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Understanding Emptiness in Postsocialist Eastern Europe and Russia

Ahmed Ayed

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Understanding Emptiness in Postsocialist Eastern Europe and Russia

About Dr. Dace Dzenovska and this TKS episode:

Dr. Dace Dzenovska is an Associate Professor in the Anthropology of Migration at the University of Oxford. In this episode of The Know Show Podcast, she discusses her incredible research that interrogates what we mean by emptiness. She talks about the way she has looked at this in relation to the emptying cities, towns, and villages in Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Listen to hear Dace unpack emptiness as a concrete historical formation that has emerged in conditions when socialist modernity is gone and promises of capitalist modernity have failed.

 

A brief synopsis:

Dr. Dzenovska begins by talking about her academic career in anthropology. She discovered anthropology in the United States in the nineties, when she left the former Soviet Union. After finishing her studies, Dace returned to Latvia and worked for the United Nations development programme for five years. She then returned to the US and continued her education in anthropology.

Dace talks about the dysfunctionalities of many United Nations programmes and how anthropologists can provide their expertise to educate and inform national and international organisations on developing and their programmes. She ten goes on to expand on her research on the emptiness of towns and villages in Eastern Europe and Russia. She tells Hussain she wants to understand what it means to live in and govern emptying places, as well as what they can tell us about how flows of capital and shifts in political authority are reconfiguring the world we live in.

Emptiness started taking on a material presence. It consists of at least three dimensions. First is the material reality, where places lose their development. The second is the change in social relations. The third one is the system of meaning.

Dr. Dace Dzenovska

 

Dace explores the ways that emptiness can mean that regions transform themselves. For example, in some cases wilderness and nature starts taking over in former industrialised buildings, the agricultural landscape changes, and people constantly leave and move into busier spaces.

Dr. Dzenovska states that migration within the European Union plays a significant role in emptying cities of countries like Latvia, Russia or Ukraine. She highlights that when the Soviet Union collapsed and people started moving from former socialist to capitalist countries, they had to adapt to a changing way of life which featured the retrenchment of the welfare state. She says that the concept of tolerance within this shift towards postsocialism has been important in her research to understand how people navigated changes in their everyday life.

Tolerance is a great social virtue. But, as soon as it enters the political domain, it takes on a certain hierarchical meaning.

Dr. Dace Dzenovska

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TKS take home points:

In this TKS episode, Dace explores her an anthropological study of emptiness in Eastern Europe. We have learnt how adopting liberal political virtues in society and political institutions as part of postsocialist liberalisation and democratisation initiatives has played into the experience of emptying cities and villages of the former Soviet Union states. She makes clear that this is still an ongoing process, where numerous challenges exist for people who have been forced to overcome and adapt to the new socio-economic environment they live in today.

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