About Chiara Bonfiglioli


Women and Industry in the Balkans: The Rise and Fall of the Yugoslav Textile Sector


is now available in hardcover, paperback and PDF/Ebook.


In the past decade I have been working extensively on transnational women’s, gender and feminist history, adopting an intersectional approach and combining archival research with qualitative methods. My historical research has been focusing in particular on Italy and the Balkans from the Cold War to the present, combining archival sources with oral history interviews. My articles and essays have been published in a variety of academic journals, such as Gender & History, Women’s Studies International Forum, Feminist Review, Aspasia and Contemporary South Eastern Europe (See list of Publications).

Second wave feminist encounters across Cold War borders

Second wave feminist encounters across Cold War borders

In my widely cited MA dissertation (https://dspace.library.uu.nl/), I studied the international conference “Comrade Woman, The Woman’s Question. A new approach?” which was held at Belgrade’s Student Cultural Center in October 1978, and the way it marked the beginnings of the feminist second wave in Yugoslavia.

The conference included Yugoslav and international participants, mainly from Western Europe (Italy, France and the UK). Conference participants included sociologists, philosophers, art curators, writers, engineers, doctors, university students, feminist and communist activists. Discussions addressed the status of women and the family in socialist and in capitalist countries. The Yugoslav organizers were part of a generation of highly educated women located in the urban spaces of Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo, who critically intervened as intellectuals in the Yugoslav public space, where certain margins of pluralism and limited forms of dissidence existed. Many of them still play an important role in public and intellectual debates within post-Yugoslav successor states. The Western European guests were generally established feminist activists and authors, and included well-known figures such as Dacia Maraini, Alice Schwarzer and Christine Delphy. The different temporalities in feminist movements meant that international guests did not fully understand the socialist context of Yugoslavia, or the critical discourse of Yugoslav organizers.

In my dissertation I focused on the multi-layered legacy of the conference, on the memories of its participants, and later on the translation practices that occurred during transnational encounters and in their aftermath (see notably my article, “Feminist translations in a socialist context: the case of Yugoslavia”).

I am currently cooperating with former conference organizer and writer Jasmina Tesanović and with activists and scholars in Belgrade who are curating an edited collection of original videos from the conference.

Cold War women’s activism and the WIDF

Cold War women’s activism and the WIDF

My doctoral dissertation, titled Revolutionary Networks. Women's Political and Social Activism in Cold War Italy and Yugoslavia (1945-1957), aimed to counter the widespread assumption that early Cold War times were characterised by gender conservatism, and challenged the idea that socialist and communist activists were manipulated by their respective party leaders.

Despite their lack of political autonomy, internationalist female leaders in Cold War Italy and Yugoslavia had a crucial role in the establishment of women’s new political, economic and social rights after 1945. The dissertation studied notably the Union of Italian Women (UDI), federating communist and socialist women, and the communist-led Antifascist Women’s Front of Yugoslavia (AFŽ), and their activities in relation to wider Cold War disputes such as the Italo-Yugoslav border settlement and the Soviet-Yugoslav split. It also took into account the activities of the Union of Italo-Slovene Antifascist Women (UDAIS) in the contested border city of Trieste.

Revolutionary networks relied on extensive fieldwork research in Italian and former Yugoslav archives. Oral history interviews and autobiographies represented a crucial complement to the archival research. Archival documents, and excerpts from oral history interviews and autobiographies in Italian, Serbo-Croatian and French were translated and organized into a single historical narrative, which demonstrated the entangled history of women’s antifascist organizations in Italy and Yugoslavia after 1945. By writing this entangled history, I showed that women established transnational connections across the Italo-Yugoslav border, and across Cold War borders. I explored the bilateral and multilateral relations of the UDI, AFŽ and UDAIS, and their shifting position towards the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), a global left-wing anti-imperialist organization founded in Paris in 1945 and relocated in East Berlin in 1954, of which both the UDI and the AFŽ were founding members.

The history and legacy of the WIDF has been recently rediscovered by scholars, after years of neglect due to anti-communist discourses which excluded this organization from the Western and transnational feminist canon. Besides my dissertation, I have been contributing to the rediscovery of the “middle wave” of Cold War women’s activism in a number of articles (“Women’s Political and Social Activism in the Early Cold War Era: The Case of Yugoslavia” and “Red Girls’ Revolutionary Tales. Antifascist Women’s Autobiographies in Italy”) and book chapters (“Cold War Gendered Imaginaries of Citizenship and Transnational Women’s Activism: The Case of the Movie Die Windrose (1957)” and “Cold War Internationalisms, Nationalisms and the Yugoslav – Soviet Split: the Union of Italian Women and the Antifascist Women’s Front of Yugoslavia Before and After 1948”)

I continue working on the history and legacy of the Antifascist Women’s Front, which is increasingly explored by scholars and artists in the post-Yugoslav space, as shown in the edited volume (in BCS) http://afzarhiv.org/... and special issue of Viewpoint Magazine (in English) https://www.viewpointmag.com/... edited by Tijana Okić and Andreja Dugandžić.

I am also part of a wider network of scholars engaged in rediscovering the history and legacy of the WIDF: https://www.globalsocialistfeminism.com/

Vida Tomšič and the gendered politics of Non-Alignment

Vida Tomšič and the gendered politics of Non-Alignment

Transnational connections established between East, West and the ‘Third World’ during the Cold War era remain a prominent research interest. Specifically, I have been exploring such connections through the archival holdings of Vida Tomšič, hosted in Ljubljana.

Slovenian politician Vida Tomšič (1913-1998), a former partisan and communist activist, trained as a lawyer, had a fundamental role in building women’s internationalist connections and discussions during the global Cold War. Tomšič was a prolific writer and a sought-after expert on issues of women’s labour, welfare, and reproductive rights. She represented Yugoslavia on the Commission for Social Development of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (1960–1963; 1971–1974) and chaired the commission in 1963. She was also a prominent actor during the UN Decade for Women (1975-1985), and contributed to the 1978 foundation of the INSTRAW, the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women based in Santo Domingo. She was also strongly involved in the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and its Yugoslav branch.

I have been working on the biography of Tomšič for some time now, discussing the issue of her political agency in my contribution to the Aspasia forum “Ten Years After: Communism and Feminism Revisited”, then reconstructing her participation to the UN Women’s Mexico City conference in the article “The First UN world Conference on Women (1975) as a Cold War Encounter: Recovering Anti-imperialist, Non-Aligned and Socialist genealogies” and finally focusing on the exchanges between Yugoslav and Indian women’s organizations, and particularly between Vida Tomšič and Indian feminist pioneer Vina Mazumdar in the paper: “Women’s Internationalism and Yugoslav-Indian Connections: From the Non-Aligned Movement to the UN Decade for Women”.

I have been also working on the representations of women from Non-Aligned and decolonized countries in Yugoslav women’s magazines, notably Žena u Borbi/Žena in Croatia. The book chapter appeared in the collection edited by Paul Stubbs, Socialist Yugoslavia and the Non-Aligned Movement (McGill University Press, 2023), link: https://www.mqup.ca/.

Women’s transnational activism and Cold War imaginaries of citizenship

Women’s transnational activism and Cold War imaginaries of citizenship

As a spin-off of my article “Cold War Gendered Imaginaries of Citizenship and Transnational Women’s Activism: The Case of the Movie Die Windrose (1957)”, which investigated the ways in which gendered imaginaries of citizenship circulated across borders during the Cold War, I made use of a Research Support Grant by the Arthur and Elisabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College, Harvard University, in May 2019, to research their incredible collections, and to explore how state socialist women’s organizations as well as feminist activists intervened in global geopolitics and in the Cold War competition waged on the terrain of women’s rights and women’s emancipation.

I examined notably the production materials of the Sisterhood is Global anthology edited by Robin Morgan (1984), as well as the collections of notable activists such as Betty Friedan, Gerda Lerner, Ana Livia Cordero and Shirley Graham Du Bois, who all intervened on different sides and in different ways in the production of Cold discourses and in the circulation of gendered imaginaries of citizenship across borders. I am hoping to write a few articles based on the collected materials in the near future.

One chapter titled “Communisms, Generations, and Waves: The Cases of Italy, Yugoslavia, and Cuba” was published in the volume edited by Anna Artwinska and Agnieszka Mrozik, Gender, Generations, and Communism in Central and Eastern Europe and Beyond (https://www.routledge.com/)

Gender and labour in the post-Yugoslav space, from socialism to post-socialism

Gender and labour in the post-Yugoslav space, from socialism to post-socialism

In parallel with my research on Cold War women’s and feminist activism, in the past seven years I have been researching gender and labour history in socialist Yugoslavia and in post-socialist, post-Yugoslav states with a specific focus on women’s work in the garment industry.

My monograph, Women and Industry in the Balkans: The Rise and Fall of the Yugoslav Textile Sector is available here. The book builds upon over 60 oral history interviews that I have been collecting in Croatia (Pula, Varaždin, Zagreb and Osijek), Slovenia (Celje and Murska Sobota), Serbia (Leskovac), Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bosanski Novi/Novi Grad) and Macedonia (Štip) with former and current workers in the garment industry, as well as on archive material, including photographs of formerly thriving and now bankrupt or abandoned textile factories. In socialist Yugoslavia, the textile and garment sector thrived, covering approximately 12% of total manufacturing. Textile factories functioned as socialist microcosms, providing workers with welfare services, leisure and housing. Working women received a variety of welfare services as part of the “working mother” gender contract. After the break-up of Yugoslavia and after the transition from market socialism to capitalism, however, privatisation and deindustrialisation deeply affected the textile sector, leading to multiple factory closures, precarious work and widespread unemployment across the region. The book’s main thesis is that workers’ industrial structure of feeling developed during socialism – which was also profoundly gendered - lingers on in the post-socialist present and across the post-Yugoslav region, giving rise to demands for social justice and better welfare and labour conditions.

Next to my book, to get a taste of former workers’ testimonies and of the state of formerly successful factory, you can also watch this video-essay I authored in 2013 during my fellowship at the University of Edinburgh, or have a look at my Weaving Socialism blog, which stems from my research at the University of Pula. You can also read these previous articles, “Gendered Citizenship in the Global European Periphery: Textile Workers in Post-Yugoslav States” and “Gender, Labour and Precarity in the South East European Periphery: the Case of Textile Workers in Štip”, as well as two more recent papers, one published in Labor history and titled “Post-socialist deindustrialisation and its gendered structure of feeling: the devaluation of women’s work in the Croatian garment industry” (https://www.tandfonline.com/) , and the other titled “Discussing Women’s Double and Triple Burden in Socialist Yugoslavia: Women Working in the Garment Industry” and published as book chapter in the collection Labor in State-Socialist Europe, 1945–1989. Contributions to a History of Work (edited by Marsha Siefert, 2020) (https://ceupress.com/i )

Microsocialism and gender: women’s organizations 1970s and 1980s Croatia

Microsocialism and gender: women’s organizations 1970s and 1980s Croatia

Within the framework of the project ‘Microstructures of Yugoslav Socialism: Croatia 1970-1990’ (2018-2022) funded by the Croatian Science Foundation (HRZZ https://ckpis.unipu.hr/ckpis/..., I have been cooperating with the Centre for Cultural and Historical Research of Socialism (CKPIS) at the University of Pula, researching in particular state socialist women’s organizations in 1970s and 1980s Croatia, and focusing on the textile towns of Duga Resa and Varaždin.

The research applied a micro-historical perspective to local municipalities. In the decentralized Yugoslav system, the local women’s societies federated by the Conference for the Social Activity of Women (KDAŽ) were a stable presence within factories and municipal councils, and took part in numerous expert meetings and discussions over women’s productive and reproductive labour, tackling various issues affecting female workers and society more generally, such as the vexing question of local resource allocation for childcare facilities. The KDAŽ archival collections represent a veritable goldmine to understand the ambivalences and variations of the ‘working mother’ gender contract, which aimed to combine women’s entry into the productive sphere with the socialisation of women’s reproductive tasks as mothers and caretakers.

The project resulted in three journal articles, which can be accessed here.

“State socialist women’s organizations within Yugoslav factories: a case study of local activism in the Duga Resa cotton mill” https://www.tandfonline.com/..

Co-authored with Sara Žerić: “Working Class Women’s Activism in Socialist Yugoslavia: An Exploration of Archives from Varaždin, Croatia” https://www.degruyter.com/..

Co-authored with Sara Žerić: “ Debating Abortion and Contraception in Socialist Yugoslavia: A Microhistorical Perspective” https://hrcak.srce.hr/304262

One book chapter was also published in Croatian, in the collection edited by Igor Duda, Mikrosocijalizam. Mikrostrukture jugoslavenskoga socijalizma u Hrvatskoj 1970-ih i 1980-ih (2023),


Many of my publications can be accessed through my academia.edu profile: https://ucc-ie.academia.edu/ChiaraBonfiglioli
If you would like to access one of my articles that is not available online, send me an email.


Podcast: Southeast European History and intersectionality

With Rory Archer, hosted by Christina Fischer-Lessiak for the Coordination Office for Gender Studies and Equality at the University of Graz.

Podcast: Women's activism and the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War

Hosted by Ana Dević and the institute for the study of international politics and European affairs (LINES) at the Faculty of Social Sciences, KU Leuven.

Podcast: Women and Industry in the Balkans - The Rise and Fall of the Yugoslav Textile Sector

Interview hosted by Dr Jill Massino, New Books Network

Podcast: Internationalist Waves and Feminist Waves in Italy, Yugoslavia, and Cuba from the 1950s to 1970s

Summer Seminar lecture series 2020 on Feminist Histories, German Historical Institute in London - GHIL.

Where have all the workers gone?

This film tells the tale of textile workers in post-Yugoslav states. The garment industry was very successful in socialist times, and employed thousands of workers, particularly women. After the Yugoslav break-up and post-socialist transition, however, the industry underwent a process of economic decline and deindustrialisation. Textile workers in the former Yugoslavia faced factory closures, job losses and exploitative working conditions, thus losing the social security and social rights experienced during socialism.

Written and narrated by Chiara Bonfiglioli
Directed and post-produced by Yorgos Karagiannakis, PitchDarkProductions
Produced by CITSEE

Women and Post-War Transitions: Politics

Chiara Bonfiglioli in Ljubljana, 10.11.2018, at ERC Eirene project workshop, titled "Women and Post-War Transitions: Politics". Her presentation was titled "The Antifascist Women’s Front (AFŽ) and the Reconfiguration of Women’s Citizenship Rights in Early Socialist Yugoslavia (1945-1953)".

Reflections On Capitalism

Reflections On Capitalism, 22-27 June, 2015, Round Table – Politics of History in Eastern Europe, Cultural Centre of Belgrade, Chair: Adriana Zaharijević (Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, Belgrade), Participants: Kristen Ghodsee (Bowdoin College, Brunswick), Chiara Bonfiglioli (Juraj Dobrila University of Pula), Danijela Majstorović (University of Banja Luka), Tanja Petrović (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana), Ljubica Spaskovska (University of Exeter)

Gender, Labour and Precarity in the South East European Periphery

Florian Bieber (University of Graz) interviews Chiara Bonfiglioli (University of Edinburgh) about her research article "Gender, Labour and Precarity in the South East European Periphery: the Case of Textile Workers in Štip" published in Contemporary Southeastern Europe 2014, 1(2), 7-23

Stay up to date with the latest news and events on my Facebook page