The committee (Monica Heintz, Radu Cinpoes, and Irina Livezeanu, chair) reviewed thirteen books in the field of Romanian Studies in history, women’s studies, political science, anthropology, folklore, education, and film studies—although a number of these straddled two or more disciplines. We chose among a strong group of books published in English in the United States, Britain and Romania in 2017 and 2018.
We agreed unanimously to award the 5th Society for Romanian Studies book prize to Bruce O’Neill, The Space of Boredom: Homelessness in the Slowing Global Order (Duke, 2017). O’Neill did his research among the homeless population in Bucharest after 2008. He contextualizes the emergence of homelessness in Romania in the new capitalist economy after the end of socialism, specifically during the post-2008 global downturn when many around the world were rendered economically “redundant” and hopelessly impoverished. He theorizes downward mobility showing how working people can lose income and the ability to participate in the economy, which in turn affects relationships with family and friends, but also with their city, with Europe, and with globalism itself. Plictis (boredom) is the often articulated emotion of O’Neill’s homeless subjects whose unbearably slow daily routines are determined by their lack of money, food, a home, work, and by the inability to join in the accelerated cycle of consumerism that defines pleasure and success under contemporary capitalism. The author analyzes his destitute, discarded, marginal subjects with empathy—be they pensioners, or young men engaging in “survival sex” in train station toilets. The long lines and shortages of late socialism, are imagined nostalgically by some of the newly homeless as a time when their lives had a certain tidiness and lack of stress. The Space of Boredom explores the pressing social, economic, and moral problem of homelessness, of “lives disorganized by capitalism” in Romania, and by implication around the world.
The committee awards Irina Marin, Peasant Violence and Antisemitism in Early Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) an honorable mention. This book based on a vast amount of archival and published sources in German, Romanian, Hungarian, and Russian, elucidates the causes of profound peasant discontent at the turn of the century, erupting in the 1907 revolt that spread like wildfire. Romanian elites’ antisemitism and xenophobia clouded their understanding of rural social problems that they themselves created. The role of rumors and the press—domestic and foreign—in publicizing the troubles is also analyzed by Marin to explain the reach and the geographic limits of peasant insurgency to Romania’s borders but not beyond them. This research renews a longstanding and valuable tradition of social history that may inspire more such studies.