Local State and Social Security in Rural Hungary, Romania, and Serbia

Funded by Volkswagen Foundation 2008-2012

Heads of project

Prof. Dr. Keebet von Benda-Beckmann
Dr. Tatjana Thelen
Dr. Katalin Kovács (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest)

Scientific coordination

Duska Vranjes

Tatjana Thelen

Larissa Vetters


Tatjana Thelen

Stefan Dorondel

Slobodan Naumovic

Gyöngyi Schwarcz

Ioan-Mihai Popa

Alexandra Szöke

André Thiemann

International cooperation partners/advisers

Dr. Andrew Cartwright, Center for Policy Studies, Central European University, Budapest

Project Description and Significance

Within the programme “Unity amidst Variety? Intellectual Foundations and Requirements for an Enlarged Europe” the VW Foundation funds a three-year (2008-11) comparative investigation of the role of local states in social security arrangements in rural areas of Hungary, Romania, and Serbia.
The lead researcher for the project is Dr. Tatjana Thelen who is working with three post-doctoral researchers and three PhD students. The project commenced in summer 2008. A first joint workshop was held from 9. - 13. February 2009 in Halle.
The project is based on the observation that the tremendous political change in former socialist countries has produced a high diversity in local state formations and social security arrangements. Bringing these two concepts together in a comparative framework allows for new theoretical insights into the working of the state in rural settings and its interrelation with other networks of power. By adopting an anthropological definition of social security, the project seeks to overcome simple dichotomies between formal state and informal help and between state and non-state actors. Instead, the focus is on the interrelatedness and embeddedness of state actors in local social security arrangements. The project concentrates on two major fields of state action as analytic domains: access to productive resources in agriculture/forestry and access to social assistance. The research objectives of the project are:

  1. to develop a research concept and comparative methodology for the study of social security and local state formations
  2. to provide empirical accounts of the different types of relations between local state formations and social security in rural areas
  3. to identify relationship patterns between local state formations and social security
  4. to contribute to an improved understanding of the “state of the postsocialist state”

Nine case studies carried out by doctoral and post-doctoral students capture the diversity of arrangements in rural Hungary, Romania, and Serbia. The organisational set-up includes several cross-visits of researchers, the co-ordinator, and the advisers, as well as meetings with the co-operation partners involved. Activities across the field sites are carefully coordinated to maximise the scope for comparison and ultimately to develop analytical models for analysing state formations in relation to social security.

The detailed qualitative analysis provided by this project helps to bridge the gaps, which so often exist between policy planning at the national or international level and policy implementation at the local level. The research, therefore, has considerable practical relevance.

For further information on the project’s research agenda please consult the following publication

Tatjana Thelen, Andrew Cartwright and Thomas Sikor (2008)
Local State and Social Security in Rural Communities: a new research agenda and the example of postsocialist Europe

Zur Redakteursansicht