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Social mobility and social stratification in a Transylvanian village: historical changes and generational experiences

  • Author(s): Goina, Calin Gheorghe
  • Advisor(s): Kligman, Gail
  • Prager, Jeffrey
  • et al.

This thesis offers an ethnographic exploration of social transformation: it explores the processes of (re)stratification as experienced in one rural community - Sântana, in western Romania - as a means to understand how macro changes impact everyday life at the local level. I explore the articulation between macro-social historical transformations and the opportunities and constraints that the resultant political and property regimes presented for villagers. I build on the ethnographic analyses of rural Eastern Europe by adding an historical analysis of the configurations and reconfigurations of life trajectories across three successive generations. The villagers I study lived a succession of property and political configurations: democratic and authoritarian regimes grounded in free market and private property until 1947, a totalitarian regime of state-socialism until 1989, and a liberal democracy re-building a free market economy from 1990 until today. This succession of regimes altered, configured and reconfigured the life trajectories of Sântana's inhabitants.

In contrast with quantitative studies on re-stratification this qualitative study focuses on the villagers' own understandings of the changes they have experienced. I look at opportunities and resultant mobility (upward and downward) as experienced and accounted for by them. My approach toward social stratification is grounded in the classificatory schemes that my informants use in their life story narratives, which are classificatory schemes that position the subject with respect to others.

My project is mainly informed by the ethnographic method, through which the researcher immerses him/herself in the ocean of meanings and practices which structure and constitute the day-to-day life of those he/she studies. As a researcher who returned to the village where he was raised, and who interviewed his co-villagers (many of them friends and relatives), I was placed in the position of the insider or "native" ethnographer. In addition to ethnography, my study builds on a burgeoning set of methods: life course or biographical studies. The villagers' experiences with the three political and property regimes addressed are structured along generational lines: for each regime I collected five story accounts from the members of the same family, across three successive generations.

The dissertation is organized according to the three generations' experiences as these overlapped with the three political and property regimes. Chapter two offers an historical account of the site, introducing each of the three political and property regimes that constitute the background of my study. In chapter three I introduce a set of six life stories intended to give voice to the villagers' own understandings and explanations of change in their lives (people who grew up in the pre-WWII village). Chapter four covers the life stories of five individuals who are the children of those introduced in the previous chapter, people who grew up and established their occupational careers under state socialism. In chapter five I address the third generation of villagers, those born in the 1970s, who negotiated their life trajectories in the context of post-communist Romania. I sum up my findings in chapter six, where I describe these three generationally distinct configurations of class, status, party, ethnicity, education and gender among the villagers of Sântana, specific to each property regime, highlighting the manner in which the three political and property regimes altered the set of opportunities and constraints within which the villagers had to negotiate their daily lives.

My study allows me to make sense of how my co-villagers made their everyday lives meaningful as the world unfolded around them, and explore how they have navigated through the macro parameters of socio-political and economic change within their local possibilities to manage the ups and downs of their own and their families' lives.

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