Esperanto, Civility, and the Politics of Fellowship: A Cosmopolitan Movement from the Eastern European Periphery

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation examines global, regional, state-, group-, and person-level processes involved in the growth of the movement formed around the constructed international language Esperanto. The Esperanto movement emerged in the global arena in the late nineteenth century as a response to inequalities in the nation-state field. In the course of several decades, the movement established a new global field based on the logic of equal communication through Esperanto and on the accumulation of cultural capital. While the field gained autonomy from the nation-state field, it has not been recognized as its equal. Persons endowed with cultural capital but lacking political and economic capital have been particularly drawn to Esperanto. Ironically, while attempting to overcome established unfair distinctions based on differential accumulation of political and economic capital, the Esperanto movement creates and maintains new distinctions and inequalities based on cultural capital accumulation. At the regional level, the Esperanto movement became prominent in state-socialist Eastern Europe in the second half of the twentieth century. The movement found unexpected allies among independent states in the Eastern European periphery. The growth of the Esperanto movement as the modal movement in the region coincides with the institutionalization of a unique form of civility favoring comprehensive socio-cultural development and the fellowship principle. According to Eastern European civility, the familiar distinctions between the international and the domestic arenas, between the cultural and the political domains, and between the public and the private spheres taken for granted in the West become blurred. The organizational forms the Esperanto movement developed, its practices, and its grounding in three universalist discursive fields — world culture, Marxism, and fellowship — served as institutional carriers of Eastern European civility. The institutionalization of the hybrid Eastern European civility can explain the puzzling case of the Bulgarian transition to democracy. While the country lacked a Western-type civil society and a history of anti-communist contention, it still managed to establish a peaceful and stable democracy. These findings are based on historical and comparative process tracing involving five independent data sources: original archival research, interviews, and participant observation, and available survey and organizational data.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-06272014-231145

Author Ana Velitchkova
Advisor Omar Lizardo
Contributor Lyn Spillman, Committee Member
Contributor Robert Fishman, Committee Member
Contributor Omar Lizardo, Committee Chair
Contributor Ann Mische, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Peace Studies
Degree Discipline Sociology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Banner Code

Defense Date
  • 2014-06-24

Submission Date 2014-06-27
  • United States of America

  • world social space

  • publics

  • historical and comparative cosmopolitanism

  • boundary work

  • internationalism

  • small states

  • meaning making

  • transnational social movements

  • political culture

  • institutional logics

  • field theory

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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