Forest Economy and Godparenthood in the Carpathian Mountains

Life seems to be basic here

In abstract terms, my main research question would be: Under the circumstances of economic and political transformations, how is the emergence of market economy (and capitalism) in Eastern Europe related, on multiple levels, to the realm of mutuality such as that of the house or the community? How do the emergence of local entrepreneurial activities and the appearance of larger capitalist enterprises spread self-interested reasoning into other spheres of life, as is assumed in anthropological literature? Does this spread into the sphere of ritual? If so, how does this happen? How are mutuality values, such as personal relationships, altruism, and morality, enacted in market relations, dismissing the stereotypical assumption that market relations are impersonal and home to pure calculative reason?

Summer hamlets on the top of the mountain facilitate forestry work

In more concrete terms, I want to explore how local forest economy is intertwined with rituals in a Romanian wood-trading mountain community. My research focuses especially on the economic practices, which depend very much on informal arrangements and personal connections, necessary for an entire local chain of activities from production to sale. I would consider looking at the way power relations and social differentiation play out in these processes.
From the multitude of theoretical approaches to ritual, I see ritual here as instrumental, as a way for forging social connections, which will be further used in economic action. I refer mostly to rituals that tie people together in new or closer relationships, such as weddings and christenings, by which people ‘gain relatives’ (i.e. godparents).

The field site

The Apuseni Mountains are remarkable for the extent to which small communities are permanently established at high altitude and in scattered settlements.  People from the Apuseni Mountains have the reputation of being ‘the forest people’ of Romania. Even during the communist period, when private initiative was disregarded, they engaged in woodcutting and woodworking. Being very mobile, they used to sell their produce in the lowlands. Industrial extraction of wood developed in the area before communism, when foreign capitalist companies began logging activities. Later on, when the communist regime took over, state enterprises increased production in the name of socialist ‘scientific’ forestry. Nowadays, the industry has declined and people practice forestry largely in illegal and improvised ways.

Assumptions and further questions

Improvisation: car engine activates sawmill

The interaction between economy and ritual can also be seen in this case in terms of a dialectic between ‘market’, involving different forms of exchange and calculation, and community, as an embodiment of personal ties. Relationships with friends and relatives are often ‘calculated’ but also often imbued with affectivity, moral judgments, or altruism and scholars find it problematic to measure if and where the calculation (or rational choice) begins or stops. I am suggesting that market and community, and the operating principles that they embody such as ‘calculation’, on the one hand, and sociality or mutuality, on the other, are actually closely interconnected in everyday life, the division being an analytic tool.

Family & Forestry

Trade and market are in the first place presumed to help the commoditisation of the forest, thus to enable livelihood out of the forest. However, different forms of trade are practiced by differently ‘equipped’ houses with different amounts of capital and technology and different sizes of networks. Hence, I expect the experiences with the market to be quite different and I wish to understand how and why different attitudes towards the ‘market’ and capitalism emerge.
I am also interested to pursue a socio-historical account of the forest economy in the area. I will explore how people related differently to trade and market over the last hundred of years. I am interested how they reacted to the first foreign capitalist logging enterprises at the turn of the 19th century compared to foreign capitalist business today (a century later) and how they responded to socialist conditions.

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