Dr. Agata Zysiak

Dr. Agata Zysiak

Dr. Agata Zysiak is a historical sociologist. Her main research interests include postwar Polish history, modernity, and biographical method. She is the author of the award-winning book about socialist university and upward mobility in postwar Poland, Punkty za pochodzenie (Points for social origin, 2016). Dr. Zysiak has been a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Wayne State University (Detroit), Free University (Berlin), and Central European University (Budapest), and she was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton 2017/2018. She is currently working on a comparative project about workers in Detroit and Lodz. Zysiak joined RECET in autumn 2021.

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:

For Whom University? Rising Educational Desires via the Daily Press in Post-War Poland, "History of Education" 49, no. 6 (November 1, 2020): 819-38,

'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;

Hysteresis, academic biography, and political field in the People's Republic of Poland, "Theory and Society", June 2019, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 483-508; People Will Enter the Downtown - the Postwar Ruralization of the Proletarian City. Łódź 1945-1955, "Rural History", Issue 1, Volume 30 2019, ss 71-86;

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.