, religion and social empathy.

Teaching Experience

  • Spring 2013 and Fall 2013: Teaching Assistantship for Professor Emma Bowen, Introduction to Design Studies Parsons The New School for Design, New York
  • Spring 2011 and 2012: Teaching Fellowship, The Practice of Everyday Life. Reclaiming Culture; American Studies Center, University of Warsaw, Poland
  • Fall 2011: Teaching Fellowship, Technology and Culture; Parsons The New School for Design, New York
  • Fall 2009, 2010 and 2011: Teaching Assistantship for Professor Margot Bouman, Introduction to Visual Culture; Parsons The New School for Design, New York
  • Spring 2008: Teaching Assistantship for Professor Elżbieta Zakrzewska-Manterys, Methodology of Social Sciences with Elements of Philosophy of Science; Institute of Applied Social Sciences, University of Warsaw


The Practice of Everyday Life

Selected publications

  • Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz: Marksizm a socjologia (Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz: Marxism and Sociology), Warsaw, Poland: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2013 (forthcoming)
  • The Shrine in Licheń. Redefining Religiosity and Entertainment, “Euroacademia”, 2012, Orsay-Vienna
  • The Plastic Palm and Memories in the Making. Conceptual Art Work on Warsaw's Jerusalem Avenue, “International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society” no. 23(4)/2010, New York
  • The ‘Other-Others’. Analysis of Press Coverage of Nonvoters and Undecided Voters during the 2008 US Presidential Campaign, “Studia Polityczne” no. 23/2009, Warsaw

Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer
The New School for Social Research
Department of Sociology
6 East 16th Street, 9th floor
New York, NY 10003


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