Political, economic and social inclusion and exclusion in Bulgaria and Poland: an anthropological study

Third Party Funding: Volkswagen Foundation 2003-2004

Current project

I am currently working on a three year comparative study, with Deema Kaneff and two PhD students, Nastka Pilichowska and Zlatina Bogdanova, of kinship, exclusion and inclusion in Poland and Bulgaria . This research has been timed to coincide with Poland ’s accession to the European Union. The Polish ethnographic research is being carried out in eastern Poland , in the Lubelskie Voivodship, in the city of Lublin and in a village in the same region. This region is adjacent to the border with Ukraine , now the most eastern border of the European Union and one which we may expect to be increasingly monitored and contested. It is an area which has experienced high unemployment and concurrent economic decline since 1989. Now, although the economy is picking up in certain fields – agro tourism, ecological agriculture in the countryside, tourism, service sector growth and development of the universities in the city of Lublin itself – the region as a whole has entered the EU with the lowest GDP in the union.

My own research will be conducted in Lublin , and will focus particularly on kinship networks and changing family forms and ideologies. I look most closely at whether, how, and to what extent kinship plays a role in migration (both rural-urban and inter regional/national), in economic exchanges and survival strategies, in gaining access to or being excluded from cultural and symbolic (political) capital, and in providing a safety net in terms of social security with the retraction of state services. My emphasis is on the processes and practices of ‘everyday’ kinship, and on the types of exchange, reciprocity and indeed exclusions which characterize networks based on kinship, friendship and locality, membership in civil organisations, or other sites of ‘belonging’.


I studied anthropology as an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia, and then went on to do my M Phil and PhD at the London School of Economics. My M Phil thesis was a study of kinship, gender and urbanization in West Africa. After this I changed the geographical emphasis of my research to eastern Europe and what was then the "communist bloc". My PhD fieldwork was carried out in a small Gorale village in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains in Poland. I lived there from 1977 to 1979; my doctoral thesis was a study of kinship and marriage, gender and inheritance in this region. I was particularly interested in gender relations, property relations, and processes generating and reproducing inequality, all of which are areas which have continued to be central to my work. I continued to do research in this village throughout the Solidarity period, the period of martial law which followed, and most recently throughout the 'post-socialist transition.' I have always taken an historical perspective, and have at different times drawn heavily on parish records, land records, wills and other archive materials, and individual life stories. While my earlier work focused on household structure and domestic economy, and various different forms, and strategies, of reproduction of the house through kinship and reciprocity, the informal economy, and land, property and inheritance, I have become increasingly interested in ways in which senses of belonging, ideas of personhood, and relations of kinship and sociality are created and reproduced through economic practice which link the local to the national and the global on the one hand, and different types of local knowledge on the other. Most recently, I have been interested in landscape, place and memory in this region, and I am currently looking at ways in which these form the basis of sense of personhood and self, and become the main metaphors for kinship, sociality and relatedness.

After the collapse of the socialist state, I became increasingly concerned with the impact of economic restructuring, the opening of international borders, and the re-arrangement of both local economies and transnational economic relations. I began a new period of fieldwork in central Poland, in the city of Lodz and the adjacent countryside. From 1991 to 1996 I concentrated particularly on women's survival strategies in the face of the state's draconian restructuring of industry and the social sector, massive unemployment among textile workers, and for the women themselves intense feelings of loss and displacement. The difference in local responses to the emerging market economy in the Lodz and the highland areas during this period were striking: many Gorale, historically extremely poor, marginal and excluded mountain shepherds and small holders, have proved to be adept at the juggling, movement and flexibility called for in dealing with the new capitalism; the more integrated, central industrial workers, who had been full participants in the 'modern' project of socialism, have found it much more difficult to respond positively to the new order. My current research in Lublin picks up and pursues these issues in a new fieldwork setting.

Go to Editor View