EURHO, 2017

Ekaterina Emeliantseva Koller, Andrey Tutorski, Alexander Nikulin, and Sergei Alymov participated at the International Conference of EURHO (European Rural History Organisation) at the KU Leuven, Belgium

Panel: Defining ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ in Eastern Europe

The dynamics of rural society during the last decades of state socialism in Eastern Europe and especially in Soviet Union have hitherto been largely neglected. The focus on urban socialist society and the process of urbanisation still dominates current research. For the progress of socialist society promised an urban modernity with its technological advance and new consumer culture. Transformations of late socialist rural society were inscribed by contemporaries as well as with research into a narrative of decline, described as “de-peasantization” or “erosion of the village”.

This panel seeks to challenge the decline narrative by conceptualizing transformations of rural community building in late Soviet Union and Serbia as a specific modus of interaction between city and countryside, as a product of simultaneous “ruralisation” of urban styles and “urbanisation” of rural lifestyles.

While some scholars still operate with firm definitions and clear-cut dichotomies of rural/urban, there is growing uneasiness with a firm notion of “rural” as an opposition to “urban” that is rather vague in its content. Instead, notions of “rurality” should be placed in cultural and historical contexts with the aim to unveil its highly volatile and multilayer character oscillating between structure and agency, discursive frames and articulation of meaning.

To address the complexity of “ruralisation” and “urbanisation” the panel focuses on meanings of “rural” and “urban” in practice and discourse by analysing case studies and discursive frames.

The panel consists of two sessions focusing on practise and on experts’ discourses. In the first session, three papers will be analysing rural everyday. The first and the second by looking at the late Soviet school in a Russian village and in a kishlak of an Uzbek collective farm, will allow for opening up a discussion on Soviet village school as an island of urbanity and on diversity within the Soviet Union. The third paper, by focussing on city theatre performances in the villages of North-West Russia will address modes of interlocking of “urban” and “rural” recreational practices.

In the second session, three papers will analyse perceptions of „rural“ lifestyles by experts’ discourses. The first paper will be elaborating on a particular journalist, a notable specialist for collective farms, and his view of late Soviet rural life. The second paper will address the debates between late Soviet “liberal” sociologists and ideologists, influenced by agrarian economic reforms in Central European socialist countries, about the idea of agrarian cooperatives, the figure of enterprising peasant, and about the “urbanisation” of village life. The third paper will focus on post-socialist Serbia and address issues of state-initiated professionalization and modernization in agriculture vis-à-vis changing peasant’s self-perceptions.

Bringing together an analysis of “rural” everyday practices and experts’ debates on “urban” and “rural” with cases from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Serbia the panel seeks to discuss not only the range within Eastern Europe, but also how these cases can fit into a broader European and beyond perspective on patterns or “urbanity” and “rurality” in discourse and practice.

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