“Academic Mobility Shifted my Research Concept in a Substantial Way“ – 5in10 with Zdeněk Nebřenský

Zdeněk Nebřenský | Picture: Private.

Zdeněk Nebřenský is the head of the Prague branch office of the German Historical Institute Warsaw. He studied History and Anthropology in Prague, Leipzig and Berlin and graduated in 2012 from Charles University in Prague with a comparative study on the cultural and social history of the Polish and Czechoslovak University Students after the Stalinism. He was a Junior Fellow at the Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena and a Junior Researcher at the Masaryk-Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

How do you explain your current research projects to your students?

I am dealing with the history of social and welfare policies, especially with the problem of how they were realized in particular spaces including housing, cafeterias, schools, hospitals, libraries etc. These places determined the lives of many people in the past and often influence our everyday trajectories and routines until today. It’s a question about how “architecture” of modern society in East-Central Europe was constructed.

What were academic or personal inspirations that led to your current research?

Inspirations come from the concept of the so called “welfare capitalism” which emerged in industrial cities of the United States and the German Empire at the turn of 19th and 20th century. According to this, entrepreneurs and industrialists provided benefits and welfare services to their employees in order to overcome contradictions between work and capital. These welfare services also included e.g. housing, eating, education, health care or leisure in specified places. The situation in the Central European regions which I’m focused on has been special in certain aspects. State and public authorities were more powerful and welfare policies were considered not to be so progressive here. But it is very general hypothesis that should be proved on a local level.

How are you ‘doing’ research? What are your most important research methods (interviews, archives, excavations…?)

The most important subjects of my research are architectural designs, construction plans and engineering projects. I am interested in how they were created, modified and put into practice. It has not only been a question to come up with the best technical solutions. The communication and cooperation among various actors at different levels played an important role as well. Therefore, I analyse texts produced and left by these actors, i.e. official documents, professional reports, people’s petitions, memories etc.

Which publications or academic events (workshops, conferences, lecture series…) did inspire you recently?

Last December, together with my colleagues I organized a workshop entitled “Workplace Redesign: Spaces of Work and the Transformation of Industrial Modernity in a Globalizing World”. The aim of this workshop was to examine the significance that space and place have had in the modern history. The workshop focused on places where people worked and spent much of their time, where social relations were formed, where power structures emerged and where political conflicts played out. Participants from Europe, the United States and India gave insight into different themes, applied various methodological approaches and covered a period spanning from the end of the eighteenth century to present times. Besides that, I am looking forward to reading a book by Katrina Navickas, “Protest and the Politics of Space and Place”. The book combines recent theoretical debates on the construction of public space with breath of archival evidence.

Do you think that academic mobility changes the way in which research projects are conceptualized? What are your personal experiences in this regard?

Definitely. In my case (I’m a graduate of Charles University in Prague), academic mobility shifted the research concept in a substantial way. The project idea was inspired by my research stay at Free University and Humboldt University in Berlin many years ago. I would also mention the work of my colleagues at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw where transdisciplinary research perspectives come across.


Citation: “Academic Mobility Shifted my Research Concept in a Substantial Way” – 5in10 with Zdeněk Nebřenský, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 09.08.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/10797.


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The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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