In Progress

Political Theater 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 and coextensive with state boundaries. This monograph reexamines state-society relationships in the contexts of contemporary Russia and Ukraine. Drawing on extensive fieldwork-based research, the manuscript analyzes the political economy of popular participation in imitations of democratic institutions, from staged electoral contests to elite-driven social movements. In these contexts, far from simply reproducing elements of the Soviet past, such performances articulate a distinct politics that expresses a global shift in the configuration of state and capital. Using the concept of political theater, the manuscript shows how spatial variation in the ways individuals experience interaction with state agents can help us understand how and where fractures develop in public understandings of political legitimacy—and how 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.