Social Inclusion and Exclusion in Bulgaria and Poland: ethnographies of socio-economic change

The VW Foundation has funded a three-year (2003-6) comparative investigation of the role of kinship networks in processes of inclusion and exclusion in Bulgaria and Poland. The lead researchers for the project are Zlatina Bogdanova, as well as local research assistants. The project commenced in November 2003.

Project Description and Significance

Postsocialist reforms, initiated some 14 years ago across eastern Europe, have had a mixed degree of success, with considerable variation evident both between countries and between different regions of each country. Some states, such as Bulgaria and Romania , have fared much worse than others. But even in Poland , Hungary and the Czech Republic , the reforms have not been a resounding success. Serious social and economic problems throughout the region have led to widespread disillusionment and nostalgia for what is remembered as the more secure times of the socialist past.
This project seeks to identify and analyse some of the underlying causes of failure of postsocialist reforms in Bulgaria and Poland . It is well known that the two countries implemented the socialist project in quite different ways. Bulgaria was generally regarded as economically more successful and politically more stable than Poland . Since 1989 this situation has been reversed. At present, Bulgaria occupies a more marginal position in relation to Western Europe ; indeed Poland was regarded as more integrated into Europe even before its EU accession. However, both countries share serious socio-economic problems resulting from rising unemployment, increasing poverty, the erosion of social and public services and decline of key state institutions.
The project is concerned with local responses to the national restructuring processes. The research focuses on ways in which people are able to integrate successfully with, or are marginalised from, core social, economic, political and cultural institutions. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding the processes by which access to resources in these domains is determined. In this context, we highlight the importance of kinship practices and relationships in coping with everyday life and periodic crises. For instance, kinship ties may be used to consolidate and protect scarce resources, in part through a tightening and restricting of the circle of kin. On the other hand, kinship may also be a critical factor in gaining access to resources in a context of increasing impoverishment, thus expanding and extending the network. At the beginning of the 21st century and in the light of EU expansion, the long-term effects of political and economic uncertainties, and the coping mechanisms that ordinary people develop to counter them in the lived world, are of utmost concern everywhere in Europe.
Fieldwork is presently being carried out in each country in two sites: a village and an urban centre. Activities across the fieldsites have been carefully coordinated to maximise the scope for comparison and ultimately to develop analytical models for dealing with societies undergoing economic and political reform.
The detailed qualitative analysis provided by this project will help 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, please contact:

Deema Kaneff

Frances Pine

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