The Polish Studies Initiative (PSI) and CSEES will host Professor Mary Erdmans, Case Western Reserve University, for a talk on Polish immigrants to the U.S.
Abstract: This presentation draws from a project on return Solidarity refugees defined as people who became refugees after the introduction of martial law (December 13, 1981) and later returned to Poland after the fall of communism (post-1989). These return refugees have noteworthy biographies that are at the epicenter of social transformations in contemporary Poland: they grew up in a communist country; participated in a social movement that challenged this system and contributed to its collapse; and participated in its reformation as a liberal democracy. The life history approach provides an opportunity to understand how these larger macro changes are manifest in individual lives, and conversely how individuals interpret their lives amid this social upheaval. This approach positions the subjective standpoint at the center of analysis and interprets social action as both agentic and responsive to objective conditions. In this presentation, I focus on the narrative arc that the individual uses to bring coherence to their life story. I provide one example of a refugee who uses his professional identity to anchor his oral autobiography. He defines the turning points in his life as intentionally driven by his professional identity as an organizational psychologist: his anti-communist attitudes; the reason for his internment; the choice of where to emigrate; and the decision to return to Poland. In this way, he narrates momentous life events as volitional choices; things did not “happen” to him, but instead, he made them happen within a particular set of conditions. As such, subjective perceptions (the narrator’s telling of the story) encodes objective conditions allowing us to see the synthesis of the individual and society.