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Redefining the Common Good After Communism May 1

Story posted April 24, 2009

Graffiti proclaiming the fall of the wall: "The first holes in the Berlin Wall" were made here.

How does a society define the "common good"? This question resonates powerfully for citizens of post-communist states who have experienced social, economic and political upheaval during the past two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the final demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Bowdoin College will host a conference on International Worker's Day–Friday, May 1, 2009–to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and in continuation of the yearlong series of events commemorating the opening of the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good.

"Redefining the Common Good After Communism," featuring faculty scholars from 10 colleges and universities, will be held all day beginning at 8:30 a.m. in Main Lounge, Moulton Union.

The conference will broaden Bowdoin's campus-wide conversation about the common good by extending the question to a region that historically was seen as "the enemy."

For the better part of four decades, Communist ideology was held up as antithetical to the values of Western-style democracy, and shaped our political consciousness in deep and enduring ways. Citizens of the United States and other Western countries partly defined what was good about their own societies by contrasting it with that of the USSR and its satellite states.

The simplistic division of the world into "good" and "evil" facilitated a general ignorance about how communist societies actually worked and encouraged complacency about the practices of Western democracies and market economies. Yet now, as post-communist citizens question and alter political and economic practices that have long been settled in the West, their struggle illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of our own status quo.

Four daytime panels of experts and an evening keynote speaker will discuss and debate the fate of the common good in the former communist states of Eastern Europe, with a particular focus on Russia. Read abstracts...

In the first session (9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.), panelists from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Bates College, Brown University, and Bowdoin will examine "The Return of the State: Protecting the Common Good."

The second session (10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.) will feature scholars from Clark University, Yale University, Colgate University, and Bowdoin looking at "Popular Ideas of the Common Good in Putin's Russia."

Panelists from McGill University, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, Williams College, and Bowdoin will discuss "Class, the Market, and the Common Good" in session three (1:45 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.).

The final session (3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.) will examine "Living the Common Good after Communism," and feature Bowdoin faculty Laura Henry, Kristen Ghodsee, and Pamela Ballinger.

Ronald Suny, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Chicago, will give the keynote address, "Capitalism and the Common Good: What's Left of Marx" at 7:30 p.m.

All sessions and the keynote address are open to the public and free of charge.

For more information, a full schedule of events, and abstracts by the presenters, click here.

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