The Theory of Culture Unit

prof. dr hab. Urszula Jarecka – Head
dr Anna Turner
dr Oksana Pochapska ( scholarship recipient PASIFIC)

Mgr Joanna Bednarek

Mgr Aleksandra Biernacka
dr Marta Błaszczyńska
Mgr Krzysztof Kula

The Theory of Culture Unit (ZTK) was established at IFIS PAN in 1992 thanks to the initiative of Prof. Dr. Aldona Jawłowska, who planned to create a place where researchers could move freely through the themes of contemporary culture, searching for their own research tools and methods of analysis. The research of the ZTK scholars has always focused on inter- and multidisciplinary studies, with the sociology of culture at the center and multifaceted research areas. Thirty years on, we are continuing  this tradition. The main objective of the Unit is theoretical reflection on the phenomena of contemporary culture, studied primarily through the reading of cultural texts, which makes it possible to recognize and interpret the meta-level of the phenomena studied.

Theory of culture, from which the Unit takes its name, is understood here as a historical discourse that enables an efficient search for a theoretical framework for qualitative and quantitative research. Contemporary culture is not a coherent creation, but rather a “dynamic system of meanings” that fosters the making of meaning in everyday life. An important task of ZTK is to establish a reference point for all cultural discourses that relate to popular consciousness: mediated by the media and directly experienced in everyday life. On many occasions during these 30 years of ZTK’s existence, researchers have devoted themselves to reflecting on cultural crises, especially the crisis of values in contemporary culture, in search of new ways of understanding the world.

The discursiveness of contemporary culture requires an appropriate research methodology, which is possible by using methods that combine various disciplines of the humanities and social sciences. Cultural and social transformations resulting from contemporary challenges of modern times (e.g., pandemic-induced economic crisis, transformation of values in culture, transformation of the media scene, invasion of new technologies, including the dynamic development of artificial intelligence, AI, etc.) become starting points for the development of  research perspectives. In our own research, we use a repertoire of qualitative and quantitative methods, and we also expand our instrumentarium with online tools. Our research material  is often cultural texts in the broadest sense. Discourse analysis, methods of sociology and visual anthropology are used to obtain the best possible interpretive perspective on the  phenomena in question.

Research Paths:

Convergence culture or culture of loss? The social dimension of media theory, cultural capital in the context of knowledge transformations and popular perceptions of the world are important research issues related to technological challenges and the crisis of values. The transformation of values in contemporary culture was often dealt with by the late founder of ZTK, Professor Aldona Jawłowska. In Western culture, apart from enclaves of memory, one can observe an indifference to heritage, tradition, which, according to  many researchers, leads to “cultural attrition”, the a loss of historical and cultural continuity. How can communities ensure  cultural continuity at the local level? How can the media strengthen the roots of new trends in the arts and in the world of cultural phenomena? Also related to the main topic is the study of social memory, pointing to factors of integration and processing of memory content in the experience of local communities, nations and the international community. All of the these issues are  explored in their various dimensions – artistic, philosophical, anthropological, media – through discourse analysis. The theoretical framework is drawn  from various fields of sociology, and the methodology often draws on the findings of sociology and visual anthropology.

Culture of scarcity, threats and fears. The economic crisis is a reminder  of fears about the quality of life, a reminder us of social exclusion, which, among other things, is dealt with in  the sociology of social inequality and poverty. In the history of ZTK, this topic has been developed several times, for example, by a team led by  Prof. Dr. Elżbieta Tarkowska, who once carried out a grant “Discourses of Poverty and Social Exclusion,” which resulted in conferences, book publications and articles in scientific journals. This block of topics deals with threats arising from cultural anxieties (e.g. issues of war, security, biotechnological threats, threats to privacy arising from the development of digitization), which have been an important part of media discourse for years. The issues of old age people and disability have also been addressed in the ZTK research.

Culture andtechnological change. This area has been systematically developed over the years at the ZTK, and is now one of the most dynamically developed thematic blocks. This is due to the sensitivity of the unit’s researchers to these changes. Prof. Urszula Jarecka, Ph.D., has been developing her research on media, and the digital turn in contemporary culture since 2002. Technology and the moral dilemmas of late modernity, technology as a challenge to the cultural order – these are evolving themes: transformations and changes in the cultural and social “fabric” here require considerable engagement and reflection. To some extent, this is related  to the of research  highlighted above. Every area of life is transformed by new inventions, technological innovations and their diffusion. New technologies cause significant changes in the daily functioning of people in different parts of the world, in the shaping of social relationships (social networks can be considered as “social laboratories”), in the reorganization of the social structure, etc. Unknown and unforeseen unintended consequences may result from the introduction of artificial intelligence (more commonly – AI) into social life. How will the “new ecosystem” be shaped with AI as an indispensable actor in social life? A cultural and social challenge is the increasing digitization of the infrastructure of everyday life, public institutions: new zones of exclusion are emerging, promoted by official state decisions. Biotechnologies (GMO food, cloning of parts of the human body, etc.) and their consequences are also the subject of public debate in many countries, including Poland. These challenges are reflected not only in media discourse, but also in artistic expressions; which  often serve  as research material for our analysis. On the other hand, the context of scientific responsibility,  transformation of the hierarchy of values place the mentioned problems in the center of interest of the sociology of culture. Here, too, there is a need for theoretical reflection and the search for tools and ways of exploring new dimensions of reality.

Cultural contexts of consumption. The issue of consumption has been present in the work of the Unit since its inception, and was an important topic for Prof. Aldona Jawłowska. In 2004-2012, the ZTK cooperated with Swedish researchers from the Center för konsumtionsforskning (CFK, Centre for Consumption Research) in Gothenburg. In the coming years, the theme of consumption will be further developed, with a focus on the involvement of the cultural capital of different social groups in consumer practices, and in the creation of a vision of the world of consumption. The economic crisis and the crisis of values have also transformed the spheres of need and necessity in this area. The analysis of the transformation in this area is linked to the digitization of many aspects of communication and social functioning already mentioned. The pandemic has not only changed the way the culture of consumption functions, but its effects can  also be seen  in the transformation of ideas of well-being, welfare, comfort, luxury, which deserves further research.

International cooperation

Since its inception, ZTK has been involved in active  international collaboration. At the beginning of the 21st century, we hosted Prof. Zygmunt Bauman for seminars and scientific meetings  and carried out a joint project with researchers from Lancaster University, led by Prof. John Urry on the Lancaster side and Associate Professor Marian Kempny on our side. Over the years, individual researchers have also undertaken individual projects, including trips abroad and joint seminars with researchers from other countries. However, we will focus on relatively new projects.

In 2015-2018, PhD students Joanna Bednarek, MA, Tomasz Bednarz, MA, Marta Błaszczyńska, MA (now a PhD in sociology), under the supervision of Prof. Urszula Jarecka, carried out the international project E-STORY – Media and History – From cinema to the web. Studying, representing and teaching European History in the digital era. Together with researchers from Italy, England, Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain and other countries, we researched media narratives of history, and prepared digital tools for teachers. Two trainings in this area were held in Poland. So, two years before the lockdown, we showed how materials from the web can be used creatively, as well as how to create them for educational use.

Dr. Mihaela Gligor from the University of Cluz-Napoca came to ZTK for a study visit in 2021. The stay was of a research nature, Dr. Gligor conducted research for her new project with the working title The Philosophy of Intolerance. Cultural Politics, Symbolic and/or Social Representations during the Interwar Period.

The year 2022 was rich in  international contacts. This year we hosted Prof. Dr. Olga Ovcharuk from the University of Kyiv for three months, who was implementing her own academic program within the framework of the Academic Cooperation in Support of Ukrainian Scholars.

Dr. Joanna Strycharz from the University of Amsterdam, who is researching persuasive communication in the age of digital threats, also came to Poland for a study visit.  Dr. Strycharz also held seminars together with Dr. Anna Turner on surveillance capitalism and online privacy. The visit was also aimed at  establishing cooperation between our Facilities. As a result, a project involving three research centers was carried out  in 2023: University of Minnesota, University of Amsterdam and IFIS PAN.

Since 2022, Dr. Oksana Pochapska, a PASIFIC Fellow, has been conducting two years program   at ZTK  (her own research) for two years. During the fellowship, she will work on the project Transformation of the consciousness of the audience under the influence of the printed media in Post-Soviet and European Countries.

In 2022, Dr Anna Turner became Advisory Expert to the International Social Survey Programme, conducting research in the social sciences since 1984 ( Dr Turner is advising the working group on the development of the questionnaire for the new Digital Societies module. The work is expected to be completed in December 2023.

Also in 2022, we resumed our collaboration with the Centre for Consumption Research in Gothenburg, Sweden. Dr. Anna Turner, Prof. Urszula Jarecka and Dr. Piotr Binder from the Social Change and Tradition Research Team were on a study visit to the Centrum för konsumtionsforskning (CFK, Center for Consumption Research). Another study visit with the same lineup took place in 2023. The plan is to invite guests from Sweden to Warsaw and work on a joint international project on consumption culture in post-pandemic conditions and in the context of digital transformation.


Instytut Filozofii i Socjologii PAN
00-330 Warszawa, ul. Nowy Świat 72, pokój 254,
tel. 22 65 72 739

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