Dr. Agata Zysiak

Dr. Agata Zysiak

Agata Zysiak, Ph.D., is a historical sociologist working as a researcher at RECET, and as an adjunct at the Institute of Sociology, University of Łódź in Poland. Her latest book, “Limiting Privilege: Upward Mobility Within Higher Education in Socialist Poland” (2023), examines first-generation students’ struggles with reluctant academia. Her research focuses on social mobility, modernization dreams, and state socialism. At RECET, she works on narratives of industrial collapse and the concept of socialist citizenship.

She is also an affiliated researcher with HERESSEE – The History of Feminist Political Thought and Women’s Rights Discourses in East Central Europe 1929-2001 and PI in “The Industrial City of Łódź in a Globalized World 1945-2000”.

Zysiak is also a local activist in the Topografie Association, the NGO popularizing local history and gathering oral histories, which runs the social archive Miastograf.pl

Research interests: 

  • Upward mobility in postwar Poland
  • Eastern-European modernity and urbanity
  • biographical analysis

Current research project:

"State-Socialist Citizenship and its Collapse in Poland: Rewriting Postwar History from Below"

The totalitarian versus the revisionist debate over state socialism enters its new stage. Only through recent developments like precarisation of the workforce, reduction of welfare and populist response to neoliberal insecurities can postwar state-socialism be more clearly seen as not only a modernisation project but also a form of the welfare state.

I put forward a concept of state-socialist citizenship as a theoretical lens to examine postwar Polish history. The notion of Eastern European citizenship, as a separate model from the Western one, was established in the academic field in the 1990s. In this context only the transition years were presented as a moment of building proper, true citizenship. I treat citizenship as a part of social imaginary and focus on the democratisation of access to the political community and social security. While the 1990s are usually portrayed as a crucial period for building civil society and widening political rights, social and economic exclusion worked, at the same time, in the opposite direction - excluding masses of people, narrowing their biographical choices and limiting access to necessary welfare support.

I examine the rise and collapse of the People's Republic of Poland from a biographical perspective, trying to understand historical reality. I explore oral histories and narrative interviews, diaries and autobiographies, everyday press and local discourses to trace how macro processes hit the ground. On the one hand, this project offers a theoretical contribution that redefines the understanding of state-socialism in reference to the transition period. On the other, it draws from the qualitative, detailed analysis of People's Republic experiences and narratives about people's lives.

Selected publications:

A. Zysiak, Limiting Privilege: Upward Mobility Within Higher Education in Socialist Poland, West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, (December 2023);

A. Zysiak, M. Szymański et. al., Wielki przemysł, wielka cisza. Łódzkie zakłady przemysłowe 1945-2000 (Great Industry, Great Silence. ŁódźIndustrial Plants 1945-2000), Łódź: University of Łódź Press (2020), in open access;
Awards: Złoty ExLibris 2021; University of Łódź Rector’s Award for the book publication 2021.

A. Zysiak, K. Śmiechowski, W. Marzec, et. al., From Cotton and Smoke. The Industrial City and Discourses of Asynchronous Modernity, Łódź: University of Łódź Press (2018, Polish Edition 2021);
Awards: University of Łódź Rector's Award for the book publication 2018.

A. Zysiak, Punkty za pochodzenie. Powojenna modernizacja i uniwersytet w robotniczym mieście (Points for Social Origin: Postwar Modernization and University in the Working Class City), Cracow: Nomos (2016);
Awards: Kazimierz Moczarski Prize for the best historical book 2017; Bronisław Geremek Prize for an outstanding first book 2017; University of Łódź Rector’s Award for the book publication 2017.

K. Kaźmierska, K. Waniek, A. Zysiak, Opowiedzieć uniwersytet – Łódź akademicka w biografiach (To Narrate the University – Academic Łódź in Biographies), Łódź: University of Łódź Press (1st ed. 2015, 2nd ed. 2016);
Awards: University of Łódź Rector's Award for the book publication 2016

Recent Publications:

A. Zysiak, Practical Discipline and Socialist University. How Sociology Shaped Postwar Poland and How Stalinization Shaped Sociology [in:] The Social Sciences Through the Looking Glass. Studies in the Production of Knowledge, red. D. Fassin, G. Steinmetz, Durham: Duke University Press, 2023, p. 175-194;

A. Hincu, A. Zysiak, Mass Culture and Expert Knowledge under State Socialism: The Long 1960s in Poland and Romania, “European Review of History: Revue européenne d'histoire”, Volume 31, Issue 2 (2023), 234-56;

W. Marzec, A. Zysiak, Historicizing the Asynchronous Modernity in the Global East, "Eurasian Geography and Economics", Nov 1 2020, p. 1-23;

K. Piskała, A. Zysiak, Od skromnej modernizacji do inwestycyjnej gigantomanii. Wizje rozwoju miasta czasu „łagodnej rewolucji” (Łódź, 1945–1949) (From the Modest Modernization to Giantic investements. Visions of urban progress Łódź 1945-1949, "Studia Regionalne I Lokalne" no. 3(81) 2020, p. 94–114;

A. Zysiak, For Whom University? Rising Educational Desires via the Daily Press in Post-War Poland, "History of Education" 49, no. 6 November 1, 2020, p. 819–38;

A. Zysiak, ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Workers and the Collapse of the Expected Life Course: The Postwar Working Class in Detroit (USA) and Łódź (Poland), 1940s–1980s. “East European Politics and Societies”, January 20, 2020;

A. Zysiak, Kobiety na katedry! Profesorki w PRL i ograniczenia akademickiego awansu (Women to Lecterns! Female Professors in the PRL and academic upward mobility limits) [in:] Miasto pracujących kobiet, eds. I. Desperak, M.Krogulec, Łódź: WUŁ 2020, p. 95-110;