Autobiography as Complaint: Polish Social Memoir between the World Wars

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Katherine Lebow


Autobiography, Poland, Complaint, Interwar, Peasants, Sociology, Testimony


This article considers life-writing as a form of grievance and complaint. In particular, it examines interwar Poland’s answer to the cahiers de doléances: “social memoir” (pamiętnikarstwo społeczne), or autobiographical writings by youth, workers, peasants, immigrants, the unemployed, and others, gathered by sociologists in memoir-writing competitions. Like the cahiers de doléances in prerevolutionary France, social memoir accompanied broader discourses of crisis and reform in the Second Polish Republic. The article explores how complaint was framed and conceived as a meaningful speech act by both sociologists and memoirists, arguing that memoirists turned grievances drawn from everyday experience into demands rooted in a moral understanding of social justice. In English, extended summary in Russian.

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