In Progress

Political Theatre in Russia and Ukraine

Traditional regime-type designations—democracy, authoritarianism, and their hybrid cousins—help us think about how power is enacted in relationships between states and society, but they also reify state-society relationships as homogenous across territory. This monograph reexamines state-society relationships in twenty-first century Ukraine and Russia. Drawing on long term fieldwork-based research in borderlands regions of the two countries, the manuscript analyzes the political economy of popular participation in imitations of democratic institutions—from staged electoral contests to elite-driven social movements. Far from simply reproducing elements of the Soviet past, and more than mere products of political technologists’ fancy, such performances emerge from concrete economic incentives and articulate a distinct politics. The manuscript shows how spatial variation in individuals’ interactions with state agents can illuminate how and where fractures develop in public understandings of political legitimacy—and how and why ordinary people even may come to disagree about the proper boundaries of the polity.

 A Social Life of Property

What was fascism? What was communism? What is neoliberalism? This project revisits these questions through a twentieth-century history of a single street in Eastern Europe. The street, for centuries home to Magyar villages, today traverses the border between Ukraine and Slovakia. Governed successively by Hungary, Austro-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary during the first decades of the century, the street came under German and Soviet occupation at the end of World War II. When the Soviet army completed its westward push for territorial conquest, soldiers erected a border fence that sliced the street in two. This study represents the culmination of a decade-long endeavor funded by two major research grants: from the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research in the United States (2007-2009) and the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (2008-2012). Based on archival research in six countries and a decade-long ethnographic study conducted in three languages, this study follows the residents of this rural street through the major social experiments of the twentieth century,  showing that for them, it mattered very much who governed and how, but not always in the ways we might think.