The Vanishing Hectare: Property and Value in Postsocialist Transylvania / Edition 1

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In most countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the fall of communism opened up the possibility for individuals to acquire land. Based on Katherine Verdery's extensive fieldwork between 1990 and 2001, The Vanishing Hectare explores the importance of land and land ownership to the people of one Transylvanian community, Aurel Vlaicu. Verdery traces how collectivized land was transformed into private property, how land was valued, what the new owners were able to do with it, and what it signified to each of the different groups vying for land rights.

Verdery tells this story about transforming socialist property forms in a global context, showing the fruitfulness of conceptualizing property as a political symbol, as a complex of social relations among people and things, and as a process of assigning value. This book is a window on rural life after socialism but it also provides a framework for assessing the neo-liberal economic policies that have prevailed elsewhere, such as in Latin America. Verdery shows how the trajectory of property after socialism was deeply conditioned by the forms property took in socialism itself; this is in contrast to the image of a "tabula rasa" that governed much thinking about post-socialist property reform.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Where the poet William Blake saw a world in a grain of sand, Ms. Verdery finds global collisions of values and culture in the manner that Aurel Vlaicu, a small Transylvanian town nestled at the foot of the Western Carpathian Mountains, privatized its landholdings after Romania's 1989 revolution. . . . Verdery often leavens her work with entertaining anecdotes. . . . Her intimate knowledge of the town proved useful when she delved into local corruption and ill feeling. Her larger critique of Western misprisions never dulls her eye for local failures."—Richard Byrne, Chronicle of Higher Education, 20 February 2004

"Verdery's conclusions are bleak. She vividly describes how the efforts of individuals she depicts as conscientious, energetic, highly intelligent, and very charming all founder in the face of widening price scissors production costs and market returns. . . . The Vanishing Hectare showcases the value of long-term fieldwork—anthropology's core methodology—to illuminate the real-world consequences of wishful thinking, and deserves particular attention from scholars and practitioners concerned to understand the kinds of regime change formerly known as transition."—Keith Brown, Slavic Review, Spring 2005

"Verdery's 30 years of fieldwork research in Romania supplied the groundwork for The Vanishing Hectare, enabling her to offer some alternative versions of the changes in rural life and reasons behind the supposedly irrational behavior of rural people. . . . Her account is not so much of the laws and administrative paraphernalia that established private ownership but rather of the broader social and economic conditions that make for what the author terms 'effective ownership.'"—Andrew Cartwright, Anthropological Quarterly, Fall 2004

"This is an example of ethnographic enquiry at its best. In Katherine Verdery's hands it becomes a superb vehicle for exploring the tragedy of reformist intentions. Using economic means to achieve social ends, and the consequences this has for people's livelihood, is a story told over and over again in twentieth-century history. Here the socialist and postsocialist experiments of Eastern Europe have a special poignancy, not least in the way the people contribute to their own predicaments. Verdery dignifies their endeavours with breathtaking documentation and a fine-grained analysis of social realities. A remarkable feat."—Marilyn Strathern, University of Cambridge

"The Vanishing Hectare is the polished work of a scholar who, after several decades of ethnographic fieldwork in a single place, brings her knowledge to bear on a problem of world-historical significance: the transformation of property following the collapse of state socialism in the former Soviet bloc. Katherine Verdery traces how collective forms of land use were transformed into 'private property,' and does so methodically, documenting and analyzing with neither polemics nor circumlocution."—John Borneman, Princeton University

"Here at last is Katherine Verdery's magnum opus. Extending out from a village in Transylvania to regional peculiarities, government policies, and the demands of the IMF and World Bank, Verdery illuminates the forces at work throughout the postsocialist world. This is a tour de force, the very best of ethnography with a historical and global reach, setting new standards for the study of market transition."—Michael Burawoy, University of California, Berkeley

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801488696
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 12/15/2003
  • Series: Culture and Society after Socialism Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 1,539,439
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Table of Contents

Note on Pronunciation, Romanian Names, Terms, and Translations
Introduction: Property, Value, and Global Transformation 1
Pt. I Making, Unmaking, and Remarking Owners 33
1 Property in Socialism: Collectivization, Administrative Rights, and the Circulation of Goods 40
2 Unmaking Socialist Agriculture: Contexts of Restitution in the 1990s 77
3 How Hectares Vanished: Decollectivization Politics in Vlaicu 116
4 New Kin, New Serfs, New Masters: Transformed Social Relations and the Meanings of Land 158
Pt. II Realizing the Powers of Ownership 185
5 The Death of a Peasantry: From Smallholders to Rentiers 190
6 Of Credits and Credibility: The Rise and Fall of the Vlaicu Association 229
7 The Dynamics of Decapitalization: The Fate of Vlaicu's State Farms 273
8 From Debts to Dallas: Value Transformation and the Rise of Supertenants 310
Conclusion: Property Processes and Effects 346
App Inventory of Objects Moved from the Collective Farm Patrimony into the Vlaicu Association at Its Founding, 1992 365
Notes 367
Glossary 391
References 393
Index 411
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