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Pascal Grouiez
Vdali ot gorodov: Zhizn’ postsovetskoi derevni. Sbornik statei, edited by Elena Bogdanova and Ol’ga Brednikova

Vdali ot gorodov: Zhizn’ postsovetskoi derevni.
Sbornik statei, edited by Elena Bogdanova and Ol’ga Brednikova.

Saint Petersburg: Aleteiia, 2012

Is the traditional town-versus-country opposition still relevant to understanding transformation in post-Soviet countries? This is the main topic of the book Far from the Cities: Life of the Post-Soviet Village. The book argues that the difference between town and country, which is usually analyzed as an opposition between tradition and modernity, is no longer valid. The authors defend the idea that villages fully participated in the post-Soviet transition process and cannot therefore be examined as something “outside” of modernity. Four aspects of the transition process are examined in this book: the various forms of capitalism, the modernization process, the process of individualization, and the process of self-identification by the villagers. Regarding the question of the various forms of capitalism, Ingrid Oswald’s chapter “The Industrialized Village: Toward the Transformation of a Rural Way of Life in Postsocialist Societies” proposes a comparative analysis of postindustrialization processes in Bulgaria, Estonia, and Russia to counter the theory of modernization as a linear, one-way process. She argues that the three countries have experienced similar processes of industrialization aimed at removing the differences between cities and villages. Despite this common heritage, the transformation process took different forms depending on the nature of informal relationships concerning the transfer of property rights, the specificity of the human capital of rural workers, and the origins of rural migrants. Oswald demonstrates that villages try to organize themselves in an “institutional vacuum.” This means that, in the Russian case, the rural population adapts to formal rules imposed by national authorities by developing or maintaining informal reciprocity between villagers. In contradistinction, in Bulgaria and Estonia top-level reforms allowed local governance to reemerge and promote local policies to sustain rural population. However, I wonder if Oswald did not overestimate the homogeneity of the Soviet institutional heritage underlying these transformations. Indeed, the different heritages of the three countries could better explain the divergence in their transformation processes.

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