The Society for Romanian Studies is pleased to award the 2013 Society for Romanian Studies Biennial Book Prize to Peasants under Siege: the Collectivization of Romanian Agriculture, 1949-1962 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), by Gail Kligman and Katherine Verdery. Peasants under Siege was selected from among a very strong field of English language books which appeared between January 2011 and December 2012. Entries for the prize included a large number of excellent works from multiple disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.
The prize selection committee appreciated the scope and rigor of the research undertaking upon which Peasants under Siege is based. The book builds upon the authors’ decades of experience doing field research in rural Romania. Kligman and Verdery make use of multiple types of sources, including archives, the communist press and extensive interviews, to analyze the relationship between the collectivization of agriculture in Romania and the process of party and state building that transformed the countryside and Romanian society as a whole. The authors stress that in the process of collectivization, the Party apparatus and the Securitate were not only changing property relations according to the Soviet model but also creating the new institutions of the Party-state through local practices and policies they devised in and for Romania. An important part of the documentary research that underpins the study was carried out in the Securitate archives (CNSAS). The authors’ field work, along with that of the other nineteen researchers from various disciplines who collaborated on the project, provides a wealth of intimate detail from the point of view of the participants in the collectivization process that refines and modifies the picture that emerges from Party reports and similar documentary sources.
In sum, Peasants under Siege represents a central contribution to the literature on Romania during the communist period, and indeed on the history of collectivization in other contexts, as well. Because the communist past is an ongoing battlefield in the present-day politics of memory in Romania, an accurate history establishing the extent of participation in and the full range of responses to collectivization is all the more important. Kligman and Verdery demonstrate with great subtlety the particular ways in which the Soviet model was carried out in the particular Romanian context. As the authors write: “Blueprints may provide a plan, but social practices are not so easily hammered or welded into place.” In Romania collectivization was as much negotiated as it was violent. The authors skillfully reconstruct what it created (a new kind of state, society and “person”) while simultaneously offering a full account of what it destroyed (communities and lives).
This beautifully conceived and clearly written work of history, anthropology and sociology shows how fruitful it can be to ignore the boundaries between disciplines in the interest of gaining insight into the fraught nexus between society and state. Peasants under Siege will provide a valuable guide to scholars seeking to understand rural transformation in the region for years to come, and serve as a primary reference point for those wishing to understand what really happened in the long decade of the 1950s in Romania, and what it meant for those who lived it.
The 2013 SRS Biennial Book Prize Selection Committee: William Crowther, (chair), Holly Case and Valentina Glajar.