Three Priority Topics
To ensure that we can carry out our comparative agenda, each researcher is encouraged to collect data in one or more 'core' fields.
Together with labour, land was singled out by Karl Polanyi and his substantivist school as a factor of production resistant to commoditisation. More recently it has been described by Chris Gregory (1997) as the 'supreme good'. Our work in this field takes off from older colonial traditions of land tenure studies (for a suggestive framework see Bohannan 1963); we also take accoutn of more recent work on land rights and of ongoing debates about the commons in environmental anthropology. Primarily, however, we are engaging with contemporary sociological studies of decollectivisation (Prior 1992, Szelenyi 1998, Swain 1998, 1999).
We aim to demonstrate the value of comparative anthropological research into a topic that has both theoretical implications and social and political urgency. Our researchers are documenting new bundles of rights, new divisions of labour and (usually) widening social inequalities. We are interested in the economic consequences of particular forms of decollectivization, but also in their moral and symbolic justifications. We also pay close attention to the emotional and symbolic significance of land for the rural population (and sometimes for others as well).
Against 'decollectivisation': land reform in Romania, 1990-1992.
Property and Age Organisation among an East African Pastoralist Group
'Not the Horse We Wanted!' The demise of cooperative property in Tázlár
The Obshchina in Chukotka: Land, property and local autonomy
Many items of property, tangible and intangible, have significance for collective identities. For example, postsocialist political changes have often led to an intensification of national sentiment around buildings. Conflicts over ecclesiastical property have been especially instructive (as in the case Hann has examined in southeast Poland where eastern rite Catholics, nowadays self-conscious Ukrainians, have come under pressure from the Roman Catholic majority - see Hann 1998b).
The marketing of particular artifacts to tourists as symbols of a group and the 'invention of tradition' have already been widely studied, but little attention has been paid so far to property aspects. Work in this field raises fundamental issues about the definition of terms such as 'culture' and 'indigenous people'; these issues will feature prominently at the conference on Cultural Property (July 1-3, 2002).
Modes of transferring property between the generations must exist in all societies, and it is by no means obvious that a macro-level change such as the demise of socialism necessarily alters inheritance practices at other levels, notably within kin groups. It is always interesting to investigate how far actual practices correspond to ideologies and to state legal codes. This is a well established topic in anthropological work on Europe, and there are particularly good prospects for cooperation with historians as well as with legal anthropologists.
The Department held a conference on these themes in December 2001: Family Organization, Inheritance and Property Rights in Transition: comparative historical and anthropological perspectives in Eurasia. The papers are currently being edited for publication by Hannes Grandits and Patrick Heady.